In Honor of Mom

My mom has been on my mind a lot this month. May 2 was her birthday (she would have been 89 this year), and then of course I thought of her on Mother’s Day.

Hattie Bernice Robinette (oh, how she hated the name Hattie) was born May 2, 1921, the youngest of six girls born to Rosa Alice Steele and Henry Tyler Robinette. Mamaw and Papaw married in 1912, about a year after Papaw’s first wife died of¬† “consumption,” or tuberculosis, as we know it today. But that’s another story.

My mom grew up with five sisters who were close in age: Eunice Mae was born in 1913, Reba Susan in 1914, Della Bertha in 1916 (I think), Myrtle Virginia in 1918, and Edna Frances in 1920 (again, I’m not sure of the year). I could get out our family Bible and find all those dates, but it’s downstairs and John’s asleep, so my memory will have to suffice.

Mamaw and Papaw were farmers, and, I found out not long ago, sharecroppers during the Great Depression. So my mom grew up in poverty, though that wasn’t unusual for the people in her little “holler” near Fairview, Virginia.

I don’t remember my mom talking much about her childhood. She showed me pictures of her house and school, and everyone looked poor. I think the family was too busy eking out a living to do much else. Hard work was definitely a Robinette family value.

My mom’s mantra later on in life was “Keep peace in the family,” so I imagine there must have been lots of arguments among six girls and two stepsisters from my grandfather’s first marriage.

Education was another Robinette family value. My grandfather had a degree in agriculture from Lincoln Memorial University, and my grandmother went to college to be trained as a teacher (I think they only went 2 years in those days). All six sisters in my mom’s family got a college degree. Options for women were limited in those days, so all were trained as teachers. The neat thing to me is how the sisters helped each other financially during college. When one would graduate, she’d work and save money to send to the next sister.

Because of finances, my mom went to three colleges before she finally got her degree. She went to Carson-Newman for one year (and always talked about it), Radford College for one year, and finally finished at UT-Knoxville.

My mom and dad courted for 7 years before they finally married in 1954. My dad said that the last time he asked her, that was going to be THE last time, so it was a good thing Mom said yes.

So my mom had me when she was 37, which was old in those days. I remember asking for a brother or sister for Christmas when I was about 7, and she joked, “You’re going to have to put your order in a little sooner.” Then she explained to me that she was a little old to be having another child at age 44.

Here are some things I remember about my mom:

* She was a strict disciplinarian. None of that “Wait til your father gets home” stuff for her. I remember countless spankings with a yardstick. Our daschund, Sandy, used to run with her tail between her legs when she saw my mom reach above the kitchen doorframe, where she kept the yardstick.

* She rarely spoke a critical word about anyone. I remember that she said something encouraging to the preacher every Sunday after worship at our little country church, no matter how green the preacher (we had a lot of religion students from Carson-Newman who served our little church) or how ignorant (later we had some bivocational pastors whose preaching I could hardly stand to listen to; they yelled and windsucked, and I really hated being in church. I couldn’t understand why they were so angry).

* She was a partner with my dad. They cooked together, planted flowers together, and did lots of household chores together. I took this model into my own marriage, but it hasn’t worked too well most of the time because I’m strongwilled and John likes to be the boss…well, there you go.

* She was dedicated to her career, often slavishly. I don’t recall many nights going by without her sitting at the kitchen table grading papers or averaging grades for report cards. In fact, I resented how much attention she gave to her work. (This came back later to haunt me when my own teenage son made the comment, “You and your precious work.” That got my attention.)

* She was close to her family and was the peacemaker of the extended family. Seems like she could always come up with a joke just at the right time, when tensions were high as we were preparing Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or on other occasions.

* She loved music and passed on her love (and perhaps some of her desire to play) to me…she signed me up for piano and clarinet lessons and then pushed me to practice. Occasionally she would sit at the piano and try to play hymns, and the result was less than pleasing to the ears … then she’d say, “Oh, Anne, you can play so much better. Why don’t you play ______________ for me?”

