Hattie Cotton, cont.

I got the FBI file on the Hattie Cotton bombing from the National Archives yesterday. I’ve only read through it once, so there may be some things I’m missing, but dang.

My whole part of the book on Hattie Cotton is wrong. The guys the Nashville police arrested were not involved and they knew they weren’t involved and they beat a confession out of them anyway.

Someone, still redacted, was running around town bragging about doing it.

And a Chattanooga Klansman called in a bomb threat to another school.

I want to say more about it, but even just trying to type this has involved me staring off into space repeatedly just being baffled at what everyone who was ostensibly trying to solve this case was actually doing and what, exactly, they thought their jobs were.

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Fuuuuuhhhhhhhhuuuuuck

School bombing. Integrated religious recreational facility bombing. Lawyer on school integration’s house bombed. Ties to the Dixie Knights.

Nashville? No. Well, yes but that’s not what’s making me both excited and chagrined.

Chattanooga.

I don’t know shit. I do not know enough to write this book. I’m majorly panicking about it.

And no motherfucker has ever written anything about the Chattanooga bombings either!

This Morning

I’ve only been awake an hour and the cat swatted the dog who then stepped on my foot, which caused me to yell at everyone and refuse to give anyone morning pets. We got rained on on our walk. And I forgot to take my medicine last night.

Which… may explain why my morning went how it did.

I’m very frustrated with the FBI. The John Kasper files I got off of archives.org are much, much larger than the files the FBI sent me. The amount of stuff that’s missing is infuriating. A DC couple’s visit with Kasper in which Kasper brags about his violent friends? Gone. Most of the Hattie Cotton material? Gone. Stuff I care much less about, like all the women who were coming to visit him when he was living on Brushy Hill Road? Also gone.

When I realized that, I basically shoved them into a file on my computer and relied on the archives.org files. But last night, I was thinking, maybe the FBI files contain some unredacted names that I might need, so I decided I should browse through them.

And I came across a thing I hadn’t seen before. Either I missed it in the archives.org version or it’s not in there, but it confirms my belief that one person was working with the FBI and that the FBI kept back vital information from the Nashville police.

So, hey, that’s nice to have.

Field Day!

For the first time, I got invited to Field Day for the Scene. I felt like an awkward doofus the whole time, but I also had a blast. And I got bit by so many flies. Yuck.

It was fun to see folks in that context, though. Like Erica is delightfully inclusive. Everyone get out there. Everyone cheer. Everyone have a good time.

And Patrick did a one-person double-play! He caught the ball (batter out) and then stepped on second (runner out). Which I guess happens all the time in professional baseball, but it was fun to see in wiffle ball.

Fort Houston beat us, though, and by the end of the day, I was so tired of their coolness–their friendly attitudes, their awesome shirts, their supportive cheering of children, their cute dogs–that I finally shouted, “You’re not even a fort” after they did one of their cool cheers.

So, you known, not my proudest moment.

The Looby Bombing, cont.

I went back out again to look at the location of the Looby bombing. It wasn’t very helpful other than in making me feel like I need to have printed out pictures from the era to take with me.

Every time I go there, I feel like I’m seeing something important, but I just don’t have the skills or the context to understand or even recognize what the important thing is.

Like something is staring me straight in the face, but I don’t know enough to see it.

It’s Done!

I finished the afghan. I’m very, very pleased with how it turned out.

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This morning, the dog and I met a very elderly neighbor and, you guys, the dog was so gentle with him. He went up politely and sniffed the guy, but did not jump. I was just so proud of him.

I have some addresses of the families of some people from my book. I’m trying to decide how to contact them in a way that’s safe for me and yet not off-putting to them.

I remain confused by the lack of curiosity among local journalists as to who did this. I had thought it was because they knew and just, for whatever reason, couldn’t report it.  But that really doesn’t seem to be the case.

Another weird thing about the Looby bombing I just noticed recently, because of the new historical marker, is that the offices for the sit-in movement were right behind Looby’s house.

This still says to me that the fact that they didn’t use the alley or plant the bomb behind Looby’s house matters. If they had known the area, they would have had to think behind the house was a better spot.

