Renegade Writers Guild

Published 10:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tennessee by Rail

By N.R. Tucker

Elaine stood in the living room, in front of the picture window, waiting for her uncle on a Saturday evening. An engineer with Southern Railroad, he frequently traveled by train and occasionally took a niece or nephew along for the ride. She had bugged him for a while to take her on another trip with him. Elaine wished the trip wasn’t at night because she loved to watch the scenery, which seemed more exciting by train than by car, but she wasn’t about to complain.

It was a chilly evening, but thankfully the steady rain of the past couple of weeks was gone, and the wind had stopped blowing. Elaine wore a traveling dress that her mother demanded she put on. They had argued over the dress, but her Mother was insistent. Elaine wasn’t sure what train they would ride but expected it to be on one of the small cargo trains.

Even though it was late at night, there were people at the station. She had expected that because she knew the passenger train pulled into the station around 10:15 pm. She knew because she heard the whistle blow any night she had trouble going to sleep.

Everyone spoke to her uncle. He was well known to the passengers and the employees. A few people acknowledged Elaine as well and complimented her dress which made her happy she had followed mother’s instructions. Some people mentioned her grandfather who died before she was born. Big Daddy worked for the railroad, and Uncle Fred was the only one of his sons to follow in his footsteps.

A reporter from the local paper asked to take a photo with the railroad employees and their families. Elaine was very excited. When the train pulled into the station, they lined up, and he took their photo in front of the Tennessean.

She was surprised and a little disappointed that she would be riding on the Tennessean. It was a luxury streamliner, and she had ridden it before. Elaine much preferred the working trains where the workers would take a moment to talk to her and maybe explain what they were doing. On those trips, she followed her uncle as he worked, but this wasn’t a working trip for him. When they boarded, he told Elaine he would ride as a passenger the entire time.

Over the years, the Tennessean had introduced Elaine to things outside her small town life. It had lounge coaches with chairs that reclined and swiveled. There was also a bar and parlors. The observation lounge was her favorite, but she had rarely been in there. The train also carried the older, heavyweight Pullman sleepers, which she had seen before, and had even used once when traveling with mother and her sisters.

How impressive the streamliner must have been on its inaugural run. While waiting, Elaine envisioned herself back in 1941, dressed for an exciting holiday on a shiny new train. Elaine’s imagination frequently got her in trouble as she wove stories of exotic places and more fascinating times, but tonight there was no one telling her to remain in the here and now.

Because it was a special occasion, the employees, and their families were invited to the observation lounge where refreshments awaited them. The drinks bubbled like clear soda. Elaine and the other kids had sparkling water which she had never heard of, served in fancy glasses, the likes of which she had never seen before. Years later she learned it was a champagne flute. Tiny snacks (Mrs. Camp called them finger foods) lined the table. Elaine liked the bite-sized food but thought the sparkling water was a bit odd with its bubbles. It sort of made her thirsty.

As a kid, Elaine didn’t understand what the excitement was about, but while adults reminisced, the kids were allowed to look out the windows from the observation lounge as long as they behaved.  The small towns and rural areas were beautiful at night. Building lights provided quite a show and made her glad they traveled in the evening.

The train left Sweetwater, stopping in Athens, Cleveland, and Chattanooga. The employees and family members debarked at Chattanooga’s huge Terminal Station. Elaine loved that station. She had been through Terminal Station many times and always enjoyed looking around, observing the activity.

Elaine overheard Mrs. Foster say she regretted that the downtown Chattanooga Union Station, made famous in Glenn Miller’s recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” no longer existed. Elaine didn’t remember the downtown station but knew it had been a passenger transfer point only. It wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting as Terminal Station.

The Terminal Station which Elaine loved was built in the early 1900’s as a major hub for the movement of goods in the South. Over time it replaced Union Station as a center for passenger transfers. In Chattanooga, they boarded another train, a regular train, and reversed their trip back to Sweetwater. This train was less fancy and more in line with what Elaine expected the trip to be, but she never forgot the fun of watching the night scenery out the lounge windows.

