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Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

You may or may not have heard about a controversy in the Diocese of Nashville about sexuality education. Some parents at Father Ryan High School are protesting the content of the 9th grade theology program, and the bishop has told them straight up too bad. No opting out allowed.

I looked at some of the material that’s been posted online. (warning…)

I’m a mother of five kids. I’m a grandmother. I’ve taught high school theology. I’ve written for Catholic teens and young adults. I’ve stood up at meetings and defending the teaching of sexuality education in a Catholic middle school program.  Here’s my response.

Wow. This is some really, really weird s***.

Not inherently, mind you. It’s just basic sexual mechanics and physiology. But in context? Of 14-year olds in classrooms? In between Algebra and History class? In a Catholic school? Right after Mass?

Weird.

Work with me here.

You’re the parent of an 8th grader. Maybe not a sweet innocent 8th grader, but just your normal 13-year old. You’re all pretty excited about next year.

High school!

And what’s more…

Catholic! High school!

There’s going to be Mass and crucifixes and people are going to talk about Jesus and there’s going to be praying and saint-talk, not to mention algebra and history and literature and Spanish….

Awesome!

Oh, and did you get the memo on this class?

OUTER LIPS (Labia Majora) a. The outermost hair-covered folds of skin surrounding the genitals. b. They vary greatly in size. c. Like the scrotum, the outer lips swell slightly with  stimulation; in their stimulated state they pull back and expose the Inner Lips.

That’s happening too.

Is that what you envisioned for next year for your kid?

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Now, in the official responses from All The Officials, I’m reading a lot of consistent with Church teaching…sanctity of human body….the…and…maybe…shut up…

And words like that.

Guess what?

Nope.

Classroom lessons and tests for teens on the effect of stimulation on lady and gent parts? Not sane Catholic pedagogy. Pretty much not sane pedagogy at all.

But you know what? I’m not even going to focus on the Catholic part of this, because it’s seriously so stupid that anyone thinks that “Instruct the Ignorant” means “Provides schematics of spread-eagle Views of Vaginas for Teenagers to Share.”

One Mad Mom has all of that covered, and very well, thanks. Oh, and the parents, too. They know what’s right.

They’re articulating all of that very well.

I just want to focus on something else.

The weirdness.

Maybe just distance yourself from this for a minute. Pretend that you don’t know anything about culture wars, Catholic or otherwise, or that you don’t have a stake in any of these issues.

Now. Consider this.

Consider the possibility that it’s a little …weird for an adult to stand in front of a group of young teen boys and girls and teach this material:

CLITORIS a) This is the most sexually sensitive part of the female body. It corresponds to the glans or head of the penis. b) Though there is no reproductive purpose, the clitoris is made of erectile tissue and contains a high concentration of erotic neural receptors and blood vessels. c) When flaccid or unaroused the tissue is c.1” long; when aroused, it swells to 2” to 3”.

Not weird in a counter-cultural Albanian-nun-picks-up-dying-poor-from-Calcutta-streets kind of way.

More like…what adult in their right mind wants to talk to other people’s 14-year old kids about the clitoris? kind of weird.

And more like…with all the fascinating things to learn about the world that will help kids find a unique way to help make the world a better place, YES let’s spend time on the mechanics of sexual activity with 14-year olds kind of weird.

(Imagine you are a parent of a teen. And then you stand up in front of your kid and his or friends and give this lesson.

GLANS 1. Located at the tip or head of the penis is a structure which contains a highly concentrated amount of neural receptors sensitive to stimulus; it is the center of sexual pleasure for the male.

That would be weird of you. Your kids would die. You might even get arrested.)

And no nonsense about “What they already know” and “what they see on their smartphones.”  No kidding. And you think this helps? 

It’s not weird at all to want to help kids navigate this culture and their own desires and questions. It’s not weird to want to share the Good News of the truth about sexuality in a reasoned, understanding, realistic way. It’s really important to do this, as a matter of fact.

But again…context. Which is SCHOOL. Required attendance. Grades. Mixed gender groups.

More context:  14-year olds, boys and girls of varying levels of maturity and awareness, going to school as part of a system in which modesty and discretion are still key values and parents have prime responsibility for education. There are many ways that a Catholic school can and should work with parents on fighting this battle and helping kids. Sniffing that  parents should just bug off because they’re not keen on your program that tests their  son or daughter on the physiology of sexual simulation and even subtly encourages them to envision their classmate’s bodies on that level is perhaps not on the top of that list.

