The History of Home
Originally , Mississippian Indians lived here — round about the 1300 AD era. The vanished, weirdly, and were replaced with Cherokee, Chickasaw and Shawnee Indians. Nashville ground was a hunting ground for these Indians. My great-grandmother’s ancestors were Cherokee. Eventually, fur traders came to the area, sometime around the mid 1700s, but it wasn’t until 1779 that James Robertson, whose name is familiar to Nashvillians today because he’s memorialized as the name of a busy downtown street, built a stockade and established Fort Nashborough. This was named after a General Francis Nash. The name was officially changed to Nashville in 1784. A quick 25 miles from downtown Nashville will put you in the heart of Franklin, a historic town that’s bustling with history of the Civil War, including a cabin you can tour to still see the bullet holes left from the last aggressive battle of the war. Indeed, the Civil War devastated Nashville. But it rebounded. Naturally. Because that’s what we do: we rebound.
Just shy of two hundred years after becoming Nashville, I was born in Memphis, circa 1980. By 1981, my grandparents moved from Memphis to Nashville, bought a house. We came, too. Moving was encoded in our family’s DNA. Blankets and pillows regularly turned the backseat of whatever jalopy we owned at the time into a comfortable bed. We’d “pull the seats down” so that we could stretch out; listen to the headphones on our Walkman (CD players were the coolest thing ever) or pass time playing MASH. We traveled all over the United States and into Canada. In many ways, this gave us invaluable opportunities: we saw many parts of the country, we cemented our bonds with one another and we learned to be adaptable. In many ways, the nomadic lifestyle was also traumatizing. The lack of stability easily could have contributed to reasons why I didn’t tell: the constant uncertainty and chaos left me afraid of change and isolated.
We did, however, have one constant.
No matter how far away we went or how long we stayed gone, we always returned to Nashville. Driving along I-440 East, I grew to recognize sections of the interstate that signaled we were close. Locations like Hickory Hollow Mall and Opryland Amusement Park and Old Hickory Blvd were more than pinpoints on a map—they were familiar, I recognized them. That familiarity bred comfort and a feeling of safety. The other day, I passed downtown Nashville, drove over the bridge so that it’s skyline was on the other side of the river. I know those buildings: the L&C Tower, where I worked once upon a time as a very young girl as the receptionist for an attorney, the AT&T building, which nearly every child in Nashville knows as the Batman building. In recent years, we’ve seen upheaval: the pandemic turned Broadway with it’s never ending stream of country music wannabe superstars into a ghost town; George Floyd brought a major protest, organized by a couple of teenagers, to our streets. We were scared it would turn violent, but this is Nashville, not L.A., and it was completely peaceful. The guy who, at Christmas, turned his vehicle into a bomb, destroying The Melting Pot on Second Avenue, where my girls and I went every year for my birthday to celebrate, broke our hearts. We learned we were Nashville Strong when the river flood, destroying neighborhoods. And 50,000 of us, many who don’t usually care about sports, crowded onto the closed Broadway streets to support and cheer on our Nashville Predators as they made history by making it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2017. We were there, and it made me love this city even more.
The biggest miracles of my life, Breathe & Alight, were born here, both at St. Thomas, both by the same, kind doctor. We’ve traversed the hilly path of the Nashville Zoo so many times, we’ve played in the creeks of every park from Spring Hill’s Harvey to the lake at Percy Priest to feeding the ducks at Centennial to giving away lemonade and watching the deer at Long Hunter. More than once, they’ve said they’ve grown up at the park. We’ve examined the pretend patient at the Science Center and painted at the Discovery Center. These aren’t just memories for me, they are the places, the experiences, and the way of life that have pushed me to grow into a more confident, strong woman; they are the tools by which my girls can remember that time with them has always been my number one priority.
Nashville is home. Not just because it’s been the one constant in my life but, mostly, because it’s where I learned who I really am instead of who I thought I was. I thought I was incapable, not smart enough or pretty enough or kind enough to matter. But it was Nashvillians who invited me to speak, who tutored me in order to help me grow, whose teachers came to my baby shower and grew into lifelong friends. It was in Nashville I first experienced an earthquaking kind of kiss and a human who made me wonder if I really was enough. Writers in Nashville and Franklin welcomed me into their midst and acquaintances from high school grew into adulthood friendships based on acceptance and kindness. It was here I learned to trust myself: I could do something really, really hard like survive a sexual abuse training course so that I could volunteer to help others. I could be what my girls needed.
