The Streisand Syndrome

Linda Burton 16 Tennessee Welcome Signposting from Chattanooga, Tennessee – Streisand has been sitting on my shoulder for two days now. Humming that song she made famous. Memories. You know. The way we were. Memories. (That light the corners of your mind.) The minute I saw the Tennessee welcome sign yesterday I was slammed with them; by the time I reached the hotel in Chattanooga I was completely soaked in the past. “This is your home town,” I said to Alex as I unloaded the car, remembering that day in 1997 when he stuck his head out of the cage at the pound and nuzzled my neck. My heart melted into a puddle right there and then; “Go get a box,” I told the attendant. Alex slept curled on the foot of my bed that night, and has every night since for sixteen years. “I saved your life that day,” I reminded him in a tone, “and thanks to me you have been lucky enough to live in 48 states since you were born in an alley here. So there.” “Just feed me,” he said, sniffing around the room. “No need for drama.”

16 Brenda Big River Brick BoatMy dear Brenda was a little more patient with me as I told story after story during our evening touchpoint visit. She and friend Phyllis were traveling from Florida to Virginia; we worked it out to meet in Chattanooga for one night as we passed going in different directions. As soon as they arrived I jumped into show-off mode. “We’ve got to go downtown,” I insisted, “so you can see the waterfront.” Brenda’s Mike (my first-born son) grew up here, but she was unfamiliar with the town. She drove. I pointed. “I used to work in that building!” “We celebrated Rick’s seventh birthday in that restaurant!” “There’s the Walnut Street Bridge, it’s a park now!” “There’s the hotel where my Mom and Dad had their honeymoon in 1937!” They peered and squinted in the dark, but just like the cats, finally insisted that we eat.

16 Phyllis, Brenda, LindaWe settled on the Bluewater Grille, an upscale place located downtown just a block from the fabulous Aquarium, which has doubled in size since I lived here. Our server good-naturedly put up with us as we clowned our way through dinner, winding up with pictures by the tree. Outside in the chilly evening air, we wandered Chattanooga in the dark. The windows at the giant TVA complex were decorated to the hilt; but everything else had a Monday-night closing-early look; the Chattanooga Choo Choo was not lit up; Porkers BarBQ, where George Bush lunched one day, was already closed. “Pig out at Porkers. We won’t squeal!” promised the sign in the window. I directed Brenda to drive through the University of Tennessee campus (Chattanooga branch); it’s my alma mater. Sons Mike and Rick went to school there too; I was teaching there by then. We passed First Centenary Church, where son Scott was an acolyte, 17 Phyllis Brenda posing by carand son Rick sang in the choir. We passed the Taco Bell, where son Mike got his first high-school job frying taco shells, which strangely led to a career in finance. Memories.

This morning after loving on the cats and the obligatory poses by the car, Brenda and Phyllis continued their journey north. Brenda, a DC native, had tickets to tour the White House; she was surprising her grandson Michael with an early Christmas treat. But I was doing a “Betty Day.” Betty Harrelson has been my friend since 1968 when she moved into the house across the street from me. Our kids grew up together; in later years, after I’d moved away, we regularly compared notes on grandkids and laughed together over family joys, and woes (and still do). Betty is the best story-teller I know, with a Eudora Welty-Bailey White comedic southern style. But her real love is painting. Her house is filled with her art; her studio has future projects stacked; ideas are thumbtacked on the wall. When I wrote Linda97BookstoreBettyChattanooga Great Places, Betty designed the cover. What a thrill it was to do booksignings together, and have our picture spread across a quarter-page of the newspaper, praising our accomplishment! (photo left 1997)  Memories.

Betty and Reuben still live in that neighborhood; when I stopped in front of their house this afternoon I looked across the street at my old house to make sure – yes, it is still there, the basketball goal we installed by the garage door, imbedded in cement in 1969. All the neighborhood kids played there, laughing uproariously when one missed a shot and had to chase the ball down the steep hill just beyond the drive. It made for more careful ball handling! Our cats – dear Buffy and Fluffy — loved to hunt the woods out back, delivering birds and snakes on a regular basis. 17 Betty Reuben posing by carThey even brought a mangled rabbit once; a Christmas gift of entrails and fur placed like an offering by the back door. Buffy and Fluffy, long since dead and gone. Memories.

What did we talk about today? Our children, of course – Karen, Martin, Angie, Margie, Mike, Rick, Scott. And our grandchildren; we have fourteen between us. All the people who lived in the neighborhood way back when; who has died, and who has not. The Journey, and the fact that I was headed for Arkansas and yet another new place to live. Our disdain for cell phones, and the current addiction young folks have for texting. Our health. Betty has two new knees; she walks pain-free now. (I’m envious.) Reuben uses a cane to get around; they are considering a chair lift to get them safely downstairs to the laundry room, and garage. We have gotten old, it seems. Betty’s daughter Betty.Linda.40YearsAgo.CampCherokeeKaren told me recently via email that she loved seeing us all dressed up to go out, back in those 70s days. “I thought you were so glamorous!” she said. Well heck, I guess we were. Slender blonds with sexy legs. (photo left 1972)  Memories.

Do you remember the last lines of that tear-jerking Streisand tune? If we had the chance to do it all again…would we? Back in my room tonight, with Alex and Jack stretched out beside me on the blankie, I considered that thought. Chattanooga holds my most profound memories; it’s where I blossomed. It’s where I was madly in love (and where I was not). It’s where I learned how to run a business. It’s where my writing first brought me an income. I wrote for the massive TVA, Combustion Engineering, Hensley-Schmidt, Tennessee-American Water Company, smaller businesses too. I wrote a weekly column for the Chattanooga Times (founded by Adolph Ochs, you know, who went on to found the New York Times). I wrote and published books – guidebooks Chattanooga Great Places and SE Great Trips; Ginny Power’s memoirs Ginny’s Chairs; Tee Carr’s book on teaching All Eyes Up Here, and more. Chattanooga is where my kids grew up, and where four of my grandkids were born. Chattanooga is where twelve-year-old son Scott brought a map to me one day with the complaint that he’d never been west of the Mississippi River. That was the event that started us traveling, and exploring the USA.

Would I do it all again? No, it’s perfect just the way it’s going. Next stop: Alabama.