* During my teenage years, my mother did not try to be a friend to me. She had the guts to break up one of my friendships that she thought was moving in an unhealthy direction. Turns out she was right…during my freshman year in college, she sent me a newspaper clipping about this girl, informing me she’d been arrested for prostitution. Gulp. Anyway, when my own children were teenagers, I remembered her example of standing firm and not trying to win a popularity contest. Can’t say I did quite as well as she did.

* Mom’s faith was important to her. I remember her love of singing hymns especially, and she took notes like crazy and wrote in the margins of her Bible. I do the same thing today…she taught me that you can learn something from everyone.

*My mother was very outgoing and loved to talk to people. As a child and teenager, I hated waiting around on her while she had conversations after church (eternally long conversations), but she always had a smile on her face, and people seemed to enjoy her.

*Perhaps the greatest lesson my mom taught me was how to face adversity bravely and make the best of it. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1985, and watching her deteriorate each time I saw her (by then I’d made my home in Nashville, 5 1/2 hours away) was one of the most painful experiences of my life. The hardest thing to watch was her mental deterioration. My mom had been a very smart woman, and she was reduced to being able to speak just a few words in response to questions. Even then, she’d attempt to make a joke, and she always had the sweetest attitude.

Nearly 20 years after her death, I still miss her. She was my encourager, the one I looked to for advice, and we were just becoming adult friends when she fell ill. I like to think of her looking over my shoulder sometimes and wonder what she’d say.

Not Exactly June Cleaver

I have some buddies who send me outrageously funny jokes. I used to read them as they arrived in my inbox, but lately I’ve been saving them up to read on days that I’m feeling especially stressed. A hearty laugh is good for the soul. And these jokes have been my lifeline.

It seems that lately I’ve been needing to laugh out loud a lot. We’ve had a lot going on at our house since January. First came our elder child, Daniel’s, move back home from college…just for a while, probably until summer, he said. Then suddenly that morphed into, “But I’m going to be here longer than Julie…I need the bigger (her) bedroom.” I was a little alarmed at that change in his thinking, but it has been due to financial reality. At the end of January he drove his car into a ditch, nose down, and when it was finally towed and supposedly repaired, we later discovered two holes in his radiator (too late to salvage the engine). So he and I have been sharing a car since the first of February.

In the backdrop has been sickness (not serious, thank God, but just enough respiratory crud to make three-fourths of our household feel just plain yucky). First it was John who was in bed for nearly a week. Then Julie came home for spring break and spent two days in bed with a fever, but she bounced back quickly enough to get to see all her friends (she has her priorities!).

Then I got that round of crud and wound up having laryngitis (thus giving John’s ears a rest!) for 2 days. That coincided with a trip to Jackson, MS to hear Julie perform with the Millsaps Singers, Missisippi College Singers, and the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. On this trip we met The Boyfriend for the first time. Incidentally, this trip also occurred during March Madness, and UT was playing the night we arrived in Jackson. John stayed at the hotel to watch the UT men play while I, the mute one, picked up Julie and her BF and took them out to eat. At one point, Richmond, who has lost hearing in one ear due to being hit by a wave a couple of years ago (and after many childhood ear infections), looked at me and said, “Well, here we are, the deaf and the mute.” (Julie had left the table to get ice cream.) He is a lovely young man, very funny, and a good match for Julie, though they may be a little too much alike.

So in the midst of all this I am dealing with the not-knowing of a job change, moving from editorial to marketing…and then I get sick again, this time with a bad sinus infection. I have had it for about 6 weeks now. Went to the doctor, got a shot and some antibiotics, and nearly 3 weeks later I’m still hacking.

And life with Daniel and John is never dull. John decided to move his office into our dining room; Daniel moved into Julie’s bedroom, though we had many “discussions” about this. The males overpowered me. I couldn’t seem to reason with them. They approached it very analytically, and I was saying, “But look at it from Julie’s standpoint. She’s coming home from college this summer, has been through a year of many changes, and she’d like to have her own room just like it was.” I failed to persuade them. They started moving everything at once, and of course our house is a huge mess. I did manage to get Daniel not to take over Julie’s bed. He moved it into his old bedroom/John’s office that still has most of the stuff in it.