Margo Price

Last night, the Butcher and Monty’s grown woman friend took me to the Ryman to see Margo Price. It was wonderful. She sang a song in which she called John Lennon a feminist and an asshole, and she mourned him. She did Proud Mary with a gospel choir. She played drums. She played piano. She smashed a guitar. The lighting was fantastic.

I kept thinking, too, that part of what makes her show so amazing is that she does really belt out songs. It’s like Brittany Howard or Tina Turner or Janice Joplin–let’s take this voice out for a ride and see what she can really do. It’s so much fun to listen to her and watch.

The other thing I really liked about it was that her stage presence isn’t Sexy. Which isn’t to say that she’s not pretty or anything. Of course she is. But her stage presence isn’t “don’t look at me,” but it’s also not “don’t you want to fuck me?” It’s more like the joy of watching an athlete do something well she’s trained for for years.

I kept thinking that her stage presence reminded me a lot of Barbara Mandrell, though I’m not sure how much of my memories of Barbara Mandrell’s shows are real and what’s been warped by time.

And Jack White was her special guest and his hair looked fantastic!

It made me want Jack White to do a whole duets album with women he knows.

Bah

I’m just so grouchy. I know part of it is PMS and part of it is work and part of it is just living in this country right now and feeling helpless to change things.

Twice this week I’ve found dead snakes on our walk. That also makes me mad. There’s just no need to kill a snake on neutral ground. I mean, I’d argue there’s no reason to kill a snake, period, but I accept people have different opinions when feeling trapped by one.

But if you have room to avoid it and it has room to avoid you, don’t fucking kill snakes.

 

Paschal Beverly Randolph

Yesterday, as I was working on this afghan, I found a new-to-me podcast, “Occult Confessions.” It’s either the kind of thing you will love or hate. I love it, but with the caveat that it feels very much like the kind of thing that’s going to end in a scandal. If you’ve ever been in academia, I promise you’ll know what I mean by about fifteen minutes into the first episode. The fault lines are clear. I could almost write the Chronicle article we’re all going to read in ten years right now.

That doesn’t have anything to do with the content of the podcast, though. That’s super interesting. And I learned about Paschal Beverly Randolph, who was a 19th century occultist I’d never heard of, who founded his Brotherhood of Eulis here in 1874 and then promptly disbanded it months later.

Here’s an interesting bit, though, His biographer is like “I don’t know why Randolph came to Nashville. Maybe a lingering fondness for J. B. Ferguson?”

But he came to our insane asylum, which, though I can’t remember the dude’s name–not Adelicia’s husband, but the next dude–was run by a Spiritualist. That has to be why he was here and specifically why he was there.

Visit

My nephew came to visit me yesterday! Well, I went up there at lunch and spent a ton of time playing with him, but I had forgotten everything I wanted to bring him, so they stopped by later.

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He was so surprised! And he liked my light fixtures. And the dog, even though he seemed very overwhelmed by all the fur and slobber and loudness.

And I got more done on my afghan. I fucked up majorly. I mean, majorly, because I was so tired. I was trimming a tail and I cut the end of the seam. This should have caused the whole seam to unravel (picture how tugging opens a bag of dog food), but it didn’t. So rather than picking it apart, I just left it. I mean, I picked at it and tugged at it, but I couldn’t get it to come open, so… I don’t know. The nice thing about how these seams are is that it’ll be really easy to fix if it does come apart. But damn.

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Also, this morning, I saw a flock of turkeys in the field and the tom saw me. He puffed himself up real big, as if to tell me I’d better not even try to come near his family. Toms are fearless.

Nightmares

Last night I had my first nightmare about the book. Well, it was about how someone was forcing me to watch The Walking Dead and then I got sucked into the TV show, literally, and had to run from zombies. But I’m not dumb, subconscious. I get it.

I’m very worried that I’m going to miss some obvious fact I need. Or that I’m drawing the wrong conclusions because I don’t have a broad enough knowledge.

I have to keep reminding myself that my primary goal is to give someone better than me a framework from which to work. Someone with more knowledge, who knows these people better than I do, who will look at everything I’ve found and sneer about all I missed and how could I not know that this means that.

Still, you guys, there’s so much that I feel is just… like it’s just laying out right there and no one has put it together.