Have some mercy for pete’s sake!

Let me share a couple of experiences that might make my perspective clearer.

(Perhaps beginning by reminding you of my fundamental school-skepticism on every score. Remember that?)

Many, many years  ago, the Catholic middle school that one of my kids was attending was going to incorporate some sexuality education in the 8th grade. Very mild, general stuff, really, but there were some who objected, and made that clear at a meeting. At the meeting I defended the curriculum, partly because it was fine, in my opinion, and also because the teacher was a much-beloved, trusted, deeply faithful Catholic woman whom the kids all loved as a firm, calm, charitable person of faith. I felt really good about Theresa affirming in the classroom what we were doing at home, and it was not explicit at all. It was spirituality. 

(But some objected nonetheless, and that was their right! And their kids didn’t have to participate!)

Flash forward a bit. Now it’s another kid in 7th grade parish religious education. Theology of the Body had been mandated, and there was a parent meeting. Things went okay until the actual instructor stood up to talk. I had no idea who she was . My kid didn’t know her. A woman in her mid-40’s, a mom, a parishioner known to many, but not to me – not that that matters.  But this is what she said, in the most casual, hey you guys!  tone about what was coming up for the 12-year olds, and as I recall it, it was almost as if she was chomping gum – “Now I don’t know what you all have told your kids  about the details of sex, but you need to get caught up before we start the class. They need to know everything because we’re going to talk about everything– we’re gonna  talk about masturbation, we’re gonna to talk about porn…”

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Who are you???? 

Yeah, so that didn’t happen for us.

This is about more than this particular situation. It gives anyone working on these issues in parish or school settings something to think about.

So if you’re in charge of things like this in your school or parish, you might want to consider the weird factor. You might want to consider that the parents who are not down with your plans don’t hate sex, don’t want their kids to be ignorant about sex and don’t want them to be ignorant of the Church’s teaching. The parents of kids in your school might even have had some sexy time themselves recently.

Maybe, just maybe…they think it’s…. odd …for random adults to be bound and determined to talk to young teens  – who are required to be in this setting, without parents present and are graded on their responses- about the mechanics of  sexual activity, diagrams and aroused clitoral dimensions helpfully included. 

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We spent the weekend at the pool (and serving at Mass), and by last night the natives were just a little restless, so today became a road trip day.

As much of my life I have lived in or near Tennessee, one place I had never been was the Shiloh Battlefield Park. I have an excuse – well, two. Battlefields are not really my thing, and secondly, if you look at a map, you see that Shiloh is a bit out of the way – at least from the places I’ve lived and the regular driving routes that took me through and around the state – between Nashville and Knoxville, from Indiana to Knoxville, from Florida to Knoxville and back.

So today became the day to check it off the list.

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We left a little after 8 and a bit before 11 rolled into Corinth, MS. Corinth was the actual reason and excuse for the Battle of Shiloh, being the major rail junction for the Confederacy’s hold in what they then called the West.  The Confederates needed to hold on to it, and the Union wanted to break it down, a goal that seemed quite possible after two important victories in northern middle Tennessee in March, 1862.

Corinth had only existed since 1854, and now, just a few years later, it would be inundated with troops from both sides, troops alive, wounded and dead.

So that’s where we began.

The NPS runs an excellent Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth. The museum part is superior to what we saw at Shiloh, the 18-minute film on the role of Corinth in the war is excellent, fair and moving, and there are design features of the facility that deepen the experience.

 

The path from the parking lot to the Center features sculpted remnants of battle strewn about on the ground and embedded in the sidewalk. 

The fountain feature behind the center is quite striking. You can read more about it here. It’s a good visual representation of the course of American history from the formulation of the ideals in the Declaration and the Constitution through the Civil War. 

One of the most interesting things I learned concerned the Corinth Contraband Camp. After the victory at Shiloh, the Union eventually moved south and took Corinth. During the months of occupation, area slaves began to move into what was now Union territory, hoping for eventual permanent freedom.  Many of the men joined the Union army, and those that didn’t, along with the families of those who did, lived and worked in Corinth. They formed a community, were paid for their labors for the first time, had a church and schools. Abolitionists and Protestant missionaries arrived from the North to minister to them. When the Union pulled out in 1863, most of the inhabitants of the camp followed them to Memphis.