The date was March 30, 1968, and the first part of Elaine’s trip was on the last voyage of the Tennessean.

If you go to Chattanooga today, you can stay at a revamped Terminal Station which is now called Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. In the 1970’s, the buildings of the station were turned into a 24-acre hotel complex and are now listed with the Historic Hotels of America. The original tracks still run through much of the complex, and departure signs still hang over the original wooden doors.


By Marie Benge Craig

When I was a little girl, I learned an important lesson about the difference in temporary and permanent.  My parents and I lived in Black Mountain in a small home that had a large screened back porch.  There was a medium-sized table on it, and sometimes we ate out there.  My mother always had a pretty oilcloth tablecloth on it.

     I was old enough to remember that sometimes it’s real hot outside and sometimes real cold.  This led me to my first scientific experiment.  My mother did a lot of canning of fruits and vegetables she grew in her marvelous garden.  This day, she had washed her quart jars and lids, and she set them out on the table in the sun to dry.  It was a really hot day, and I remembered how cold I’d been last winter.

So, I took one of the hot jars and quickly slapped on a lid and captured that future heat.  I ran as fast as I could to the closet in her room and slid the jar between a stack of quilts.  I was sure that I had a good heat source for the future winter.

Amazingly, I remembered my secret invention and enjoyed the autumn and the start of the school year.  I savored that warmth in my mind and made myself wait until the coldest possible day.  I was so sure that the wonderful insulation of those quilts would not let me down.

One day when it was really cold outside, I finally decided that this was the day to blast myself with the stored heat in the jar.  I found it just where I had left it and held it to my face to enjoy the warmth as I quickly removed the lid.   Alas, it was nothing but cold air.  I was very disappointed that my invention had failed me.

    But I have many memories of warmth that others shared with me.  This is one of them.  Back then our house only had a space heater in the living room which meant that the other rooms weren’t real warm.  When I was young, my mother had a small blanket she called a warming blanket.  She would put it on top of the heater to absorb warmth and then put it in my bed like a big envelope.  When a few minutes of warmth made the sheets bearable, she would open the envelope for me to run and jump inside, giving me such incredible toasty sensations.  I hold this memory sacred in my heart.

First Grade

By Gaye Hoots

     My first day of school was at Shady Grove School. I was elated to be with so many other kids. My class was a split of a first and second grade. This doubled the workload for our teacher, Miss Hartman. Her niece Janine was also a first-grade student. We did not appear to have much in common. She had long blonde curls like Alice in Wonderland and wore pretty dresses. I was a tomboy and preferred pants, but we became best friends.

     The first time we lined up to go to the bathroom, we went down the steps near our classroom door. Miss Hartman directed the boys toward the bathroom, and I followed. She called me back and explained that there was a girl’s bathroom across the building and asked us to follow her. At that time there were twelve grades in the school. All grades shared the facilities.

     Miss Hartman had to fill out information forms for each of us. One of the questions asked was whether our mothers worked. I answered that my mother worked. She said she was not aware of this and asked where my mother worked. I started with a long list of the house chores and field work. Miss Hartman explained that the reference was to public work and not housework. I assured her that no mother worked any harder than my mom did.

     I am sure she felt I was a bad influence on Janine who was well mannered. On one occasion a boy tried to push his way into the line between us. There was a bit of a tussle and Janine scratched his face. Miss Hartman could barely believe this and kept casting glances at me.

     Another incident happened on the playground. I was playing cowboys and Indians with the boys. It was a hot summer day, and we were sweating. The boys took off their shirts and hung them on a lilac bush. I did the same. This did not go unnoticed. Miss Hartman made a beeline to me and informed me that girls did not remove their shirts. I refused to put my shirt on unless the boys did too. She instructed all of us to put our shirts on.

     Several times during the year, I went home with Janine after school. Her grandparents and Miss Hartman lived in a craftsman house in downtown Advance. I loved that house and live in it today. We managed to get into trouble there too. I showed Janine how to swing from a limb by your knees and pick up a quarter stuck in the ground. Janine was able to do this too but swallowed the quarter which caused some concern.

