Accordingly Adorned I


Know, first, who you are; and then adorn yourself accordingly. -Epictetus

My favorite color is sparkly.

This is the start of a series about how that came to be.

Brooches from the 2nd Pew Ladies


This brooch, of brass and base metal, came from Marie, the Song Director’s wife at Oak Grove Baptist Church #1.

This brooch, of brass and base metal, came from Marie, the Song Director’s wife at Oak Grove Baptist Church #1.

She was one of the 2nd Pew Ladies, the elder women of the church who sat on the second row of the church where the seats were padded in burgundy velvet and the view of the pulpit was unobstructed. Since I played piano for services, I got the benefit of mothering from Marie and the other 2nd Pew Ladies. Many of their stories, too.

Marie had been a city debutante that married a farm boy, and though that pleased her parents not at all, she was the type of girl whose chin was always in the air and who would find a way to do what she thought needed to be done in her own style. So, she went on and eloped with him to Nashville, where a marriage could happen over a quick weekend trip. They came back to the hills and hollers of Kentucky to the cottage her farm boy’s grandfather had built on the south side of her new in-laws’ farm. Her parents were shocked. His parents were shocked. They all professed that their child had been the soul of compliance and grace; it was the influence of the other had caused this public humiliation. Marie’s parents knew the steely backbone inside her 5′ frame, though. They decided to wait and see whether Marie would come back asking for forgiveness and the luxury of a home in town with help for the laundry and the cooking. Her mother worried about her, out there in the country, with none of her own people to call on. Her new mother-in-law, on the other hand, prognosticated to all that would listen, before, during, and after services at Oak Grove, at the Stockyard, and the feed mill–Marie was surely a lazy hussy who had trapped her son. The privileged, soft, and ungrateful soul who wouldn’t turn a hand to make a go of the farm and would surely be the ruination of her son.

Marie admitted to me, one a sultry afternoon in the shade of the churchyard after a wedding, that perhaps it hadn’t been so far from true. She had been particular about her housekeeping, her presentation, and her habits. Believed cleanliness was next to godliness; in the power of starched hankies and well-made pies to comfort, that showing up put together and smiling was a show of community solidarity appropriate to any occasion.

Before Marie had a chance to tell her new husband that leaving his muddy boots in the kitchen at the end of the day was a bad habit, he was called to what would be WWI, and was gone. Marie raised a baby boy that didn’t meet his father until he was four. She took up where her husband had left off. Her father-in-law was proud to see his son’s wife in the fields at early morning, checking cattle and hauling out salt blocks. Her mother-in-law was offended Marie did the work in gloves, fine clothes and coordinating jewelry, as if though she might be called at any moment for a dance or tea. Marie claimed both affected her not at all, and went calling upon people in the neighborhood who might teach her how to make their little corner of farm offer a living. Old Nan, the church bookkeeper, taught her to keep accounts. The ladies down the road to make her own starch and fadge bread in a hot skillet. In the still dark of morning, the baby left behind with a tea towel dipped in milk, she wore a route in the soil and shale ridges around her husband’s corner of the land, until she, too, knew where to look for cows who might’ve pushed through a fence or have gone to the low places to birth.

When Marie’s farmer boy husband came home, there was no twinkle in his eye. He stood on the porch and tried to old his son, a four-year old who no longer wanted holding, and cried without making any noise. He made neat sounds for years to come and never left muddy boots in the kitchen. Only, lined them up side-by-side, rinsed free of red clay at the well. There was no talk of before, or where he’d been, though his father came down from the farm’s main house before light, and sat at their formica table drinking instant coffee and waiting. Her husband unpacked his own bags. Left packets of chocolate, a tiny a dish, a stuffed bear on the kitchen table or dresser for Marie or his son. He made his side of the bed when he arose. Washed the dishes. Came, silently from the fields at the end of the day, and appeared, hands washed, to fold sheets with her or bring them in from the line before a whipping wind smelling of rain.

One day, he came in for lunch, Marie peeling a pound of potatoes at the kitchen sink. In sock feet, he was there, smelling her hair for a moment. She felt the shudders as he cried, but stayed still and waited. He chose a knife and peeled along beside her for a time. With his eyes focused on some point beyond the fields out the kitchen window, he said,

“I never meant for you to do all this work,” and he motioned out the window and circled his arm the other direction, encompassing the house.

