My daughter is in the fifth grade. She’s just beginning that transition from child to full-blown adolescent. And with that transition inevitably comes the time when I’m not fun enough to hang out with on a Friday night. I’m experiencing that right now. Sure, it wounds the pride a little, but I knew it was coming, so we’re dealing with it. By “dealing with it,” I mean that we’re inviting her friends to do stuff with us on the weekends now instead of putting a puzzle together or playing Mario Kart or watching Andi Mack.
My dad had a Jeep when I was very young. Riding in it was one of my earliest memories. I don’t remember the model or the color (it could have been brown) or if there was a lift on it. I only remember that it didn’t have a top and that the wind would blow in my face as he drove. The sky was over my head, the clouds directly above me. I knew that I liked the feeling of having nothing blocking my senses. Light poured in. The breeze slapped us silly. We could see everything above and around us.
2002 was the year that changed my life. I had just moved to “the big city” of Jackson from the incredibly small town of Trezevant, Tennessee. My new journey started at Union University as a Christian Studies major, and quickly I realized I had turned religion into a textbook, not an action. It took a while to recover from the shock of not knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, as this was my plan for quite some time—going into ministry. I continued pressing on with my major until 201 Ash Street happened.
Never ever in a million years would I have guessed that I would be a small business owner living in Jackson, Tennessee. I am one of the most shy people you will ever meet. That ambitious entrepreneur spirit is in me, but growing up, it wasn’t readily apparent, even to me. My husband, on the other hand, always knew he would work for himself and probably stay here in Jackson. Both of our grandparents owned their own businesses, and their examples shaped our lives. When I think of Jackson, I think of my family.
I am not one who marches for a cause. I don’t exactly enjoy situations in which I have to follow someone else’s lead. I am not an activist. In fact, I think some activists can be detrimental to the cause for which they are advocating. At some point, it all becomes white noise, or worse, it becomes flammable to the ears of everyone else. At its best, activism can enact societal change for the better over a long period of time; at its worst, it can become divisive to the point of an irreparable dislocation.
“Community is not something you have, like pizza,” wrote social critic James Howard Kunstler in The Geography of Nowhere. “Nor is it something you can buy. It’s a living organism based on a web of interdependencies—which is to say a local economy.” Americans, perhaps above all others, have bought into the lie in the last couple of generations that each person is an island, shaping her or his own destiny with nothing but a morning shot of caffeine and a solid WiFi connection.
I grew up in Franklin, Tennessee, thirty minutes south of Nashville, where recycling is a part of the landscape. Most people there are careful to sort out their blue bags however they need to in order to make environmental sustainability a reality for their community. When I moved to Jackson in 2015, though, it seemed no one could give me information on where and how I could recycle, something that I imagine comes as a shock to many who move to the area. You can’t buy blue bins at Lowe’s, and even Home Depot’s selection is extremely small. There isn’t even public curbside pickup available in the city, and I haven’t seen any recycling dumpsters throughout the community.
If you had asked me about my future in the fall of 1994, I would have told you that I was planning on moving back home to Paducah, Kentucky, as soon as I finished college. I was supposed to live on Jefferson Street, right next door to my life-long BFF, Laura. She was going to live in her grandmother’s house, and I would buy the house next door. Twenty-four years later, she still reminds me of that broken promise. I had roots there in Paducah. They were strong and firmly planted. My daddy grew up there, too
The dark-haired kid in the back row raised his hand yet again. It was the third question that he had asked and the fifth one total that I had fielded from the sleepy-eyed, bored teenagers scattered throughout the small auditorium of my old high school. I scanned the sparse crowd looking for someone else, anyone else who might lob me a softball: “Who’s your favorite writer? “What’s your favorite book?” “Are you married?” Having no luck, I pointed at him, and he haughtily threw another query in my direction.