How Things Went, So I Don’t Forget

As you all know, a year ago the FBI told me they’d destroyed their file on the Looby bombing. I thought this was weird and sucked and I’ve been frustrated since then in my efforts to find anyone who could explain why they would do that–destroy the file on the unsolved assassination attempt of a sitting U.S. politician.

I thought it was weird, but I assumed someone higher up the food chain than me would understand it. On Wednesday, I ran into Keel Hunt, Lamar Alexander’s old chief of staff. The Looby file and its destruction came up. He insisted I call Hal Hardin, a former US Attorney. Hardin is too young for my bombings, but he prosecuted Gladys Girgenti.

So, I did. Hardin seemed outraged and confused by what I was telling him. And I was like, well, Jesus, if this doesn’t make any sense to a US Attorney…

Long story short, I’ve asked for Jim Cooper’s help in discovering whether the file was genuinely destroyed, and if so, why, or if it was just misplaced. So, woo to that!

Then I went to lunch and they want to do the book! There’s still lots of details to work out and it’s all very tentative so let’s not go to the bank on it or anything. But holy shit. Big day.

Welp, Today’s the Day

Yesterday, I ran into a dude whose father was dear friends with Looby. He gave me some advice in case I need to ask my local congressmen to put a little pressure on various government agencies to get me the stuff I need.

As usual, I was able to tell him some stuff he didn’t know. Seeing the surprise on his face was just confirmation to me that this is a story that needs to be told, that people locally need to know.

I’m still nervous. Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

Crochet Thoughts

I think I have decided that I like to crochet a lot, but not too much. Ugh, that sentence makes no sense. Okay, there are patterns that are just ‘do nothing but crochet in this direction for this long and then come back.’ Eventually those start to bore me. How many more feet of the same color can I stare at?

But the type of afghan like what I’m working on now, which has a lot of small parts that have to be put together, I also don’t necessarily like. I don’t like when the putting together takes as long as the making of the motifs.

A thing I think I have come to realize about this designer is that, for her, the joy is in the putting together.

And I have to tell you, once I realized this was what she loves about the process, it made me less resentful of how long it’s taking to get everything together.

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Anyway, on Thursday I’m going to talk to some folks about the bombing book. I am nervous as fuck.

I really want my book to strike the sweet spot where it is conversational and accessible to regular people and also I want historians to find it useful. But if ordinary Nashvillians can’t read it then I have failed.

But I haven’t read a lot of history books written like I’m writing this–with snarky asides and long meandering discussions of whether a person’s literary aesthetic informs their racist violence aesthetic.

So, I guess, if you have read a book like that, let me know. I’d like to compare approaches.

Complaining Helps

After I complained about the bombing book, I decided that I’m not writing a history paper or a straight-up piece of journalism. After all, I don’t know who did my bombings. I can’t answer the basic who, what, when, where, why, and how questions (though I do have what, when, and where down okay).

So, I thought, just go ahead and muse. Write the things you want to write. Admit your doubts. Say what you wonder.

And that has opened things up for me.

It’s not going to be very long, but maybe I can get some good pictures.

I am a Patient Man. I wait. I wait. I wait. I wait.

If you know me in real life, you know that I’m waiting around for things. I’m waiting around for the FBI to send me files I FOIAed a year ago. I’m waiting around for the National Archives to tell me how much lead time they need to go through JB Stoner’s file before I can see it.

I do internet searches on my lunch hour, trying to think of combinations of words or phrases that might bring some heretofore unknown piece of information to me.

And I work on afghans.

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Hard

Yesterday, I did a reading at Cheekwood. The day before that, I found the grave of KKK leader Emmett Carr. While at Cheekwood, I was talking to C. about life and, anyway, I admitted that I have been crocheting so much because this bombing story is just so fucking hard.

It’s not just that I don’t think I can figure out who exactly did it, it’s that these dudes are terrible. I hadn’t realized how much I cling to the idea that overt racism can be an unfortunate character flaw in an otherwise lovely person. I mean, I think I know better than that, but you really confront your unconscious biases in a situation like this.

I think I’m a racist. No, I mean, I know I’m a racist. I think that’s terrible and I try to overcome it, but I’m not going to, because so much of white society is set up to guide me easily into racist positions and beliefs. I am a habitual racist and, like someone trying to quit smoking in the 70s, it’s hard to give it up because everything is set up to make smoking as easy and convenient as possible.