So here’s where we are right now: Julie cried when she got home from college and found out how little space she has this summer. She’s mad at Daniel for invading her room. Daniel is puzzled over her emotional reaction. John is working for the U.S. Census Bureau and is adjusting to working outside our house for the first time in almost 26 years (well, he has worked outside our house as a home improvement contractor, but he has largely been housebound for the past few years).

Now that Julie is home, we are clamoring to schedule who gets a car when. Daniel works part-time at Papa John’s, Julie has a job selling cutlery this summer and needs transportation to get to her sales meetings and appointments, and I’m just trying to make sure I get to work every day.

Our house is a wreck, and I’ve just about given up hopes of getting it straightened up, much less clean, until fall. We have a twin-size bed leaning against the wall in the dining room. John has part of his office moved to the dining room and the rest is in Julie’s bedroom, and now he’s taking over the living room with all his boxes of files and reports for the Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, I’m just trying to hold it together but not doing a very good job. I chop lots of things in the kitchen. That is the one space I have just a little control over.

On Saturday when I came home from the grocery store and asked Daniel to get out of bed (about 2:00 p.m.), he said, “I’ll be there in a minute.” I replied (not yelling), “Daniel, hurry up…we need to get the frozen & refrigerated stuff inside now, or it will thaw.” Daniel and I have different definitions of “hurry.” Ten minutes later he was still sitting in bed; I’d hollered at him by this point and not gotten much response. Finally I yelled, “Get the hell out of bed and come help me!” He got up, brought the rest of the groceries in, and by that point I’d had it, and some pretty rough language ensued. He told me, “F… you” and threw me a bird; I said, “No, you F…you!” Oh my God. Here I’d been attending a Festival of Homiletics (preaching) this week and listening to all these inspiring messages and music…and now I’m cursing like a sailor, a great example to my beloved son.

Daniel was in tears by this point, and I felt like a total failure as a mom. Normally I hold it together, but some days, I swear, I just lose it. After a little time passed, we talked about what all was going on underneath the surface. My son is much more mature than I in many ways (except he can’t seem to get his ass out of bed). I think that may have something to do with the fact he has a thyroid tumor (benign). We are going to have to deal with that soon because it is interfering with his daily life. (At the time we discovered the tumor, back in February, John and Daniel went in for the needle biopsy, and I got information secondhand…and not many answers to my questions. I should have left work…my family is much more important, but of course I had a deadline I had to meet.)

Well, all I can say is that I am glad God is a forgiving God because I have had plenty to confess to him lately. And I’ve been doing a lot of apologizing to my family. I’ve been trying to remove myself from the fray between father and children…but I keep getting stuck in the middle (a no-win situation). Family life is messy. I have quit praying for patience because I think that I’ve worn that prayer out. Now my prayer is, “Help, Lord.” That’s all I can muster for now.


At the first of this week, I posted my status on Facebook as something like this: “I’m in the worst mood I’ve been in since my hysterectomy 5 years ago. I guess I’m making up for all the PMS I haven’t had since then.”

The backstory to that post was that John and I had just taken a trip over the weekend (Mother’s Day weekend) to Jackson, MS, to pick up our daughter from college and bring her & her belongings home for the summer. When father and daughter get together after being away from each other for a long period of time, there is always an initial period of adjustment…and bickering. It got on my last nerve to hear them go back and forth for more than 7 hours on the way home. I finally pulled rank on Mother’s Day and asked, “Could you please, just for me, try to get along? It’s Mother’s Day.”

When we got home from the trip, which would up taking about 9 hours due to our getting delayed in a traffic jam this side of Memphis, my nerves were shot, and we were all tired. Julie wheeled her suitcase into the house, and I reminded her that she needed to go into Daniel’s old bedroom, which John converted to his office when Daniel left for college in Murfreesboro 2 1/2 years ago. At that point, she burst into tears.