We spent about an hour at the Center, then ate lunch at Borroum’s Drug Store – the oldest in Mississippi. My younger son declared the hamburger to be the second best he’d ever eaten. (First? Nope, not mine. Five Guys.) It was a fun experience, but if you go…they don’t take credit cards, only cash or checks. Luckily I had my checkbook!

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The park on the site of the Contraband Camp was a bit east of downtown, so we made a quick stop there – it is just open land with various statues scattered about – and then set off for Shiloh. It’s a bit more than twenty miles north, but the drive takes about 35 minutes.

Historical markers begin to appear far before the park boundaries because, of course, the battles raged and troops moved all along the land between Corinth and what we now call Shiloh. (Named for a Methodist meeting house in the area of the battle)

We arrived and decided to go ahead and watch the film, even though at first I said we’d only watch part of it – it was 45 minutes.  But, well..it was so well done and so riveting, no one moved, and after one of my sons declared that it had not seemed to last that long at all. Perhaps some of you have seen similar films at other NPS-run battleground sites and they are all equally good. I don’t know. But I was impressed, not only with the professional quality, but with the smooth integration of explanation of tactics and movement along with personal narratives. I always, of course, have my eye out for the treatment of religion and while of course it was not central, it did enter the picture as soldiers were depicted praying, reading the Bible and singing a hymn.

Now, if you are not deeply into the history of a particular battle, the question arises…what now? The battlefield is huge, markers delineating troop position and movement are everywhere and obviously if you are into that, it’s a day-long excursion or more and you’re ecstatic. But if you can’t get interested in what the Indiana 30th did at 10 AM on April 6th…what next?

Well, we hit the high points. We drove to Pittsburgh Landing, then circled around to some of the high points on the driving tour, and happened upon another Ranger talk near the site of where Johnston – the CSA commanding officer – was killed during the battle. The Ranger was animated, clear in his descriptions and picked just the right anecdotes to keep everyone interested in the aspect of the battle he was describing – not as memorable as our favorite, Ranger Jake from the Grand Canyon, but a not-distant second.

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So we listened to that, got back into the car, drove around to some more of the major landmarks..and well, that was it for us. Even though we’re not interested in a lot of detail, the experience of being on the battlefield, the landscape of which remains much the same as it was 150 years ago, internalizing the struggle, sacrifice and carnage and comparing it with the peaceful scene of the present, is important. The ranger emphasized the history of the battlefield park: that it had been veterans from both sides of the conflict who had spearheaded the effort at the end of the 19th century, veterans who wanted to send a message to future generations: let this not happen again.

As I’ve said before, I am a major fan of federal and state parks and historical sites, and so grateful to the enthusiasts whose energy, knowledge and commitment is so evident in the quality of every one that I’ve ever visited. If you’re in the area, do visit Shiloh, but I would definitely incorporate Corinth into the visit as well.

***

As I’d quickly “planned” the day, I’d noted a Tennessee state park near Corinth – Pickwick Dam. It advertised “swimming.” Oh, what a fabulous way to wrap up the day, I thought – some time in the water! Nice try. We drove down that way (it’s on the way back to Alabama) and found that both swimming areas were very, very circumscribed. A small beach with a roped-in area on the water that was nice and safe for all the five-year olds, but uninteresting to anyone older. So we passed, but did drive across to the other side to take a look at the dam and its workings.

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***

By that time it was almost five, but with a few hours of daylight left, I thought we might try to hit another state park, this one in Mississippi. It would take us a bit out of the way, but we were in no hurry to return. I thought this park would be a good choice for an hour or so stop because it had an interesting CCC construction and a trail with rock outcroppings – always popular with Someone in our group.

We took a ten minute detour on the way south through fabulous Iuka, home of mineral waters that won first place! In the 1904 World’s Fair! 

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Well, that wasn’t very exciting. But we’re spoiled. It’s hard to top our 1904 World’s Fair contribution. Sorry, Iuka! 

But yes, we did …drink to our health.