Home isn’t really a place, they say, and that’s true: home is being with the people you love. Still, the cities, towns, and streets that play host to life-defining experiences — both good and bad — seep into the marrow of the bones and act as a time capsule, holding memories in every neighborhood. Antioch, the old Antioch, is where my grandparents owned a home for half my life; also, Percy Priest Lake was where my mom would walk my sister and I every day to swim when we were little. I started Kindergarten at Light House and it is still one of the only places I remember having my first friend, Lacy. Antioch is where I lived when I became a mama. But miles away in Murfreesboro, there’s a very special trail. I’d lead a little boy I mentored on that trail, “fishing” with sticks for leaves that swam in the creeks. There’s a very special tree someone I deeply cared for and I found once; I felt seen. My girls and I claimed the Discovery Center as ours for decades. Spring Hill was a sanctuary for me when I was hurting; it’s Harvey Park felt idyllic and exactly what I needed to heal; the girls and I buried a real time capsule and took easels to the park for Picasso Days. The skyline of downtown Nashville brings me comfort; we’ve watched the fireworks from Broadway, my daughter recorded a song on Music Row, I stayed for a long, long, long time at a job where I’d meet mentors who taught me to believe I might be capable of more than writing. Donelson has Opryland, where my daughter asked to spend her birthday for three years in a row, with me and where we go to see the same lights at Christmas every year. It also has McGavock High School, where a handful of teachers genuinely poured into me and, I’m utterly convinced, helped keep me safe from myself. My first book, a little one of poetry, Hartprints, was one I had bound living in Donelson. It was a big deal to me at the time because it was the first time I’d seen my dream of a published book come true. The time capsule isn’t made up of only memories, though, it’s made up of sounds and sights and smells that are unique to Nashville; intangible things I can’t really describe, but that I’d miss if they were gone. The bipolar weather with its insane humidity; streets like Old Hickory Blvd on which I once sat, stuck, for 9 hours in a winter ice storm or Nolensville Road which can easily cause someone to lose her mind. Beauty that is hard to define like that of Cade’s Cove near Gatlinburg at sunrise. Gatlinburg, the place someone actually proposed to me, and where my girls have spent time roaming Dollywood and “the strip.” My daughter’s birthday trip was there this year, and you have not seen Southern beauty until you see Fall there. Chattanooga, with its quaint, small-town charm, and it’s Creative Discovery Center and sleeping in train cars and searching for the UFO house. There’s a lot of memories in the time capsule that is Nashville and while home isn’t a place, the place is still an indelible piece of who I am. And I am thankful for it. ‘
The time capsule isn’t only positive memories. I have some scary ones here, too. Really, really scary ones. I’ve felt true terror and true heartbreak; massive loneliness and I’ve been very overwhelmed at times. I was hurt here, as a little girl. My brother died here. There’s been health crisis here. There’s been betrayal and abandonment and I’ve felt lost here. I’ve felt invisible at times here. Sorrow has woven its branches into my DNA here and shaped who I have become. Nightmares are real and I’ve struggled mightily with them here and some of the scariest things of my entire life have happened in this town. My girls’ hearts have been broken here; they’ve faced disappointment and isolation here. The sorrowful memories, though, were buffered by the positives. We traveled extensively growing up and, honestly, looking back, that gave me the ability to adapt, and it allowed me to see more of the States than most people ever do. Bad things happened in those places, too. Our roots are formed during the most impressionable years of life and, I guess, in a way returning to Nashville was important to me because it felt like I was leaving whatever bad thing happened in those other places. While there were bad memories here, too, at least I had good ones already made in this town to cling to. For every hurtful or terrible thing that’s happened here, there has been a tagalong miracle; we’ve seen angels here, we’ve heard God’s voice here. We’ve been at rock bottom, with nowhere to go (we’ve slept in tents and hotels and cars throughout my life), and, somehow, miracles have lifted us up. While miracles exist everywhere, the ones that have impacted our lives have happened here.
My girls have grown up in this town. They’ve played and cried; they’ve loved and they’ve lost; they’ve lived. We’ve watched as this city has grown past what I could have ever imagined as a child. The little town known only for country music has a rich culture of art, food and Southern hospitality that is more than the music. As people from California, Atlanta, Chicago and other places provide a steady stream of new residents and as new buildings pop up left and right everywhere, it can feel surreal at times because the Antioch of today is not the same place it was just ten years ago and neither is Broadway. Our landscape is evolving, expanding, and that is the course everywhere, they say. But it is the same, too. When protesters took to the streets, our cops stopped traffic for them so that they could exercise their right to demonstrate. I saw it. When the mass protestors over Floyd spilled into our downtown area, I stayed at work and saw a protestor tell an officer he didn’t care. The officer asked him what he could do to prove him wrong. The protester replied: “What across the line.” This white cop nodded, looked at his fellow officer, and then stepped across the dividing line; I watched as he and the black protestor prayed together and embraced. The biggest protest that has taken place in this town was started by teenagers and was completely peaceful. When I was hurting, very badly, a homeless man in Murfreesboro reminded me what joy looked like and challenged me to believe in it; he did this simply by smiling at me, every day, even though he didn’t have food to eat or a roof over his head. A handful of doctors have changed my family’s lives simply by being kind and compassionate. Nashville has changed. It has expanded and it has grown and it is still evolving; part of me quivers to think of what it will become, but most of me isn’t afraid of that at all because I believe in Nashville. Despite massive changes, the core of its people has not changed. Kindness still runs rampant.
President Andrew Jackson’s house was built in 1835. Unintentionally the driveway was structured as a guitar. The writer in Tiffini sees that as foreshadowing of the music legacy that Nashville would become when the Grand Ole Opry invented Music City. Nashville is the city of dreams. And dreams exist everywhere. Perhaps holding an annual pass to Disney World or walking along the pier of Santa Monica or hiding in a cabin in the mountains of Georgia that Thoreau would have claimed or the pristine beaches of Bimini, Bahamas could be part of a dream. Happiness is adventure but happiness is also contentment. Home is not a place, and yet it brings me comfort to know that I’ll always have a piece of Nashville with me.