This month I was very blessed to be able to take a short two day trip
out to Memphis and Nashville.
the biggest Civil War convention in the country
is held in Nashville.
Relics, paintings, reenactments, and much more.
My father digs and collects Civil War relics
and truly relishes the chance to talk history with other Civil War buffs,
so this convention is a big deal to him.
I mean it's a big deal to me too,
but it a BIG deal to him.
For the past several years,
Lance and I have tagged along each year that he has gone
and we go to the convention and explore Nashville.
before we got to Nashville,
we flew into Memphis to do something even cooler
than the Civil War convention.
We went to visit Mike Yancey,
the son of a Confederate veteran
and a veteran himself of Vietnam, Korea, and WWII.
He and his wife, Louise,
have met my father on previous visits
and have received many cards, letters, and phone calls from him,
so they were eager to have us all over again.
If you're wondering why my father sought them out
or why we would fly across the country to meet them,
read this post for an explanation.
This was my first time visiting the Yanceys
and as we drove up I marveled at the realization
that this meeting would mean that my ten month old daughter
has spent time with four children of Confederate veterans so far...
I know how blessed we are to be able to travel and seek out people
who have a first hand account of history and are willing to share it.
The rain drizzled lightly on the car as we pulled up to the Yancey's home
and unloaded with jackets and diaper bag in tow.
As we approached the door,
Louise was already standing there waiting with open arms.
She hugged us all,
even though she'd never met Lance, Svea, or me,
and welcomed us in.
I couldn't help but notice as we walked in
that this whole home felt warm;
not warm in a temperature sense,
but rather in the sense that my insides seemed to warm up
with the love that seemed to emanate from the bones of that house.
I glanced over to a large wooden cabinet by the hallway
and noticed a picture displayed in a frame.
It was my father holding my daughter.
Again a sense of love rushed through me
and a feeling of gratitude;
gratitude at having the chance to bring my daughter
to places where people who don't even know her
already love her.
As I shuffled over to the living room,
still deciding where I should sit down,
I heard a voice from behind me,
"Well oh mah. She's as cute as apple pah!"
I turned to see Mike Yancey entering the room
and smiling at Svea as he came.
He had just returned,
(Louise has been telling us)
from Corky's where he picked up BBQ for our lunch.
He welcomed us all and then strode slowly over to his chair
Clearly that was his chair,
the way he looked so perfect in it;
like after all the wars and all the love his life had been filled with,
that chair had been made especially for him to rest his weary heart.
But he looked strong
Lousie walked in a moment later holding an Eeyore stuffed animal.
"I got this for her," she said, beaming as she handed Svea the little doll.
Svea let out a quiet squeal of joy and began fiddling with this new found toy.
I smiled as I watched Svea look around this new environment
and I could see her bright eyes full of curiosity.
Over in his chair, Mike was busily pulling something off of a table next to him.
It was a big bundle of letters and cards that he'd tied together neatly with twine.
"This is my pride and joy right here," he said
and the look on my father's face made me realize that those were the letters
that he'd asked his students (he's a teacher) to write to Mike,
thanking him for his service to his country.
My father nodded, smiling,
but it didn't seem like any words were quite right to respond with.
I think everyone was feeling what I was feeling,
full to the brim - content and blessed.
Mike began to tell us about his father
and what he could recall about him.
He talked with my father about his relics
and his childhood memories.
He talked with Lance about his haircut saying,
"Yeah I jus' went to the barber and she peeled me."
Next, Louise chimed in as they began to tell us about their own lives.
Mike paused every now and then in his talking
to look down at Svea, who was busily crawling around his feet,
and smile at her.
She seemed drawn to him and for all her exploring,
she only ventured away from him a handful of times the whole time he sat there speaking.
I was stunned as Mike and Lousie told us that they were preparing
to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary soon.
I wondered at the kind of love that must be
to have aged and grown so old,
and yet to have only become stronger
and more tactile with every passing year.