“It has never been work, Cecil. It has been care,” and suddenly, she was angry; not at the work or at him, but the heaviness of judgement she had felt from those who were proud of her working, though she’d been brought up soft. The ones who thought her soft, still, and had watched her thinking to be the first to see her break. She realized, they might have both been in places, surrounded by people, but alone. She felt the moment lingering, and knew that it was a turning point for the rest of their lives. Their real lives; what happened between them, not only in work or words, but in becoming someone familiar, again. She took a breath, and though she’d been taught to respect her elders and didn’t want to spook him; she knew their advice would have been to begin with soothing most of all–but that was not the language she had found in his eyes: the twinkle that had turned matte and dead. It wasn’t her, either, this tip-toeing and neat routine. She turned to look at him, again, and took a risk.

“I wasn’t about to let your MOTHER think she had been right about me, Cecil. That you had chosen wrong. Or I had. I’ll slop the pigs and wash the diapers, wring the laundry out with the press, and follow all of the Kaiser’s armies to hell and back if that’s what it takes to hold on. If I want to do it all while dressing up like the Queen, herself, because it makes me feel good and gets me going, then who is she to tell me different?”

Well, she told me later, “it wasn’t a very lady-like outburst,” as she shook with laughter and nodded her head at her younger self.

When Marie passed, at 97, Cecil having been gone over a decade, she left behind two jewelry boxes for me. They say she had twelve of them; full to over-flowing, with every kind of piece from the very fine to the gaudy and amongst them little notes from him,

The Kaiser and the cows would love this. 


07. February 2014 by Lora Stevenson
Categories: Graceful | Tags: , , , , | 2 comments

What If? in Wilson Co., TN



Monday night, in Wilson County, TN, the Wilson County School Board banned “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” According to The Tennessean, the book was banned due to offensive language. For the most part, school boards banning books as a headline, I must admit, bores me. Let’s face it, this is something that happens frequently in the good ol’ US of A. If shouting down book banners worked, we’d have ended the practice decades ago…or centuries ago…or perhaps even eons. Then, I remember some sage advice from Robert Fulghum, the author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. “It doesn’t matter what you say you believe – it only matters what you do.”

So, instead of getting mad or feeling sad at what’s happened in Wilson County, I’d like to ask


1. WHAT IF the Wilson County School Board could have used this opportunity to build community? They could have asked concerned parents, kids, business owners, and others to read the book and come out for some community discussions. Okay, they didn’t want to “promote the book,” so they could have chosen an alternative, or #s 4 & 5. You know, teach that instead of running away from problems and controversy, we should work through them together.

2. WHAT IF they used this controversy, and the book’s central character, the frequently mentioned as unlikable–Christopher John Francis Boone, to talk about Autism, social skills, tactics and strategies for getting along with others? How all this connects to preventing bullying, grow empathy skills, and build stronger, more diverse communities?

3. WHAT IF they had asked parents, students, and teachers to write-up questions for the author–and sent them off to Mark Haddon? Call me crazy, but they could have invited the writer for a sit-down supper, and a chat about why this book is so tough. They could ask why DID Haddon choose to use explicit language? What was he trying to communicate about the character(s) using the language? Was it an indication of their reliability? respectability? fallacy?

4. WHAT IF they could have used this time to hold a public forum to discuss language: what makes it appropriate or inappropriate? How does an adult or a young person set expectations about how they want to speak and be spoken to? How is that different for people from different cultures, religions, or backgrounds? How have authors, speakers, philosophers, leaders, and others modeled their language throughout history to provoke or calm their audiences?

5. WHAT IF they could have used this time to discuss that F*bomb and more in public forums? if so concerned about a book–has The Wilson County Schoolboard looked at The Internet, lately? Teaching young people how to avoid sites with raw language, and even how to participate in public discourse productively…WOW. If the Wilson County School Board figures out how to teach and support parent’s teaching that at home–they could make a killing with a “home-based business” offering it to adults.

6. Finally, WHAT IF, rather than banning a book (while representatives claim they don’t want to support censorship), the Wilson County School Board could have asked Why is this book so important? At this writing, there are 2,235 comments about this book with its’ Amazon Books listing, and though it has 4/5 star review, the wide range of feedback leaves me asking–what does the Wilson County School Board think books are for? Though Interim Director of Schools Mary Ann Sparks, according to The Tennessean, said that students could opt out of reading the book by settling on an alternative with their teacher, the board felt the need to BAN a book. Perhaps they could have been more forthright, like one Amazon commenter, who stated–”a lot of work to read.”