    First grade was a great experience for me. Janine seemed to like it too. We remained a twosome until her mother took a position in Cooleemee at the end of fifth grade.

     The only unpleasant memory of this year was a fire. The home of another first-grade student whose mother taught at Shady Grove, burned. We could imagine coming home to find our home and everything we had gone. We learned a lot in first grade.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

By Mike Gowen

          Twinkle twinkle little star

          How I wonder what you are

After consulting with experts, thoughtful consideration, additional research, and the ever foolproof method of flipping coins and getting heads two out of three times, I’ve decided the lyrics to this popular children’s song should be altered. I know, it’s like rewriting The Star Spangled Banner or Jesus Loves Me.

Sorry, it can’t be helped. The song was written in 1806 so it’s over 200 years old now. The lyrics obviously aren’t working. The revised version will start like this…


        Twinkle twinkle little star

        How I wonder where you are.

Let me explain how I got here.

One of my favorite ways to pass the time is sitting on our deck, enjoying a glass of wine after a long day and gazing at the stars. To me, it’s just mesmerizing to be there relaxing and pondering the great mysteries of life…

Is Bigfoot real?

Is there life beyond our galaxy?

Did I set the DVR to record Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday?

Do we have more wine?

Yes, much is accomplished sitting on my deck staring at the sky. However, a few years back while on vacation my best friend Bob attempted to ruin this simple activity for me. It had been a long day and we retired to the deck to finish the evening with a nightcap or two. We were staying in Virginia along the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley. The night was pitch black with not a cloud in the sky. The view was breathtaking of the stars and the moon. I was basking in the moment, surrounded by the glory of the spectrum before us when Bob changed my life forever by uttering,

“You know, they aren’t really there.”

“What’s not there?” I say trying to remember if this was a continuation of a previous conversation I had zoned out of.

“The stars,” he said. “What you’re seeing is just an illusion.”

Bob is my best friend. He is from England, and I consider him a very intelligent person. He is after all, educated, prominent in corporate America… and he has an accent. He must be smart. I guess he noticed me looking at him with an expression of disbelief, or perhaps wine stupor… maybe both. He went on to explain how it takes light so long to travel to the earth that by the time it gets here and you see the stars… they actually have moved.

Needless to say, this threw a monkey wrench into my gazing at the stars moment. Composing myself after refilling my wine glass I asked,

“Then what are we looking at?”

“Well,” Bob continued in a matter of fact tone, “You’re looking at where the stars used to be. In fact, they may not exist at all anymore.”

My night was shattered. From that point on, whenever my wife and I are sitting on our deck, I look up into the heavens I find myself saying,

“Oh look at the stars… Of course, they aren’t really there.”

I’m sure Bob feels just terrible about spoiling this for me. First Santa Claus, then the Tooth Fairy, and now this. What’s left? Thank goodness we ran out of wine before he tried to suggest pro wrestling was fake.

          Twinkle twinkle little star

          How I wonder where you are.

Sounds about right to me.

Snow Covered Mountains

By Stephanie Dean

I learned how to climb mountains in the snow when I was a child. I was raised in the hills of Nashville, Tennessee where my mother had bought a wooded lot on the side of a mountain with money she earned working for the light company. After my parents married, they carved an area out of that hill, large enough on which to build my childhood home, and that’s where my parents remained until their deaths.

     For years, we trekked down the hill following heavy snows to get from the house to the car and then back up again. In those years, the reality was not just a few hopeful days of no school; there really was such a thing as being trapped in the snow, and it snowed more often too. The winding road we lived on went up and down, back and forth, zig-zagging its way through hills, and with many deep, careening overlooks, there was no way a snow plow was going to attempt shoveling it.

      Mom was an expert at climbing a mountain in the snow, and like most things, I learned everything I know from her.

“You have to dig your boots in sideways, starting with your right foot first and then dig your left foot in sideways.” she would instruct us as we attempted to ascend the hill.