But I keep thinking of this reflex my mom has, whenever she’s recounting the story of something bad someone we know has done, to say “well, I’m also a sinner.” So, my mom can tell you about how their neighbor ended up being Ted Bundy II, and she’s still going to insist on seeing herself as also fatally flawed. And I find that deeply endearing but also frustrating, because there’s just a world of difference between my mom, who can get lazy and tired and not be her best self, and Ted Bundy, who has set out to be the worst of himself.

And I’ve wanted to believe, because I have to live in this world, that the Ted Bundys are rare and outnumbered by people like my mom.

But in a story that starts for someone “I’ll hurt children,” there are a lot more Ted Bundys than Betty Phillipses.

And they’re terrible all over. Their hatred of black people isn’t their only character flaw. They’re lousy spouses. They’re terrible parents. People flee from them, and rightly so.

It’s made me acutely aware of how much racism is built into the assumption that race terrorists can otherwise be good people–as if a willingness to hurt people doesn’t show a willingness to hurt people, because the people they’re hurting are black (or brown or gay or whatever).

But it’s also tough.

And I realized I’ve been crocheting so much because I need out of my head, out of the space I share with these people.

I keep thinking, why am I doing this? But it’s because the story as it’s been told to us is wrong and lets too many people off the hook. And I just can’t accept that.

King

I spent some time yesterday looking into the death of King, as a part of my consideration of J.B. Stoner. All it told me was that I need to get a hold of the new Wexler book, which basically shows how the Mississippi Klan supported Ray in his efforts to kill King. I think. That’s what I took from the book’s description anyway.

And if the Klan is involved, then I’m curious to know if they were able to find out what Stoner knew when.

I guess I’m slowly coming to the opinion that… well, I guess I’m conspiracy adjacent. I don’t believe Stoner was behind every terrible tragedy of the Civil Rights era, but I do believe that he was supportive of every terrible tragedy of the Civil Rights era. And sometimes that support might have come before hand and sometimes it might have come after.

But I also remain convinced that the number of people willing to plan to do things that could kill people was small. Of course, the number who would support them was larger. But I mean, the number of actual people who would take part in something that required planning and action. That was small. Maybe fifty people, if that many, in each Southern state.

I may be making a distinction without a difference but I see one between bombing someone–which requires planning and acquisition of materials–and heat of the moment violence, like people burning cigarettes on sit-in protesters or even filling their own restaurant with bug spray to try to drive protesters out.

It’s all bad, but one allows the perpetrator to tell him or herself that he or she wasn’t planning on doing that, that they’re not a bad person, that they were provoked. The other doesn’t. The other requires someone at peace with hurting others.

In the era I’m looking at, roughly 1940 to 1980, we know we have probably two guys responsible for the Clinton bombing, probably five guys responsible for Hattie Cotton, one or two for the JCC, and two or so for Looby (unless some of those overlap), a handful of people in Brownsville, a couple of people in Memphis, Gladys Girtenti and her accomplices.

And again, to be clear, these folks had support. It wasn’t like Nashville just had ten problematic people and everyone else was fine. But the people who would plan to do something they knew could kill people, that’s a very small number.

And I just don’t believe they were unknown to each other. I will believe, forever, that Gladys Girgenti could have given you the names of the bombers I’m looking at.

And I think Stoner could have provided a list names of the vast majority of racist terrorists in the South willing to plan to kill someone.

I don’t think he was their boss. He’s not some secret super villain. But he was their ally. That’s for sure.

Jesse Wilson

I spent all my lunch hours last week looking into Jesse Wilson, a guy from the 50s who blew shit up in an anti-government, anti-union tantrum and then I forgot all my research at work, so I have nothing to write up for my book.

But bad ole Jesse got me thinking about how things become legend, what has to happen for them to be passed down.

I don’t have a good answer for it. Everything about Jesse’s story is hilariously bad and no one got killed. And he got freed from prison, in part, because he learned to read.

Like they actually thought “Well, if this man had known how to read, he wouldn’t have tried to blow up the mayor.” I mean, I’m as pro-reading as the next person and I’m not sure that’s how it works.

But how are people still not telling this?

