Fields of Gold: A Love Story – Daddy and Mama’s 61st Wedding Anniversary

Fields of Gold: A Love Story - Ned and Muriel Ross Wedding AnniversaryDaddy and Mama were married at Unaka Baptist Church in Johnson City, TN on June 9, 1956 by Howard T. Rich. It was a small wedding, with close family and like-family attending.

Harry Aiken, my mama’s cousin closest to her in age, gave her away in marriage to my daddy. Lois Aiken, Harry’s wife, made the wedding cake.

Jennings Berry, my daddy’s lifetime best friend, served as Daddy’s best man.

Aunt Velva, who wrote the wedding invitation, was my Mama’s mother’s sister.  Continue reading

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Memorial Day 2017: Daddy and the Korean War

Daddy Army Korean WarDaddy graduated was in the physical therapy program at Duke University when the Korean War was well under way. He was months from graduation when the U.S. government under Harry Truman began the draft of young men to go be fodder in a war that was not a war, but was instead a continuation of the U.S. commitment to stop the spread of Communism. Continue reading

Daddy’s Wildwood Flower: Remembering What Would Have Been Mama’s 88th Birthday

Mama - Muriel Ross - Daddy's Wildwood FlowerOne of my mama’s favorite songs was Wildwood Flower, a song originally recorded by The Carter Family that Mama must have heard as a very young child (Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs also did a version of the song that no doubt Mama also heard).

I suspect that everything about Wildwood Flower reminded Mama, especially during the twelve years as a child when she was away, of east Tennessee and the family she loved – and who loved her – who lived there in small little communities named Telford and Flag Pond. tucked safely into the hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains.
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East Tennessee State University Weaves Its Way Through “Fields of Gold: A Love Story”

As I read this article in the Johnson City Press about East Tennessee State University’s Center for Appalachian Studies and Services and The Appalachian Project, I once again thought of Daddy and Mama and how East Tennessee State University weaved its way through their lives and our story.

Daddy and Mama participated in an Appalachian history project as part of the Institute of Continued Learning (ICL) classes they attended together until Daddy’s death, and which Mama continued for several years afterward. I hope some of their stories are a part of this.

I remember a story that Mama told us about the first time she and Daddy drove across Sam’s Gap (old 19-23 route) from North Carolina to northeast Tennessee after their engagement to see Mama’s family. Daddy had never been to Appalachia and he was genuinely surprised at the neat farms and middle-class houses he saw as they made their way across the Smokies. Daddy asked Mama what the owners of those houses did for a living. Mama laughed and said “the same kinds of work everybody else in the United States does.”

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned as I’ve read a lot about the history of the blues (one of my favorite genres of music) is how much influence Appalachia had on the evolution of the sound as blues artists were exposed to Appalachian music (bluegrass, Welsh, traditional country) during the 20th century. BTW, if you ever get a chance to see the movie “Songcatcher” and listen to the soundtrack, it’s well worth your time.

I’ve tried, like East Tennessee State University with these two projects, to capture the true Appalachia I learned about growing up in Fields of Gold: A Love Story and this blog.

Kudos to ETSU!

Recording of Daddy Interviewing Mama in 1995 For East Tennessee State University Regional Historical Archive Project

Daddy and Mama participated in a regional historical archive project that East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN was working on as part of their Institute of Continuing Learning classes that they took at the university in the spring and fall.

While most of Daddy and Mama’s contributions were written, using a cassette recorder, they recorded an interview with Daddy asking questions and Mama answering about Mama’s family in east Tennessee. 

Through technology, I was able to convert that recording to an MP3 file. Then adding pictures of Daddy and Mama, I was able to create a video and upload it to YouTube:

What is wonderful about this is that some of Fields of Gold: A Love Story can be heard as told by Mama to Daddy in this interview.

I’m thankful to have the ability to preserve this recording because it’s the only thing I possess that has their voices. Some people don’t even get that, so I know this is a blessing.

Remembering What Would Have Been Daddy’s and Mama’s 58th Wedding Anniversary in the Fields of Gold: A Love Story Soundtrack of Our Lives

fields of gold: a love story mama and daddy wedding day 6-9-56Today would  have been Daddy’s and Mama’s 58th wedding anniversary. Their meeting in Durham, NC when they both were at Duke University – Daddy teaching physical therapy and Mama studying medical technology – was nothing less than a miracle.

Daddy had other job offers but he wanted to, after his stint in the Army during the Korean War, as all of us Tarheels long to at some point, go home. Mama was originally supposed to go to Vanderbilt University for her training, but she didn’t have a prerequisite course she needed to get into their program. Mama had all the prerequisites for Duke’s program, so she changed her plans and went there instead.

One of our family jokes was that Daddy picked Mama up on a street corner. In fact, that’s essentially true: Mama waited at the corner of her street each morning for the bus that would pick her up and take her to Duke. Daddy saw her the first day, since he drove the same route to get to the university.

I doubt there were more than a couple of mornings that Daddy passed by before he got the nerve to stop and ask the pretty young woman waiting for the bus if she wanted a ride to school (he knew where Mama was going because he’d waited and followed the bus to see where she was going and where she got off the bus). He told Mama he knew the first day they met that he wanted to marry her.

mama and daddy 6-9-56 wedding pictureDaddy and Mama were married Saturday, June 9, 1956 in Unaka Baptist Church on East Unaka Avenue in Johnson City, TN. It was a small wedding, but the sacred vows Daddy and Mama took that day were big and they both lovingly and faithfully kept them for their entire marriage.