It was evident in the way they spoke to each other,
and they way she brushed him arm
or his shoulder every time she walked by him.
who was becoming impatient of us not wanting to eat her out of house and home,
insisted that it was time for lunch.
She had that Southern hospitality feel to her,
as she bustled back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room table.
Clearly this was her forte,
making people happy,
including with food.
It seemed like she had lit up as she urged us all to fill our plates
with the delicious barbecue pork from Corky's
and the other side dishes she'd made.
"What would ya like to drink?" Louise asked Mike.
"I'll just have ma piece of Coke," he told her.
I loved everything about the way the words came from their mouths.
"Now this pork is from Corky's, which was Elvis' favorite place for barbecue," Mike said.
I looked at my father with a question in my eyes.
Why was Mike mentioning Elvis?
I mean I knew we were in Memphis,
where Elvis was raised,
but was Mike just a big fan to mention that trivia fact?
In Swedish, my father told me,
"He grew up playing with Elvis. Ask him about it."
I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head
and I blurted out,
"You knew Elvis?"
I've always been a huge Elvis fan.
He reminds me in every way of my Grandpa Gardner.
It's something that's drawn me to him and his music
since my Grandpa is truly one of my heroes.
Ma aunt lived three houses down from Elvis' mamma,
and ma mamma, ma aunt, and Elvis' mamma would get together to sew.
I'd be left to play with Elvis.
I was a few years older 'n him so I'd look after him too."
The way I was eating up this fun little fact must've shown on my face,
because he continued,
"Corky's was his favorite barbecue.
His favorite snack was toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
The bread had to be toasted."
"That sounds good!"
I said as my father recoiled a little at the snack idea.
We sat and ate and talked until none of us had any room left at all to eat.
That was, of course, when Louise mentioned
that she had fresh pecan pie and brownies ready for dessert.
We all cringed a little at the thought of eating more,
until she carried it out and the smell wafted toward us.
There was no stopping this woman.
She was determined to fill us up with delicious food
and we couldn't say no.
It was mouth watering.
As we ate,
Svea who had grown very tired from missing her naps,
had fallen asleep in the Ergo on Lance.
He was such a good Pappa,
as he tucked a napkin over he head and let her sleep as he ate and listened.
Outside the window, next to the table,
the Yancey's bird feeder seemed to be quite the hot spot for all sorts of birds.
As we talked I saw four or five kinds of birds fly up and leave,
including bright red Cardinals.
My little brother mentioned how he liked the birds that were landing on the feeder
and it prompted Mike and Louise to tell us about how they had had a squirrel problem.
"They kep jumpin up there and eating all the bird seed.
They could eat it all so quick too!
Empty it in less than an hour!
So Mike went out there 'n greased it!
He greased the feeder 'n next time a squirrel came round we saw him fly right off the edge
cuz he couldn't get ahold of it!
Haven't had any problems since!"
Louise was laughing as she spoke
and we all broke out into laughter too at the startled dismay
that Mike's grease must've caused that squirrel.
After we couldn't humanly eat any more food,
we all took to the couch to visit a few more minutes with the Yancey's.
They graciously took pictures with us
and we started by waking up Svea and handing her to them.
The photos honestly speak for themselves.
They adored her and she was all too happy to reciprocate their love.
Next Lance and I snuck in,
followed by my father and siblings.
We all were eager to have photos with these people who we'd easily come to care so much for.
Lastly, they let me take some anniversary shots for them.
I felt like if taking a photo for a 70th anniversary
wasn't the height of my career as a photographer,
I didn't know what would be.
Finally as we gathered our things to head off to Nashville in our rental car,
we all gave them hugs and Louise sent us off with a huge bag of her walnut brownies.
We ran through the rain to the car
and headed off into a several hour long drive in a downpour.
My mind stayed on Mike and Louise as I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke, it was dark and we had arrived in Nashville at the Loveless Cafe.