Perhaps, they could have admitted understanding and inclusion takes a lot of investment. Banning a book is probably cheaper, faster, and more efficient. I won’t fall back on that old Mark Twain nugget about school boards. It does take a lot of resources to ask questions and listen: more time, maybe more money; maybe asking for help. These activities probably wouldn’t get a headline in The Tennessean or a mention on The Daily Show, either–but they could show us all how to DO what we believe.

07. May 2014 by Lora Stevenson
Categories: Essays, This + That, Writer's Guidelines | 5 comments

Malcolm Gladwell Notes

"Why do people, sometimes, stand-up and fight authority?"
"Why do people, sometimes, stand-up and fight authority?"

“Why do people, sometimes, stand-up and fight authority?”

22. February 2014 by Lora Stevenson
Categories: Oh, Nashville | 2 comments

An Inside Joke

In between this, that, and the other thing, I’ve been on the search for the right fabric to make a messenger bag for my friend, Jase.

It’s got to be just right, because he’s stylish, and likes a rather clean-cut, classy look.

Which, is where the shopping adventure begins… because while at Nancy’s Notions in Beaver Dam, WI, with my girlfriend, Jeanette, we found this printed cotton in the Quilting Prints section.

Umm…err…granny sexploitation quilting?

Outrageous! (Insert jokes about fire hoses, here.) WHO is making WHAT out of this? We pictured little gray-haired women huddled in a circle and giggling. Then, we wondered if they come in other industry prints. Docs, programmers, cops? OMG. Are we skeezy? Are there only dude prints? Do they come wrapped in anonymous paper bags?

We laughed with the ladies who work at Nancy’s Notions, and found out there are gal pin-ups, too, from Alexander Henry Fabrics.

So, I am making a messenger bag with this print as the lining. It may take all year, but I can picture Jase with a classic, neutral tote–on his way to work or the post office; looking inside the bag to find a pen or his phone, only to blush at our inside joke.

Happy Valentines Day, friends! May we all find laughter in our lusty chase for love.


14. February 2014 by Lora Stevenson
Categories: Oh, Nashville | 4 comments

Them That’s Got Shall Get…

The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell (1)

Only 24 hours after MLK Day, Charter School Csar, Chris Barbic, led local news with this quote:

“Most schools, they are the representation of a neighborhood and most neighborhoods are folks who live together that look alike. That’s just the honest reality. I think that’s the case here in Nashville and most communities. And so I think to put that on charters that it’s something they’ve caused or are responsible for is unfair.”

The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell (1)

The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell

In an interview with Nashville Public Radio, Barbic’s quote justified his position and that of charter school advocates, that diversity should not be a requirement for charter schools. Despite the assertions of the American Sociological Review, which studied concerns surrounding Neighborhood Diversity, Metropolitan Constraints, and Household Migration, which clearly reports,

“Nevertheless, prevailing patterns of interneighborhood migration do shed important light on the mechanisms through which residential segregation is maintained. Thus, a second key finding from this research is that mobility between neighborhoods containing different mixtures of racial and ethnic groups is shaped by a care set of indivual-and household-level characteristics that define residential needs, preferences, and options. Most important in this regard are effects of education and income, which tend to increase the likelihood that black householders will avoid racial isolation and gain access to more integrated neighborhoods; these factors also improve whites’ ability to shield themselves from residence in neighborhoods containing many minority residents, especially neighborhoods containing significant shares of blacks.”

In other words, particularly for our African American neighbors, gaining more education and better income provides an increased chance of mobility…but white folks? We gain more eduation, we make more income, and we are more likely to shut ourselves away in the lily-white, better-off neighborhoods Chris Barbic is describing. Did charter schools cause this problem? Of course not. But charter schools are taking public money to create what must essentially be called experiments, in both education and sociology (as educators serve not only a student, but their village of family, neighborhood, and community).

Far be it for schools, funded with public dollars, to serve the public by mandating a diversity of family and students be served. Sounds like “them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose…” to me. How does allowing charter schools and armchair educators from the business and political sector to buy their way to success not set us back decades?



21. January 2014 by Lora Stevenson
Categories: Oh, Nashville, The Anti Biz and Babbitt | 2 comments

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