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*****

We got to Tishomingo State Park a little before six, drove to the CCC-constructed swinging bridge, crossed it and walked much of the Outcropping Trail.

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I’ll shove this into the Roadschooling category, so let’s recount some of what was discussed: General Civil War history. Corinth and Shiloh in particular, before (I’d studied up on it last night), during and after the visits. What “contraband” means. What a slugburger is. The role of Catholic clergy and especially sisters in ministering to the wounded of Shiloh and Corinth – details here (again, I’d read up on it last night). Remembering Hoover Dam. Talking about National Parks, especially Zion, Grand Canyon and Bryce. Someone really wants to go to Arches. How people with perhaps 8th grade educations – the non-officer “ordinary” soldiers and citizens whose words were used in the films we saw –  wrote so beautifully, and what that means in regard to our definition of “education.” Lew Wallace, the author of the novel Ben-Hur, the movie of which we watched a couple of months ago, was a Union general at Shiloh. John Wesley Powell, about whom we talked a lot last year for his role in exploring the Grand Canyon, lost an arm in the Battle of Shiloh. Connections, always connections. The Sixth Sense (we watched it last night). How some people hate all football teams from Mississippi and Alabama. Why World Fairs were a thing. The TVA. Elvis.

****

Back home by 9:15. Not bad for 11 hours.

***

A couple more pool days..then Charleston bound.

Remember….Instagram & Snapchat (amywelborn2)  for more current travel images.

 

 

 

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Is it strange that the real purpose of this trip was to do the Jack Daniel Distillery Tour? 

Especially since I don’t even drink it or anything like it?

Well, see, I find the production of any kind of alcohol – fermentation, distillation, viticulture, what have you – so fascinating from both a chemical and historical perspective.  I can’t help but wonder how people stumbled upon and then developed these processes, and the great care and precision that goes into making any of it on a high level.

It’s such a contrast to my slovenly, “that’ll do” way of life, I suppose…it’s like visiting another country for me…

(I read good things about the George Dickel tour as well, but I didn’t really want to take that extra jog up  to Tullahoma, so Jack it was).

It’s a very good tour.  I’ve done a few of these factory-type tours – Golden Flake here in town, Blue Bell down in Sylacauga, etc.. – and this one ranks.  The guide we got was an older guy, confident, at ease, knowledgeable and there was a refreshing paucity of awkward jokes. The history was thorough, the chemistry was clearly explained – those big bubbling vats of fermenting mash won’t be forgotten, the hard sell was at a minimum, and limited to the unattainable “single barrel” club.

The tour is free (there’s another two-hour tasting tour that costs $10), and today, a summer weekday, we were able to get on a tour that left within 10 minutes of our arrival, no problem.  You ride a bus up to the  charcoal-burning yard, and then walk back down, going into the original offices, the fermentation building and the distillation building on the way, as well as the cave spring, of course.  It was really interesting to see the mash bubbling away – not the greatest scent, but interesting to have the kids pick out the yeast smell…

A few images (no photos allowed indoors)

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Vintage Texaco in Cowan, TN.  We went to Lynchburg via Sewanee.  (“Mom, what does that mean?”  “What?” “What you just said…’pretentious.'”  “Oh….that….”)

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Back roads

Jack Daniels Distillery

Charcoal being made from sugar maple. Very hot!

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The way home took us through Huntsville, so I thought about stopping for the “Robot Zoo” exhibit at the Space Center (free admission because of membership in our science museum), but time got away from us, we had to be back in town for a meeting tonight, so not this time.  I did, however, take a 10-mile detour off the interstate to visit the Mennonite-run bakery.  Very good! With chickens out front who got away before I could dig my camera out of my purse.

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Close up of the Scripture text on the wrapper:

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…is our land.

Day trip…well, overnight.  More to come.  But so far:

Cloudland Canyon State Park in west Georgia:

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee/Georgia.

High Point Climbing, Chattanooga. Again.  This time with the brother who missed it last time.

high point climbing Chattanooga

One of the riverside parks in Chattanooga.  Pedestrian bridge in background.  Every time I come to Chattanooga and experience what they have accomplished with their downtown, I think, Poor Birmingham.  I mean…without that cooling, ever-moving water, it’s so hard to create this kind of space:

Get. Out. Of. The House. 