Having been stuffed full at lunch,
none of us were particularly starving,
but we were definitely willing to make room for a meal from our
favorite Nashville restaurant.
I went for breakfast foods and decided on grits, hash browns, and biscuits with sausage gravy.
I definitely didn't choose based on calories,
and oh goodness it was delicious.
If you're ever in Nashville, Loveless is the place to eat.
Svea enjoyed eating all of the lemons from our drinks
until she started rubbing her eyes
and then we had to cut her off
since we didn't want to keep washing out her poor, little eyes.
We loved the sign by out table:
The rooster may crow, but the hen delivers the goods.
After dinner, we headed straight over to the Opryland Hotel.
Next to the hotel, they had an amazing show called ICE.
Millions of colored blocks of ICE are carved by artisans (from China)
into huge characters and scenes to create a story room by room.
Each year, they choose a different story,
and this year,
it was The Night Before Christmas.
We all donned the gigantic blue overcoats they handed out
and bundled up Svea to head into the 9 degree show.
The cold is so shocking when you first walk in
that you almost have to pause and catch your breath,
but the ice sculptures are so beautiful that you immediately are distracted
from the fact of how cold you are.
In the show,
the words to the classic poem/story "The Night Before Christmas"
were written verse by verse on the walls throughout the rooms.
There is always one room in the show that has massive ice slides
that are also themed after that year's story.
I got the biggest kick out of seeing Svea smile
as she recognized me coming down the ice slide
towards Lance and her at the bottom.
Despite it being freezing,
and her not being able to move in all the layers,
Svea was still as sweet and curious as ever,
smiling at all the colors we walked past.
I am always just in awe of the ice sculptures they have there
and it is so much fun to see!
In the last room of the show,
they always have a clear sculpture of the nativity
to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.
What a joy to be reminded in such a lovely way
that this wonderful season is to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
After we left the ICE show,
we wandered around inside the Opryland Hotel to see all of the massive trees,
and to check out the shops.
After a long and very full day,
we headed to our hotel and rested up for the Civil War Convention the next morning.
When we arrived,
it was so busy and full that it was almost a little overwhelming.
In between checking out rows of tables full of weapons and relics,
perusing bookshelves full of old books,
admiring walls of Civil War paintings,
and looking at the faces of thousands of tin types photographs,
we relaxed in the stands of the huge stadium we were in.
We even went outside to make sure we got a photo
of Svea on a cannon
because you should never pass up an opportunity to take a
"baby on cannon" photo. :)
After scouring the stadium all day,
we ended with the sweet surprise of my father
finding and meeting, John Paul Strain, the painter of the most beautiful and moving
Civil War paintings in the world!
I had admired his art all day
and my father was able to get a great deal on a canvas of one of his paintings,
but to make it all the more amazing,
Mr. Strain was more than happy to add his own special touches to my father's copy of the painting
so that it was entirely unique!
It was so inspiring to watch him work!
After chatting with the Mr. Strain,
and gathering our belongings,
we headed out.
On the way to the car,
we lost my father and brother,
so we stopped to enjoy the Christmas trees and the lovely benches.
When we finally found everyone again,
we headed off to find food
and get to our seats at the Grand Ole Opry Ryman Auditorium.
We grabbed our drinks, popcorn, and M&Ms
and enjoyed hearing down home country music from lots of different artists
including Whispering Bill Anderson
and Little Jimmy!
After the show,
we hit up our favorite ice cream shop by the theater,
and I was amazed at how little ice cream I got after Svea got a taste.
She was literally like a tiny ice cream piranha!
Full, tired, and satisfied,
we slept the night at our hotel
and then headed back home on our flight early in the morning.
We were so blessed to be able to meet the Yancey's
and have such a fun time on our Nashville trip
that has become a beloved annual tradition.
Traveling truly does make the world a little smaller
and make your mind become a little broader.
To travel is to live.