nashville: of frozen gardens & mansions, murals & hillbilly love songs

Post-nasal drip, a cough, sniffles, a tickle in my throat — all threatened our last day in Nashville, but a Walgreens stop for cold medicine made it all bearable.  Still, walking around frigid Cheekwood Estate and Gardens didn’t help matters. A chill seeped through our jackets, hats and gloves under charcoal skies. Barely a soul was in sight. Perhaps here, we could discuss a monumental loneliness.

We visited resident reindeer, Jolly and Joy. We wandered past bare-limbed trees strung with hot pink lights and through bamboo at Shōmu-en (the Japanese “pine-mist garden”). Seen from the viewing pavilion, raked gravel patterns mimicked flowing water and drifts of smokebush hinted at morning mist rising between pine-clad hills. We wandered past a water garden and other formal gardens of dogwood, perennials, herbs, and boxwood.  We circled the mansion past the Swan Lawn and Fountain and finally dipped into The Cheekwood Mansion, perched on the highest point of the property, where we saw a museum exhibit called “Snowbound” of strange happenings on paintings and in snow globes.

The history of the Georgian-style mansion is tied up with “good to the last drop” Maxwell House Coffee, introduced in 1892 by wholesale grocer Joel Owsley Cheek (1852-1935). During the 1920s, Leslie Cheek and his wife, Mabel Wood, invested in the new coffee brand and made the Cheek family a fortune. The house, decked out for Christmas, was once used by the Cheeks for their history-themed parties celebrating bygone eras: a Victorian Stable party in 1933 where guests wore hoop skirts and monocles, and a B.C. party where they wore togas and laurel leaves. Prohibition (1920-33) didn’t stop the festivities despite the restrictions.

Newspapers from the era hung on the wall, taking us to a past before my time: “Posse kills Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.” “Billions Lost in New York Crash.” “Hear Amelia’s Faint Calls.”

We braced ourselves to finish our walk through Stinking Cedars and large-leaf magnolias, crape myrtles, and six model trains scooting around on elaborate tracks through an array of caves, mountains, forests, villages and bridges. Further afield, we meandered through the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail, where we encountered Crawling Lady Hare and High Back Wind Harp Chairs, and then stood inside a glass covered bridge and breathed in the scent of pine.

We stopped at the Greek Cafe for lunch but my hummus, grape leaves, tabbouleh and pita were too cold for such a winter’s day. Mike’s warm falafel sandwich was more enticing, but it wasn’t mine to eat.  I sometimes have a common attraction to unattainable objects.

We stopped in at Parnassus Books but didn’t spy Ann Patchett, although I took away a pile of books in support of independent bookstores. At 12 South, we searched out murals, but we didn’t find as many as I hoped for: I Believe in Nashville. The blue-and-white striped walls of Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James boutique. Make Music Not War. The Flower MuralNashville Script.

I found myself drawn to the gas-stations-converted-to-shops: Imogene + Willie, White’s Mercantile, and The Filling Station, a Growler Store with beer-to-go where we stopped for a flight of four beers with names such as Czann’s Toasted Pecan Porter, Calfkiller Brown Recluse, and Yazoo Hefeweizen. After returning to our apartment, we gobbled down some decadent peach cobbler we picked up from a food truck.  Mike went out to meet his cousin Peggy for coffee while I stayed in our apartment and nursed my cold.

We topped off our last day in Nashville by going to The Listening Room Cafe to hear Bonner Black and Friends, the “friends” being Liz Smartt and Sam Brooker, part of the group, Little Feather. I inhaled the smoked bacon aroma from both my Turkey Apple Crisp Sandwich and Mike’s Fried Green Tomato BLT while lyrics darted through the air like hummingbirds.

Little Feather sang “Bend with the Wind” about growing up in Kentucky:

I was burning down the road at 24
Chasing dreams and slamming doors
With no one to catch me if I fall
Like my heart been hit by a wrecking ball
Now I’m learning to bend with the wind

Sometimes Bonner sang alone, sometimes Liz and Sam sang together, and each sang separately too.  “I throw my middle finger out the window” sang one of them, followed by Sam singing the cute “I Picked a Real Bad Time to Fall in Love,” about hitting on a girl at a bar only to be intercepted by her 6’10” boyfriend, along with other misguided attempts at love. Bonner sang of her hometown, the “hell-forsaken Tennessee hills.” And Little Feather sang one of my favorites, “Hillbilly Love Song:” “Hey ya’ll, hey ya’ll… How did I lose the girl I used to be?”

I couldn’t help but wonder, how did I lose the girl I used to be?




Cheekwood decked out for the Festival of Lights

The Cheekwood Mansion


Cheekwood Mansion

Newspaper headlines from the era

“Snowbound” by Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz

Cheekwood Mansion


Cheekwood Mansion – an American Country Place Era Estate

Trains at Cheekwood

The rest of Cheekwood


Crawling Lady Hare

Parnassus Books


Parnassus Books

Twelve South neighborhood




Wildflowers mural at 12 South

Gas-stations-converted to stores.

Peach cobbler food truck.


the peach cobbler factory

The Listening Room Cafe.


Liz Smartt and Sam Brooker of Little Feather, and Bonner Black (left to right)


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write a 1,000-word (or less) post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose. In this case I described my experience with close attention to using all five senses, incorporating a line from a country song and a poem, and noting one unusual thing and why I found it interesting.

You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose & poetry  (This page is a work in process).  You can also include photos, of course.

If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, May 7 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Tuesday, May 8, I’ll include your links in that post. My next post will be about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I’ll be trying to meet some of my intentions: discovering the overlap between history and everyday life, finding the essence of a place and what is surprising about a location (I definitely made too many intentions this time!). 🙂

This will be an ongoing invitation, once weekly through May, and the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month thereafter. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who wrote prosaic posts following intentions you set for yourself.  🙂