Daddy died in 1998, a few months after he and Mama had celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary. I will never forget bringing Mama home after his burial.

Grieving and numb (we all knew Daddy was dying, but knowledge alone can never prepare anyone for the reality of the actual experience), she sat in a chair in their daddy and mama 1995bedroom and took her wedding rings off and said “I’m not married anymore.”

(At some point that afternoon, Mama put her wedding rings back on, but the time came later on when she removed them for good and put them away for safekeeping.)

Mama was always one to get the heart of the matter in big situations, but even that took me aback and I couldn’t handle the finality of her declaration. Tears falling, I left their bedroom and wondered how Mama would survive without her best friend and how we would survive as a family without Daddy.

Mama did better than we as a family did after Daddy’s death, but there wasn’t a day that she didn’t miss him until her own death almost 14 years later. Now they both sleep, side by side in Oakland Cumberland Presbyterian Cemetery in Telford, TN, awaiting the resurrection, when they’ll be reunited for eternity.

There are quite a few songs that come to mind when I think of Daddy and Mama, of their love, their commitment, and their lives together, but I thought I’d share a couple today that I hadn’t thought about in a while (probably because they’re more on the sappy side and I usually shy away from sappy stuff), but was reminded of recently because they were playing somewhere where I was.

The first is Bread’s “If:”

The second is “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers:

I’ve heard people say that married people won’t be working together in the resurrection and throughout eternity, but that defies logic. A marriage is about building a team and a family adds members to that team. It’s ludicrous to think that God would not use existing and well-developed teams He has forged through marriage, family, and time in this life in the next part of His plan involving humanity.

mama-daddy-1997So, until our team is reunited, Daddy and Mama, sleep well. I’m thankful you were my parents and that you both left me an incredible legacy by your examples of love and commitment in every aspect of your lives individually and together that I remember and draw upon daily. I love you both and can’t wait to see you again!

Mother’s Day 2014 in the Fields of Gold: A Love Story Soundtrack of Our Lives

It’s hard to believe that in August of this year, it will be two years since Mama died. If you asked my heart, it would say it hadn’t been that long, but the heart is the last to catch up with the rest of us in the grief process, and although it Mom-March 2009 #2accepts the reality, it never really heals.

However, the holes and the voids left there remind us that even in the face of losses, we were enormously blessed to love and be loved. Tennyson was accurate when he penned this line to the poem In Memoriam A.H.H.: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost: Than never to have loved at all.”

So as I face the second Mother’s Day without Mama here, I decided to reflect on a small sample of the music that I will always associate with Mama. Either she sang it to us or it was near and dear to her heart. But when I hear this music, I see and hear the movie memories of Mama that I accumulated over the years. 

Admittedly, I still have a hard time listening to any of Mama’s music without tears and, at times, that hole in my heart feeling like a fresh wound again. But there are smiles too as I can see and hear her in my mind’s eye as if we were together back in whatever points of time where this music had its place. Bittersweet.

Of course, no post on music I associate with Mama would be complete without including Glenn Miller’s “Three Little Fishies.” Mama sang this to us while we were growing up and we delighted in her animation and dead-on rendition of the vocals and we would ask her to sing it over and over. She carried that tradition on with her grandchildren who can now sing the lyrics as well we can.

I’ve posted before that Mama really liked Jim Reeves. While “The Blizzard” was her favorite, the other song I remember her singing a lot was “Welcome to My World.” I suspect that this song reminded her of Daddy and that’s why she loved it so much.

Nat King Cole was one of Mama’s favorites as well. While she and Daddy would serenade us with “When I Fall in Love,” on a regular basis during our childhood, Mama also had a strong affinity for “Mona Lisa.” I don’t know exactly why, but there is a sort of sad overtone to the song, so maybe it reminded her of her childhood rhythm-country-blues music roots.

Elvis Presley voice made Mama’s list too. But Mama did not like the rockabilly that characterized Presley’s early career. Instead, she liked his ballads and gospel. One song that I remember Mama liked a lot was “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”

When we’d take road trips that began at night, Daddy would turn on the radio and find a station that played music from the 1950’s and 1960’s and invariably at some point this song would play and Mama would sing along while we kids were either falling asleep or sleeping in the back seat. I can almost hear Mama’s voice when I hear this song.

And I could not end this tribute to Mama’s music without including “At Last” by Etta James. I can remember hearing this song quite often growing up.  

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. You and Daddy gave us an incredible gift when you filled our growing-up years with an incredibly extensive range of musical genres, voices, and styles.

And, you, Mama, more so than Daddy (who thought the most of the music we liked as teenagers and adults – I was into alternative music early so mine was probably what he liked least among the three of us – was “just a bunch of noise”), continued to embrace new music up until your death.

I can still see your smile watching and listening to me singing Adele and The Black Keys and your laughter at my rare attempts to also dance while singing them. I smile at the memories and I’m glad that I was able to give back that gift of music to you along the way.

I love you and I miss you, Mama. I’m looking forward to the day when we can continue adding new music to the Fields of Gold: A Love Story soundtrack of our lives. Until then, rest well.