I had tried to prepare her for her change in bedroom. I fought for her to stay in her bedroom when Daniel moved back home. His belongings are still in boxes in our dining room, and finally after Julie’s spring break in March, he moved his bed into Julie’s bedroom and her bed into John’s office, after much discussion between John, me, and him. I kept trying to convince my men that Julie needed things to stay the same for at least a year after she went to college. I remember that my mom didn’t change one thing about my bedroom the whole time I was in college. There was a measure of security in knowing that when I returned home, no matter how many changes I had gone through in the intervening months, my room would remain the same.

However, my persuasive skills with my husband evidently aren’t very good. He doesn’t seem to understand the emotional impact that changes bring, and he says, “I don’t remember feeling that way, and my mom and dad moved to a new house when I was in college.” Frustration! Sometimes I think we live on different planets. (That book about men being from Mars and women being from Venus has it right.)

Anyway, that’s the backstory…and then on Tuesday I went to the doctor after having tried (unsuccessfully) to fight what I thought was just a bad cold. It wound up being a sinus infection and an ear infection, and the doctor prescribed a shot in my buttocks as well as an oral antibiotic. Funny, I wasn’t in such a bad mood on Tuesday, and even when I got to feeling worse later in the week and had to leave work because I was sick, I was in a better mood.

I am thankful that bad moods don’t strike me very often. Normally I am quite chipper, and I try to see the positive side of most situations. But family situations wear me down, and that is where I feel that I fail the most. I guess every mom can relate to that statement.

I really am glad that Julie’s home for the summer. I’m trying to stay positive about Daniel being home for longer than he first planned when he graduated from college. He’s much easier to live with (and much more mature) than during his teen years. We’re adjusting to John working outside our home for the first time in about 26 years. He’s under stress from that; I’m under stress from changes in my work responsibilities; we’re all under stress from adjusting to living together as a family again. We tend to be vocal about our frustrations, so even though sometimes we say things that we later regret, at least no one can accuse the Trudel family of bottling up our feelings.

We WILL survive this summer, and we WILL still love each other. Of this I am sure.

In the meantime, I will remember this saying that always makes me laugh: “Sometimes I wake up Grumpy. Sometimes I let him sleep.” (This could apply to any of our family members.)

Reflections on the Nashville Flood

This blog started out in a much different direction last Saturday morning. I woke up to the sound of pouring rain. Here’s what I said then: “There’s something comforting about that on a Saturday morning when I don’t have to go out. I snuggled under the covers and slept a little while longer. Finally got up around 7:00 to start the coffee and watch the rain outside my kitchen window.”

Little did I know that over Saturday and Sunday, Nashville would receive up to 15 inches of rain and experience unprecedented flooding. My first inkling that something unusual was going on was when I was out running errands on Saturday afternoon (I still needed to go to Costco and Kroger), and my husband, John, called to say I needed to come home right then. He had gone to Wal-Mart, about 1 1/2 miles from our house, and while he was in the store the water outside rose 18 inches. He had to wade back to the minivan, and water was up to the doors. He started to go home the usual way, but then he noticed flooding at the corner of Nolensville Road and Edmondson Pike. Cars were beginning to float in the water from a creek that runs under Edmondson Pike at that intersection. Water was over Nolensville Rd., a main branch. John had to turn around and go home another way.

For once I, strongwilled woman that I am, listened to him, dropped what I was doing, and headed home. I figured the groceries could wait until Sunday. We both made it home safely. We live on a hill, so though our sidewalk was inundated with water, we didn’t notice much except a lot of soggy ground.

On Sunday we headed to church. First we had to rethink our route, because there was water over the road across from the bottom of our street. We zigzagged down Edmondson Pike in the opposite direction of the way we usually go. As we drove along, I was amazed to see the ballfield near our house completely under water. Water was over fields and had closed the roads into Ellington Agricultural Center. The playground at the back of the Edmondson branch library was covered, and it looked like the lower parking lot was too. Okay, it looked pretty bad, but we kept going. We drove through a residential neighborhood and noticed several trees uprooted and fallen across the road. No problem; we turned around and took an alternate street. Finally we made it to I65 and headed toward downtown. Our church is in Hillsboro Village, about 5 minutes from downtown.