If you told the twenty-year-old me that I would eventually live in Jackson, Tennessee, he would have died laughing. I wasn't even sure I would be living in Tennessee period. Twenty-year-old me was an M1-A1 Abrahms Tank System Specialist (tank mechanic, y'all, I was a tank mechanic) that had dreams of completing a twenty-year career and retiring. And then after my retirement, I would launch some sort of startup with the security of a nice, fat check to fall back on if things didn't work out. Twenty-year-old me was married to the first of two ex-wives and had no kids.
It’s mid-afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day, and West Alley BBQ is a beehive. Residual customers grab a late lunch, employees make preparations in anticipation of a busy evening, and I sit to one side, shuffling through my bag to find a notepad. I am late for the interview, but I had told her I would be. When I walked in, the fellow said she was waiting for me, which I tried not to feel bad about, knowing neither he nor she was upset.
A 1994 Jackson Central-Merry graduate and basketball standout, Dion Thornton attended Union University on scholarship. She helped the Bulldogs reach the NAIA finals in 1996 and 1997 and was named to the TransSouth All-Conference team twice. She transferred to Kennesaw State in Georgia and was named the top woman’s basketball player in Georgia. After college, she played semi-professional women’s basketball and had two offers to play overseas in professional leagues.
In Norway it gets dark early. As we left for the arena around 4:00 P.M., the hazy glow of the daytime winter sky in Oslo had faded. I was on the bus headed to a concert honoring one of our own. Daniel was a member of our little band of misfits living in Geneva, Switzerland, who worked in and around the United Nations on issues ranging from poverty, hunger, and demining to human rights, health, and humanitarian relief. By all measurements, Daniel had “made it.”
"How many miles away is Sonic?" I stared, dumbfounded, as they told me the nearest Sonic was ten miles out of town. Kevin patted my leg reassuringly. "Well, you'll learn to enjoy the drive." We were newlyweds and newly graduated, interviewing for a Residence Life Director position for Kevin in Middle-of-Nowhere-Close-to-Sonic, Kentucky. They chose another candidate, and our lives forever shifted, allowing us to keep the roots we had been cultivating in Jackson during our stay here as college students.
I came to Jackson sight-unseen in 2011 when I arrived for new student orientation at Union University. Removed from the South since 1999, I had developed a proper Midwestern wall around myself. People like to talk about Midwestern friendliness, but let me tell you, there is none of this "chat with strangers in the grocery store line" or "call everyone ‘hon’" there. As in architecture, walls may be breached with effort, but it's usually easier just to leave them alone.
I watched a film a few months ago that has more or less floated along the periphery of my thoughts ever since. It was titled A Ghost Story and was about the passage of time and the way humans seem to find a way to tear down and rebuild everything over and over again. More than that, however, it’s about one man’s attachment to a physical place. Throughout different scenes in the movie, a young couple is seen discussing the possibility of moving from the house where they live. The house is inauspicious.
Standing in the center of the walkway, I found myself staring anxiously at the building before me: the University of Memphis at Lambuth. It was my first day back to college since graduating from Jackson State Community College a little over a year before, and I reluctantly confessed to myself that I was a bit nervous. I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason for this nervousness; I had been through the “first day of school” more times than I could count, yet I still felt the same anxiety as I had in previous years.
The Duncan family greets you as a soon as you arrive. At first you see a quaint gift shop atop a hill, and below to the left, you see a few rows of trees of the first farm. As your wonder begins to take over, you get closer to that tiny shop, and you notice they have hot cocoa for you to enjoy right there on the doorstep. You walk in, and the shop explodes with color and warmth. There are beautiful homemade wreaths, ornaments, and holiday decor that just seem to resonate in a place you’ve long forgotten.
There is nothing quite like southern suburbia. It’s filled with people who just want to sit you down and offer you a proper sweet tea, cars nearly big enough to fly to space, and monograms embellishing almost everything you own. Like most of you readers, I was born and raised in Jackson, Tennessee. I grew up with two loving and supportive parents, a beautiful nanny whom I would come to know as family, a hilarious sister two years younger than me, and a huge black lab named Winston. (He was named this after the prime minister Winston Churchill, of course.)