My other favorite part of the story is that, I guess because he couldn’t read and write, his secretary had to help him with all this illegal shit, including trying to kill people.

And in the trial, they kept referring to her as a jezebel who had all these men under her sway and doing Wilson’s bidding, I guess, because of the magic of her feminine wiles.

So, I’m expecting Eartha Kitt or Julie Newmar. I mean, I’m expecting fucking Cat Woman. Old school Cat Woman. Like, the kind of woman with hips that make you forget all reason. Someone capable of using her eyelashes to command you. The kind of woman you’re a tiny bit afraid to fuck, because you know, even if you’ve fucked 10,000 people, she’s still going to know things that will break your mind in two.

And instead, she is the plainest, most ordinary woman you’ve ever seen! It’s delightful. I mean, I still choose to believe that she was wiggling her hips and batting her eyes and based solely on charisma, it worked.

But I also deeply suspect she was a violent psychopath, just like Wilson (in my opinion), and because it was the 1950s, the best she could do with her ambitions to be a bad-ass gangster-acting nightmare was to hook herself to a man with similar ambitions and pretend she was just helping him.

And I kind of want to see a movie about her, but with her being plain-looking. Because that’s my favorite part.

Special

I was digging into Emmett Carr some yesterday, a minor figure in the bombing story, and I’m struck by how much his active racist life–meaning, the time in which he made the papers–seemed to be about trying to be a big man. He was a Klan leader–the Grand Titan of Middle Tennessee–and he was trying to start up a Pro-Southerners group  and then he broke away from the Klan and joined some other Klan. And he ran for State Senate. And he ran to the media every chance he got.

I kind of see him in the vein of Donald Davidson. Davidson and Carr seemed to believe in the front of their minds that white people were superior to black people, in general. But somewhere, in the backs of their minds, because they hadn’t risen to the level of prominence they wanted, in other words, because they were only above average, couldn’t an extraordinary black person, if given a level playing field, surpass them?

So, by god, the playing field must be kept uneven.

But there’s another group of people in this bombing story who are violent scary assholes in many facets of their lives and so also violent scary racists. These folks leave a trail larger and longer than just their racist activism.

So, you have guys like Carr running around screaming, metaphorically, “I’m important! I’m important! Treat me like I’m important!” And then you have these other guys being all, “You’re going to be sorry.”

They feed into each other. The “I’m important!” guys will happily stand at the front of a crowd of “You’re going to be sorry”s. And the “You’re going to be sorry” guys are glad to have someone point them in the direction of some people who need to be sorry.

And I think there are rare cases, like with Stoner, where a person could be both.

But I’m looking for the traces of those “You’re going to be sorry” guys. So, after everything, I felt like I’d wasted a lot of time on Carr.

Work

Nashville has two known home-grown racist terrorist bombers. One was not in town for my bombings.

The other was.

I’m still mostly of the opinion that the guys they arrested for Hattie Cotton probably were the guys. But the other two bombings are not so clear cut. In the JCC bombing, we know it had to be someone J.B. Stoner knew, because J.B. Stoner organized that whole “Confederate Underground” terror plot throughout the Southeast.

We don’t know much at all about the Looby bombing, just that the person who did it needed to be in Nashville to do it, obviously.

So, in the 60s, Robert Pittman Gentry was involved in Klan activities down in Jacksonville (the site of one of the bombings from the Confederate Underground campaign). He probably was one of the people who blew up the home of a first-grader integrating a school in Jacksonville and he admitted to shooting a black man. He also admitted he was in Birmingham (the site of another Confederate Underground bombing) on the day of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, though he wouldn’t say why he was there. He testified before the HUAC. J.B. Stoner was his lawyer at the HUAC hearings AND I think at the Jacksonville first-grader bomb plot trial. At least, Stoner defended some of the men accused.

When John Kasper was first in Nashville, he stayed at the home of Robert and Carrie Wray. Robert worked at Avco, which was what Vultee had become. Avco has morphed into something else by now, but it’s still a defense contractor making things that fly for the government.

Robert Gentry complained to the Tennessean that his connections to the Klan had cost him his job at Avco (Gentry moved back to Tennessee after the Florida first grader bombing). Is that a coincidence? That Stoner’s client and Kasper’s friend both worked at the same place? Or did Wray know Gentry?