It’s SUMMERTIME!

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— 1 —

….a few days after.

The older brother was on an overnight school trip earlier in the week, so the ten-year old and I took the opportunity to go up to the 4th largest city in Tennesse to revisit the Aquarium (he’d been 2 or 3 years ago, but was ready for a return and his brother wouldn’t mind being excluded) and see the zoo, the children’s museum and whatever else we could fit into about 24 hours. (We couldn’t leave until after his piano lesson on Monday)

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— 2 —

Having lived in Knoville during my teen and college years, I have random associations with Chattanooga:

  • One of my best friends from college was from Chattanooga and taught me all about the prep/boarding school/High Episcopal culture of the city.
  • When I was in high school in Knoxville, our newspaper staff attended a high school journalism convention in Knoxville.  Something I wrote won me an autographed paperback copy of a book by Barbara Walters.  No, I don’t still have it.
  • On that same trip,  some of the senior girls went out after curfew to some bar. (They may have even been 18, so it might have even been okay…remember that was the drinking age then. Wiser times.) One of the girls met a guy there – a guy in his twenties – and Chemistry Happened. She was giddy about it when she got back to the hotel room. We lowly, gawky sophomores and juniors were in awe.   They made plans.  He’d come up to Knoxville in a few weeks and they would go to the Dan Fogleburg concert together.

(And of course)

She waited and waited at the Civic Center…

He didn’t show up.

Longer than….

— 3 —

No such drama or awards this time.  Just animal-crazy kid-centered fun.

First thing about Chattanooga:  the city is a model of tourism development and marketing.  It’s the smallest of the Big Four cities in Tennessee, and probably has the least attention-grabbing cachet.  No blues/Elvis/Mississippi River, no country music capitol, no Smokey Mountains gateway. But it’s taken what it has – the natural attraction and history of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, as well as its location as the city through which a good chunk of the Florida-bound traffic must pass  – and built on it.

There’s a degree of artificiality about it, but at the same time, this downtown area of Chattanooga, on both sides of the river, is clearly also for residents, and it shows.

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— 4 —

We couldn’t leave until after the Monday piano lesson, but even so, since the Aquarium doesn’t close until 7:30, we had plenty of time to explore.

There are two wings, one devoted to oceans and one to rivers.  The latter is the original, appropriately themed, since it sits right on the lovely Tennessee River.   There is not a whole lot in the ocean wing, but there were penguins and some great rays.

The river wing is well designed:  you ride the escalator up to the top, then wind your way down on mezzanine ramps that branch out into exhibit halls on the sides.  My son’s favorite is the paddle fish – he says it looks prehistoric to him and it does.

I like the Tennessee Aquarium more than I do the Atlanta aquarium, which always seems like such a mob scene to me.  It’s expensive, but then all aquariums are – they are expensive to operate – but it’s worth it.

Then some walking:

The Bluff View area directly east of downtown is lovely, and here’s another great feature of Chattanooga planning:  public art.  It’s a priority for the city, and the placement of all of this statuary adds ongoing interest to an already eye-catching walk up and down hills and over a pedestrian bridge.

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The Walnut Street Bridge – threatened with demolition until a little over twenty years ago, the community joined together to restore and revive it as a pedestrian bridge.

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— 5 —

Tuesday morning, we took a ten-minute drive to the zoo.  It’s small, and half-priced with our Birmingham Zoo membership, I paid a little over seven bucks for us to get in.  It was us with scores of school groups, but most of the time we managed to stay ahead of them and enjoy the animals without too much ecstatic squealing in the background.

My ten-year old is a zoo afficianado, with one of the great regrets of his life being that he was only four when he went to the San Diego Zoo, and he doesn’t remember it.  His favorite so far is the New Orleans Zoo, but he approved of this one, too, comparing it in size and scope to the Montgomery Zoo and he’s right.

So, no big animals here, which is fine – the biggest cats were jaguars, and supposedly there were chimps but we never saw them.  The highlights for us were the Fennec foxes, which are new and very cute, and the sloth

I’ve seen sloths in zoos before (Birmingham has one), but I’ve never seen one do anything but sleep.  We had been through this exhibit once earlier, had some extra time, so we decided to go back to it once more before we left, and it was great that we did: the sloth, previously curled up and asleep was seriously on the move:

Their Edward Scissorhands hook paws are pretty weird.