The air hovers thick. It’s almost too heavy with moisture to breathe in. The field is still green with summer’s gift of abundant rain and sunshine, but the leaves on the nearby trees are starting to shrink up, dry out, turn brown. Fall is coming soon, bringing with it the growing anticipation of a new cross country season.The year is 2009, and I’m in high school at Trinity Christian Academy. It’s another oppressively hot August, but most people don’t notice too much since they’re properly air conditioned.
Inevitability is the evil twin of hope. Hope is when we’re not quite sure what will happen, but we’re certain that we want it to happen. The mystery of hope and, to be quite honest, the appeal of hope rest in its uncertainty. There’s the idea that what we are hoping for will eventually morph into reality and, if we’re lucky, possibly exceed our original expectations. Hope is why the idea of something is oftentimes better than the thing itself. We survive on hope. Hope keeps us moving.Inevitability, however, is certain.
I have always felt some connection with Jackson, Tennessee—possibly because my grandfather was the first chiropractor in Jackson. (For those who might of known him, he was located off 45 down from the Red Cross building.) So in part you could say my roots are here in Jackson.I was born and raised in Lexington, Tennessee. Growing up, my mom, twin sister, and older brother would load up into a red station wagon and head out to Jackson, listening to Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” cassette tapes.
Eating is an incredibly sacramental act. In fact a feast, regularly celebrated, is one of the universally recognized rites of the Christian Church. It can be a reminder of our lack of complete self-sufficiency. We need things outside ourselves in order to survive even on the most basic of levels. The sacred is also something that is meant to be experienced with other people. Meals are often communal, and I would argue that the best meals are always shared experiences. No matter how good the food is it is always better shared with other people
We have a propensity to glorify revolution. We want to label things as revolutions whether they are revolutionary or not. Perhaps this is because we view ourselves as the by-products of a revolution. We love to celebrate rebels who overthrow and overturn the felt tyranny of the old existing order. This is right and good to a certain point, but revolution has a dark side, too. It is rare however that we pause to reflect on the negative consequences of revolution.
In March of 2016 I began dating my girlfriend Natalie, a girl who was born and raised in Jackson and who had the knowledge to back it up. Me being an out-of-town transplant, she thought that it was of great importance for me to learn a little culture and history of this city that we know and love. I gladly complied. Usually these lessons were unplanned and casual. As things came up in conversation she would explain to me the history as best she knew it. One of those things was Waffle House.
There is a spot in this little city that beckons me come when I am in need—in need of assurance, in need of rest, in need of a change of scenery. I must admit, I did not find this spot on my own. I was dating a boy that understood my tendency for restlessness, and one night at dusk, he drove me to his secret respite in our small world. We sat at the edge of the parking lot of what is now a bustling commercial hub and watched the sun go down over our city. For the first time, I saw life here.
Lambuth University and its small, historic campus seemed enchanting from the first time I set eyes on it the morning I went to register for my junior year in the fall of 1993. I was breathless at the charm and history that seeped from every leaf and brick. Everything from the old oak trees that stood guard like ancient soldiers to the squirrels that ran around chattering (with an attitude bigger than they were) contributed to the magic feeling of the place.
So we were on the hunt again. Charles and I had not been geocaching for a long time, and I decided it was the best way to spend an afternoon off work, to which he replied, “Okay,” in his signature shrug and half-smile. Our first geocaching adventure was nearly nine years prior to this. We had found a few by the Love’s truck stop in Jackson and more by some historical landmarks around town. At the time I saw this as a simple act, two friends doing something random together just because.
In May of 2016, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth—or so it would have appeared. Schools rich in personal and communal history were closing. Their doors were shutting for good, and the buildings would just sit there, rotting. There was no clear plan for what would happen to those buildings other than the fact that they wouldn’t house students.
Growing up into my late teens or early twenties, I had so many people telling me what I needed to do and what I needed not to do. Looking back, it was very overwhelming to someone like me, a naturally meek and quiet person. I had so many opinions thrown at me, and it took me a few years to finally sit down and truly think about what I wanted in my life. I was told countless times by various people how I needed to move away, get out of this small town, and live somewhere bigger because there's so much "more."