This technique worked almost as well when we descended our hill. There were many times I didn’t listen, believed I could do it just as easily some other way, and I suffered the ill consequences as I slipped and fell on the packed snow.

      Life is much like trying to climb up a snow covered mountain. First, you need a guide, a wise mentor in your life from whom you can learn. The number of mountains to climb will be great with just as many or more falls along the way. There will be the ascent, a time you work hard to overcome, reach the top, conquer a problem or achieve your goal. One thing is for sure, you’re never going to reach the top of that mountain without some falls. You’re going to need the appropriate equipment. A strong heart and good soul, the right attitude, and that bright beacon to guide you in darkness. Then you might eventually reach a short, level stretch once you’ve conquered the mountain where you can briefly rest, but there will always be the other side you have to travel down or another mountain to climb. If you ever thought ascending a snow covered mountain was hard, try descending one if just to prove to yourself that slipping upward is a whole lot easier than falling backward. Especially when climbing snowy hills.

      I spent my childhood climbing those snow covered mountains and stumbling back down them, and I’ve conquered a few in my adult life as well.  Life is a series of snow-covered hills. How you decide you’re going to make it up the mountain is up to you. Just as important is how you decide to handle the falls. Some people are tiring mountains. Do you struggle to scale them, go around them or with God’s help, miraculously move them out of your way? Following the first fresh snowfall of 2017, what could be a perfect time to determine how best to cope with these snowy mountains of our lives.


Spring Fling

By Kevin Wishon

    “If you get the breath knocked out of you, sniff air through your nose, and you will recover quicker.”

My cousin had returned home from Europe for a visit, and we were catching up on recent events and sharing experiences.

“I wished you had told me that a few months ago,” I replied.

“Oh, why is that?” he asked.

I really did not want to explain; it had not been one of my finer moments in life.

“Wow, you hesitated, so this story must be a good one!” he said with a grin.

“Ok fine, but no laughing,” I demanded.

“Of course not,” he said nodding.

I should have known from the grin he was trying to hide, he did not intend to keep his promise.

     Several months ago, I saw an old rope in the storage building and didn’t think about it again until I went walking down by the local creek. The steep banks were covered entirely by trees and hugged the western side of the creek which gave me an exciting idea. Early, the next Saturday morning, I climbed the precarious banks covered in dead leaves and loose stones as I looked through the low hanging limbs of the surrounding trees for just the right branch. Then among the many limbs, I found one that was easy to reach. Tying a stone to one end of the rope, I threw the rope over the selected limb twice, to take up the slack. After carefully determining the proper length, just above ground level, I secured the loop with multiple knots to complete the swing. Placing my foot in the loop and stepping back for a running start, I pushed off the bank. In one moment, I went from fear to joy as I swung out high over the creek. On later swings, I was able to touch low hanging leaves and limbs on the nearby trees. I repeated this newfound diversion for another hour until I heard a loud crack in mid-flight of one of my most powerful swings. Being several feet off the ground and having plenty of forward momentum, I bounced several times on the bank as I tumbled towards the bottom. I tried to stop my plummet several times, but I was at gravity’s mercy, and it was going to teach me a lesson. The last bounce threw me against an eroded tree root overhanging the creek’s edge. I was so stunned, I did not feel my final landing in the creek until the water began to soak through my jeans. The cool water immediately gave me a shock and the need to inhale, but I could not. My lungs were tighter than a clenched fist and I made terrible noises trying to draw in morsels of air to satisfy my screaming lungs. Slowly, I began to recover with abbreviated gasps that eventually ceased the thundering desire for oxygen in my head.

     My cousin roared with laughter as soon as I explained that the limb had broken.

“You promised!” I said disappointedly.

“Well, what did you think was going to happen? An old rope, a weak tree limb, and swinging twenty feet above the creek. I mean you tell me, which part of this story does not scream bad idea?” my cousin asked.

Reluctantly I relented, “All of the above I guess.”