We got to church and I noticed that very few cars were there. Our church’s usual policy is to have 10:30 worship services no matter what, so we thought this a bit unusual. We saw a manhole cover lying beside the manhole in the street that runs behind our church. We looked around and noticed a few familiar cars and were amazed to find a space in the small parking lot adjacent to our church. About that time, I ran into a fellow choir member, and he said, “You know that worship services have been canceled, don’t you?” I said, “No, this is the first I’ve heard.” Anyway, turns out that our gym and our old fellowship hall under our sanctuary had flooded.

So then John and I decided to drive around and investigate a little. We started toward my place of employment, heading down 21st Ave. South, but the street was closed at the corner of 21st and Wedgewood. The bank where I usually do business was flooded. Water was at least 4 or 5 feet high.

We headed in another direction and drove down by The Upper Room; I wanted to see if it was still intact. It was. At that point we decided to head back home. But first we went down Woodmont Blvd. toward some friends’ house. We were worried about them because we knew they live in a flood plain. We got nearly as far as the end of their street. Water was up over Woodmont Blvd., and when I looked down their street, my stomach turned. It was a river. Someone got in a canoe and went toward one young couple who were stuck in their house. The man had to turn around because the water was too swift. At this point I was nearly frantic. I wanted to know whether Gerald and Becky had gotten out of their house. (I called them later that afternoon, and to my surprise, Gerald picked up the phone. He said they were fine. Water had gotten up to their house and was in the basement, but it hadn’t gotten on their first floor.)

I got on Facebook and started reading stories about other parts of town. People in Bellevue (western part of Nashville) seemed to be the worst off. We watched the news and saw boat rescues of people in the River Plantation area. We heard via e-mail about some members of our Sunday school class being evacuated from their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

There was flooding in the Cottonwood and Fieldstone Farm subdivisions in Franklin. I heard bits and pieces about other areas. Then came the biggie: the news reported that downtown was hit hard, and the Cumberland River was expected to crest at 50 feet. On Monday it crested at around 53 feet. The Cumberland has never been that high, at least since flood records have been kept.

Amazingly, my workplace was open on Monday; we opened 2 hours late. Our mayor had said Sunday night not to get out if you didn’t have to. He all but said, “Really, if you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, don’t.” Many downtown businesses were closed on Monday. Ours, being on the fringe of downtown near the Vanderbilt campus, was not as affected as downtown businesses.

So into work I trudged Monday, somewhat mad and thinking that I’d much rather be helping people clean out their homes from all the flood damage. It was kind of surreal; the sun was shining brightly, and the water had receded in most of the places I drove. Other than some mud on the streets and seeing people’s furniture, carpet, and other belongings¬† sitting out in their front yard along the formerly flooded Blackman Road, everything appeared to be fairly normal.

I heard sometime Monday that the mayor had asked people to start conserving water because one of our treatment plants was under water. I heard bits and pieces about what businesses downtown had been hammered by the flood. John and I drove around I65, which loops around the city, when he picked me up from work that afternoon. We were stunned by how much water we saw downtown.

Then came all the pictures on Facebook and all the news reports, most of them local. Unfortunately the flood came at the same time as the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a terrorist bombing attempt in New York City. Our news was small potatoes in the eyes of the national news media.

To make a long story a little shorter, it has been an emotionally exhausting week. My heart broke as I heard about people drowning and others losing their homes and pets. I have also been proud as I heard stories about how Nashvillians just showed up to help complete strangers and how neighborhoods bonded together to help one another. My son plans to volunteer with a friend today to help with flood cleanup.

One of the things I love about Nashville is its small-town feel even though it’s a fairly large city (really big compared to where I grew up, Kingsport, which had about 40,000 residents when I lived there). People smile at you when they pass you on the street; we strike up conversations with strangers while standing in line at the grocery store or wherever. It’s a little disconcerting at first to people from more reserved backgrounds, but it is one of the many things that made me feel at home when I moved here nearly 30 years ago.

It will be a long haul until we recover from this natural disaster. But I’ve seen Nashvillians pull together before, most memorably in the aftermath of the tornadoes in 1996. We are strong. We will make it through this…TOGETHER.