It was a good couple of hours and walking around, looking at animals, and listening to my ten-year old tell me all about them.

Then back to town, where we spent some time at the Children’s Discovery Museum.  I was unsure if it might be a little young for Michael, and he was right on the edge, and we wouldn’t return, but the music and art rooms were particularly good and provided him some interesting ways to spend his time.

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Then, this happened:

High Point Climbing

— 6 —

You can’t miss the High Point Climbing and Fitness.  The outdoor climbing walls loom high over the riverside area. We took a brief walk around Monday night, and I told Michael that yes, he could do it on Tuesday…and so he did.  For two hours. Indoors and out.  Arms sore at the end, heels blistered from the shoes, but very, very happy.

High Point Climbing and Fitness

High Point Climbing Gym

And he was pretty excited to learn that they are opening their second facility in 2016….in Birmingham.

And then back home to pick up brother at 11:30 pm at school from his trip.

We’ll go back to Chattanooga for a couple of days sometime this summer to do Lookout Mountain/Ruby Falls/Rock City (which my older son said was really kitschy and actually kind of weird) and Chickamagua.  My big goal of this summer, locally, is to get to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is just a little south of Chattanooga – it looks amazing.

— 7 —

Had a nice chat with Matt Swain on Thursday morning about the two B16 picture books, available here, of course:

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And for Mother’s Day:

days

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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My daughter’s recent travels (she lives and works in Bavaria and last week took a short break in Verona with side trips to Venice and Mantua) and my two trips to NYC this past summer have brought to mind my first real conscious trip to the city,

She says this was horse.

many, many years ago.

And as I was mentally retracing my steps on that trip just now, I was just so amazed that I survived I thought I’d tell you about it.

It was 1978 – the summer before my Freshman year at UT.  I’d taken a couple of classes in my major (history)  during the summer, my dad taught at UT and I lived in Knoxville, so I wasn’t a hardcore, never-been-there Freshman, though. I knew my way around and wasn’t hugely stressed about the fall.

My mother was a New Englander – born in New Hampshire and raised in southern Maine, and because of that we spent about a month every summer up in Maine, at the home of the uncle and aunt who had raised her after her father died in a car accident and her mother went off to live in a rest home.

That summer, I had gone with them up to Maine, but because I needed to move into the dorm earlier than they’d be returning (my dad had a visiting year at the other UT in Austin that year, so I guess they weren’t having to head out til later for that reason too), I decided I would do just that.  I’d come back.  On the bus. Yes,  I’d ride the bus from Maine to Tennessee. And, since that route would naturally take me through New York City, I also decided that I wanted to see the place, so I arranged my itinerary so that I’d arrive (I guess) in the afternoon and then leave again late the following afternoon, taking a night bus down to Tennessee.

(First digression:  How did we make these kinds of arrangements before the Internet?  I’m at a loss. I guess I found a Greyhound or Trailways  schedule and figured it out? Right?  I have no idea.)

So far, my parents were totally on board, and didn’t seem to give the plan a second thought.  In fact, they never did, to my knowledge. The questions then became  – where would I stay or  that night?  My mother, being older – she was born in 1924 – and not having spent a great deal of time in New York City and still evidently having her vision of the place shaped by My Friend Irma and other tales of Smart Girls Alone in the City in 1952 said, “Well, of course you’ll stay at the Barbizon,” not understanding that the Barbizon was a residential, rather than tourist hotel and that, well, it wasn’t 1952.  I am not sure how we figured it out – that it was a residential hotel, but we did. Scratch the Barbizon.

Next idea? Well, of course, the fallback would be the budget-friendly travelers’ rest that everyone knows –

the YMCA!

Now, the Manhattan YMCAs – as well as others around the world – are indeed known for providing such hostel – like accomodations. I guess we knew they admitted women.  I guess.

(Okay – I did have a guide to New York City Hotels I had picked up in a travel agency – remember those? For some reason I can even remember the layout of the silly thing, all these years later.  I must have studied it so extensively – a premonition of hours  days spent in travel research to come. The YMCA must have been on the list.)

So, that was the plan, such as it was. The departure day came, I got on the bus (not sure where – Sanford? Portland? Portsmouth?), waved good-bye and off I headed back to the South, with a slight detour.

