That’s me up there, flanked by my bosom buddies Bett and Emily. The three of us and our families have known each other for decades. They are the kind of people who see you through everything that happens in your life, and you them. I assumed we’d be together as friends forever. And there are so many more I wish there’d been time to see. If there is a template for Southern graciousness, those two are its exemplars, along with a handful of others I know.
Thursday began early with our breakfast at this eatery, only three blocks from my erstwhile home in Knoxville: I used to walk there routinely to meet friends for coffee or lunch. It was admittedly weird to be in my old neighborhood again; I made myself drive by the house, although I did not linger. I was satisfied that its new people appear to be taking good care of it, but sad for so many other reasons. Anyway, I wanted Handsome Chef Boyfriend to see the setting for so, so many stories I’ve been telling him for three years now. It felt important to do.
But I digress.
HCB was a prince for joining a “girl” breakfast that was mainly about catching up; three years is a long time to go without seeing your homies. But I knew they’d want to meet him, so I pressed him to come. It was a lovely breakfast and I am genuinely pleased to see that the neighborhood bistro is still thriving; others of its ilk were not so fortunate.
Thursday was probably the most ambitious day of our homecoming week; I think HCB was growing weary of somebody’s possibly too-ambitious plans by then, and in the intervening weeks since we’ve been home there has been discussion that somebody’s contract as tour guide may not be renewed next time around. As ambitious as the day was, it is oddly the least represented in photos; I did manage to grab a few.
Yep, I had the mop chopped; plans were hatched weeks earlier. When I moved to Vermont I had very, very short Annie Lennox-style hair. It was a life-simplifying decision I made in 2009 just ahead of the first leg of my teacher training at American Ballet Theatre. I did not do it for vanity, but as time wore on I really appreciated short-short hair even more. And during the worst year of my life, when my family came unglued, hair maintenance was the very last thing on my mind.
When I moved to Vermont, this is how I looked:
I was a hell of a lot skinnier then than I am now, too; that was a selfie I made for HCB, just being silly. I was also terrified, and about to experience all kinds of loss on a monumental scale, not least of which financial. I grew my hair long because it was one less monthly expense. For the better part of two years now it has been getting on my last nerve, as a friend of mine used to say. I called upon the amazing and gifted Sunshine Carter, a Knoxville stylist, to take me back a few years. My hair, anyway—I have to work on the rest of me now. I think she did a beautiful job. There was a long exhale afterwards; props to my son B for shooting photos, and to Sunshine for the cute haircut. I left the salon feeling restored, much more like myself.
People in the South are just friendlier. There. I’ve said it.
This is not a statement about regional character, that people down South are somehow better people than folks in other parts of the world. (And of course the South is beleaguered from time to time by news-making, hate-mongering sociopaths, as the world well knows.) But I do think Southerners—the non-sociopath ones—behave better in day-to-day interactions with others: warm, effusive, friendly exchanges really are a Southern specialty. It does not take all that much effort to smile and be nice to somebody. And you feel better when people are nice to you (at least, I do). A case in point: the fine staff at the salon, who made us—myself, B, and HCB—feel so welcome. And it really was a recurring theme in so many places we went.
After a brief recharging at the hotel it was time for another reunion, this time with a trio of my former ballet students for gelato at Whole Foods Market. (Yet another sign of the burgeoning economy down South, however you may feel about them, ditto Trader Joe’s—Knoxville had neither when I left it in 2012.) This threesome started pre-ballet at Knoxville Ballet School when they were barely bigger than toddlers. And they were on the leading edge of children at the school who had the American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum from the earliest level, which at the time was Primary Level A.
As often happens when like-minded families are thrown together by their children’s enrichment activities, the school proved to be a galvanizing experience for these girls and their parents. I can’t believe how much they have grown, truly. Here are the same girls, in the same exact order, just after their affiliate exams in 2011, numbers 3, 2, and 1. (And that is moi, with my brilliant accompanist Eva Holder, and ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School Principal, Franco De Vita. It was the second time Franco had come down from NYC to adjudicate; we were all so very lucky.)
And we are still lucky. I am glad to see my young students moving on, whether they choose classical ballet or not, especially glad that they wanted to see their former ballet teacher. Our time together was too brief, then and now.
Our day ended with a blissful dinner at the home of incredibly talented friends Bett (see above) and Doug; I have no photos to show. I could have walked around snapping pictures of their incredible home, the beautiful salmon they smoked for us in the Big Green Egg, the amazing things they’ve done in the patio and yard since last I saw it, Bett’s exquisite artwork (in all kinds of media, most especially pottery and rug hooking), the dog, and the cat. But that would have been, you know, weird. What I can say is being there in that place again, where we often found ourselves when our kids were little, and then slightly bigger, and then all of a sudden teenagers and young adults, was life-restoring. We had a wonderful, relaxing time with friends, telling stories, remembering the fall of the company that brought so many talented people to Knoxville, Tennessee, Doug and Bett among them, and life after big transitions. I did not want to leave.
But we did; Friday’s adventures required a good night’s sleep. About which more soon.