The Old, the Dead and the Hot as Blue Blazes: Day 3

Monday, August 9, 2010

If possible, the next morning was even hotter, as though Nashville gave up even pretending to fight the heat and just gave into the scorching inferno that swamped everything.  We decided to start the day on a high note by going to, um, the cemetery.  Call me morbid, but I love cemeteries.  I love the various shapes of headstones and the pithy sayings that play tribute to those who've passed - like the one pictured here - and the statuary that graces the particularly old ones, like the Nashville City Cemetery.  Our first challenge was to find the cemetery.  Funny, but the addresses for those sorts of things are not to be found in the visitor's guide.  We actually had to call the visitor's bureau to get an address for Mathilda, and even though the woman was very polite, I wondered if she thought us a bit bizarre.

Mom and I trudged through the mid-morning light, growing more clear and hot by the moment, while Dad trolled around in the van, stopping periodically to read his book.  I took 50 or 60 shots before I succumbed to the heat, thinking that I knew exactly how the Wicked Witch of the West felt as she melted.  My cheeks were blazing, the sweat rolling out of every pore, and any semblance of makeup I might've put on that morning was pooling somewhere along my collarbone.

The twenty-minute ride across town gave Mom and me time to return to an acceptable temperature below the blood-boiling point, so that we didn't collapse immediately on the lawn of the Belmont Mansion when we arrived.  Although it would've been a nice place to collapse, because Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatam liked statuary...a lot.  So we would've been in good company among gods and goddesses and some very sweet looking sleeping lions. Adelicia, often referred to as Tennessee's real Steel Magnolia, was a charming, pistol-toting millionairess who hollered "we want pre-nups" long before Kanye penned "Golddigger."  She married well the first time to a man roughly 30 years her senior and held onto her wealth through two more husbands and died, as all women dream of doing, while shopping in New York City. 

With one old home and a morning with the dead behind us, we left the Nashville city limits bound for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel who had no children but managed to have many people in their house over the years also named Andrew and Rachel.  It would really make historic house tours a lot easier if someone was just willing to go out on a limb with "Jeremy" and "Samantha."  I digress.

By the time we pulled into the parking lot at The Hermitage, it was truly hotter than the blue blazes.  The sun charmed serpents from the asphalt, and they wavered upwards coating us in incendiary heat.  We were told at the ticket window that I couldn't take in my camera bag because it might snag the old wallpaper.  So I trudged back across the parking lot, tossed my camera bag in the van and stashed my camera body and two lens in my purse, which made it weigh approximately 27 pounds.

Once inside, we watched a short film on Andrew Jackson, and I gotta say - that guy hired a good PR firm posthumously.  Reading between the lines, it sounds like the he was a bit of a jerk.  Granted, he lived a rough life, serving in the Revolutionary War at 13 and emerging from the conflict an orphan whose other siblings didn't survive the battle.  And while it's amazing that a man from such mean beginnings rose to the highest office in the country, the short film glossed over the early years of his marriage to Rachel when she was (OOPS!) married to two people at once.  It did, however, note the raucous nature of his inaugural ball which got so out of hand, he had to be escorted out the back of the White House by security.  Party in the U.S.A., indeed.

The museum held some interesting relics, including replicas of the garments worn by Rachel and Andrew to the ball held in New Orleans to celebrate victory in the War of 1812.  For the record, they were essentially Jack Sprat and his wife.  Andrew was 6'1" and weighed about 130 lbs., while Rachel stood just over 5' and weighed in around the same as her husband.

While contemplating that skinny men no longer give fat women a second glance, we made our way from the museum to the house.  The thick air barely moved as we cut through it, and within seconds sweat was omnipresent.   We waited outside for the next scheduled tour and chatted with the poor fellow robed in 18th century garb clear up to his neck.  It made me hotter just looking at him.

Once inside where the fine folks of The Hermitage thought well of keeping things all 1836-style except for the addition of A/C (thank heavens), we were treated to some very special Greek-themed wallpaper which was all the rage in Nashville, apparently, because it was at Belmont, too.  Also notable was that Andrew Jackson died at home in his bedroom that's pretty much just as he left it.  Except for the bedding which deteriorated and had to be replaced.  Thankfully, in 1998, the company that made the original was still in business and had the original order.  Kind of made me feel better about all the things I keep in case they come in handy a century or so later.

Like I noted with Belle Meade, it's the random little trivia facts that stick in my brain.  Like The Hermitage's smokehouse processed about 25,000 pounds of pork each year.  That's a whole lotta pig.  Also, while in office, President Jackson read 15 newspapers and kept them in giant leatherbound volumes.  The only other sitting president to read the newspaper so prolifically was JFK, an accomplished speed-reader.

All too soon it seemed, we were back outside again.  The disappointment was somewhat offset by the beauty of the gardens.  Apparently, Andrew hired a hoity-toity British landscape artist to create a classic English garden behind The Hermitage for his lady love.  It was here that Rachel and he are entombed.  She died just prior to his inauguration.  It's said he walked out to the monument every evening at sunset as long as he could do so.

At this point, with the headphones and digital recorder from the audio tour feeling like they weighed 10 pounds and my purse with the two camera lens weighing three times that, I could've happily departed from The Hermitage.  But Dad wanted to take the trek through the woods to get a better view of the farm land and the remains of the slave quarters, plus the added bonus of emerging from said woods into the backyard of the original Hermitage log cabin.  Oh joy.

Despite my protestations, there were a few very good things about this 2-mile path:
1) It ran alongside the creek fed by the spring whose water stayed at a constant 58 degrees.  Yes, I did dip my toes in presidential waters.
2) It was a wild experience in which we encountered this very brave rabbit who was totally unconcerned by our presence and a more cautious wild turkey
3) No one else was as stupid as us to want to plow through the woods with a 100-plus heat index, so we were blissfully alone

By the time we wended our way along the path, had close encounters of the animal-kind and sweated darn near every ounce of moisture left in our bodies, my plunge into the presidential crick was a distant memory.  So was my patience.  So was my enjoyment.  So was my desire to read all the little tiny signs inside the original Hermitage.  While Dad carried on with his headphones on listening to all manner of educational musings, I removed my headphones and digital recorder and threw them in the grass.  My purse hit the ground next and then my camera.  I took off the necklace I'd been wearing.  I was hot.  I was hot. IwashotomigoshIwashot.  Mom laughed at me while Dad continued his exploration of the archaeological findings and I continued my disenchantment with history, audio tours, presidents and the month of July.  "Dad," I said.  "It's a log cabin.  It's hot.  Let's go." 

As we trekked back to the museum - do you notice how much walking is involved in this blazing hot day??? - I contemplated how it must've looked then: wild with just the beginnings of civilization carved out.  This is me - hot and contemplative.

Dinner that evening was at Margot, a local-to-table restaurant with a rotating menu.  The homemade bread was to die for, and for dinner I had this refreshing red snapper in a corn salsa.  Mom, Dad and I split two desserts: a cherry clafloutis and chocolate mousse.  I could've had a gallon of the mousse.  And if I weren't trying to maintain what little dignity I had left with my sweaty hair plastered to my head and my makeup melted away, I would've licked the inside of the bowl.

We let Mathilda take us back to Carole's Yellow Cottage one more time.  One more time, we arrived crusted in salt, smelling slightly like yesterday's dirty socks and so desperate for a shower, we would've hosed off in the backyard.  And yet, we couldn't have possibly had more fun spending quality time with the old, the dead, and...well, let's be honest...I could've done without the hot as blue blazes.


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