I disembarked at the Port Authority hours later – after witnessing a street brawl between two women through the window –  and yes, this is Times Square in 1979, and yes I saw it all, right there. Grime, porn shops, prostitutes (very aggressive prostitutes almost accosting men, angrily), the works.  A little bit of a culture shock, but I forged on, because I was going to the YMCA.

Without a reservation. 

Not one of us had imagined that such a thing would be necessary.  How crowded could a YMCA hostel in Manhattan be? I mean, isn’t that what the YMCA hostel experience is all about? Showing up and finding that Young Christian hospitality, just… there?

Hahahahahaha. 

So, yes, I was turned away at the front desk. They didn’t laugh,but I do think they were incredulous.

And there I was, an 18-year old girl from the Midwest and the South without theatrical or artistic aspirations… in Manhattan….without a place to stay!

I don’t remember my state of mind at the time.  I’m assuming I was upset and worried, but I also don’t remember it being overwhelming or throwing me into a panic.  I whipped out my hotel guide, found the cheapest ones that were nearest (I’m sure I was operating on a cash basis), and started to search.

I have absolutely no idea the name of the place I found or where it was – since this YMCA was on the East Side – near the UN, as I recall, because I remember seeing it  – perhaps the hotel was over there as well.   But I did find one – with a room the size of a closet with a shared bathroom down the hall.

(Do you see why I’m such a patient, tolerant traveler? THIS was my first big trip alone!)

What did I do that night?  What I remember doing is going to a deli down the street, getting a sandwich, being amazed at the size of it,  and eating it in my room while reading a book.

Some things never change.

Next day:

(Prelude:  I’ve never worn a watch. For some reason, I feel naked without a hair tie around my wrist, but a watch has always bugged me.)

I was awakened by the sun, and indeed, felt wide awake. Get up! Get out! Experience the city! Pack up your backpack, go down to check out!

See by the clock behind the desk that it’s 6:30 AM!

Gee, if only I’d been more sophisticated, I could have wandered to the right places and met Andy Warhol or someone emerging from their night partying….

Well, of course I was not going to say, never mind and slink back up to the room.  So I did what any good Catholic girl would do when faced with this situation at this hour: I went to Mass.

Again, I don’t know where I was, but it was not at a great distance from St. Patrick’s because that’s where I ended up for Mass.  After which it was still about 7:30, I guess, with no place open except breakfast joints. So I started walking.. And for the rest of the day, up until my bus left from the Port Authority late in the afternoon…I walked.

I took my scruffy self into Saks and for the first time in my life, felt quite out of place.  Looked at some price tags. Blanched.

I walked down, down, down, and around and around.  At one point, seeing little but empty storefronts and the homeless, I looked up and saw a street sign.  “THE BOWERY” it said, and once, again, having been formed in a milieu in which Tin Pan Alley and show tunes were the soundtrack, immediately thought: 

The Bow’ry, the Bow’ry!
They say such things,
And they do strange things
On the Bow’ry! The Bow’ry!
I’ll never go there anymore!

…and turned west, knowing that I’d hit the financial district soon enough.

Which I did.  I got there and went into the Stock Exchange – I had the leather souvenir key chain I bought there for years – then started walking back up north, hitting Macy’s, I think, and I don’t recall what else.  You see where I was, so I never did any museums or saw Central Park. It was all central and lower Manhattan, me, the 18-year old with the backpack, making her way back to the Port Authority to catch the night bus to Knoxville.

As I said, I don’t remember every being panicked or scared. I tend to take things in stride, and I guess that was part of my psyche then, as well.  What do I remember? I remember a contrast between scruffiness and sleekness, but I remember far more scruffiness. But nothing I saw that trip was a scruffy as what I saw a couple of years later when I returned with my father, who was attending a professional meeting – and as we walked down the street after dinner with some of his colleagues, a fellow standing in the street, needed to go, and yeah, whipped it out, and..went.

Awkward. 

Years later, I asked my dad…”Why did you let me go to New York by myself that time?”  He shrugged. “Everyone who doesn’t grow up in one need to do it – to go to the big city, deal with it, and discover that yes, you can handle it.”

Maybe with the slightest of plans, but definitely without a data plan.

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