A thing I’m beginning to seriously wonder about is whether this world is as large as people have presumed. I mean, right? One of the reasons these bombings are unsolved is that “it could have been anyone!!! Every white person was racist.”

And most white people at the time were hella racist. But how many people could you count on to be violent and silent? Especially for this long?

Another pair of loose ends I can’t quite make tie together, but I can’t stop feeling like they might tie together is that Gentry’s people were Barneses and Colemans.

The Blackwells and the Crimmonses, who were the suspects in the Hattie Cotton bombing, have Barnes and Coleman relatives.

The geography doesn’t work. Gentry’s people are from Rutherford County. The Blackwells and the Crimmonses’ people were from northwest Davidson County. I haven’t found common ancestors. But it’s a huge coincidence that nags at me.

And yet, I don’t want to get mired in false conspiracies. Barnes and Coleman are common enough last names. One of the black kids who integrated Nashville’s first grade in 1957 was a Coleman.

Still, it gives me the impression that this is a smaller world. That the people willing to do violence would have been known in racist circles.

Bishop Durick and Other Thoughts

I finally found a Catholic historian who told me that the only bad rumors about Bishop Durick were that he drank too much at the end of his life.

So, I feel uncaveated in saying that I admire Bishop Durick and he’s one of my personal Nashville heroes. Durick, for those of you who don’t know, was one of the white progressive religious leaders King criticized in his letter from Birmingham jail.

And rather than being a defensive asshole about it, Durick let King’s words sink in and then he motherfucking threw his full support behind the Civil Rights movement.

He changed his mind! He heard the criticism and, when it stung, he took it to heart. And then he threw in with the people he had wronged.

I just admire the shit out of that.

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My white yarn came yesterday, so I spent my evening making a sample of the two motifs with white in them. I love how stark the white looks.

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This is the most complicated motif of the whole afghan and I keep wondering if I’ve done it right. I may find when I go to make the others that I’ve misread the directions on this one somehow. Or it may just be that, until it’s sewn in with the other ones and pulls into shape, it may look funny. But I do like how it looks like a weird Lovecraftian flower on a bed of flames.

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And then look at this one (but please ignore all the dog hair)! Look at those cool lacy petals! I am so madly in love with this.

It was too wet to walk this morning, so the dog and I just did laps in the driveway again. In order to try to keep it less boring for him, I dug out an old retractable leash. I know every argument against them and agree. You should not use them any place you actually need to keep your dog from being a bonehead.

But in the driveway, I don’t need him to stay by my side. I just need him to not run off and sit on a neighbor or go inside after he’s pooped. I don’t need to control him. I just need to keep him walking with me.

And, y’all, I am willing to bet 10000000 dollars that, to the extent he was leash trained, he was leash trained on a retractable leash. He completely got it. He knew how long he had until the leash was maxed out. He went fair but not too far. He was a GOOD BOY!!!!!

Which, you know, is wonderful. I like finding things he’s familiar with from his old life.

But man, why would you leash train a dog that size on a retractable leash? He can yank a regular leash out of my hands from a standstill. If he had the length of the retractable leash to get up to speed? He’d snap that thing no problem.

Still, for days when we’re just specifically walking the driveway? I’m glad to have it.

Writing

I think that, in order to move forward on anything else, I have to see this bombing shit through. The article is nice, but it’s been sitting in limbo for months while the Scene sees if it gets to still be a paper.

I know Third Man would take a book.

Last night, I contacted the National Archives to see about how to get to see the FBI files they hold. Thursday, I’m going to talk with a guy who knows a lot about Catholicism here in the 50s.

I just have to do this. It’s important and no one else is doing it.

You Can Take the Kids out of the Church, but…

I went to a poetry reading over lunch at Third Man. The boss also attended. Rule one in Nashville is “be cool,” so I tried to be cool.

But I was struck by how much his demeanor was like a minister who’s excited that the youth group meeting is going so well, but also knows they need that room for a board meeting right after.

So, when it was done, I felt this urge to help move chairs. I saw that one of the poets was also folding and moving chairs.

That was 15 seconds before we both learned that our dads were Methodist ministers.

And she also knew that hymn 88 is Amazing Grace, though that was two hymnals ago.