Today I had the occasion to be back in the part of Nashville where I grew up, so I took the opportunity to drive through some once familiar places. What I saw astonished me, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, there was change everywhere, making some places almost unrecognizable. But as I drove down those roads, it was not the differences that caught my eye, but rather the images in my mind of what used to be there.
Heading south on Gallatin Road, instead of the fast cash and easy loan storefronts, I saw Draper’s Hardware that had previously occupied that spot for so, so long. Rather than the block-long Hair World, I could see the yellow walls and the red and white checked cloths on the tables of tiny Luigi’s, where I ate my very first pizza.
Up ahead there is still a Shoney’s restaurant – it is a newer version, not the one with the carhop service that doled out Big Boy hamburgers and the best onion rings in the world, the one where we went cruising on Friday and Saturday nights. And not the later incarnation where our daughter ate a big plate of spaghetti and then curled up in my lap to sleep. But what I saw instead were those older ones there.
Down at the corner in the empty parking lot I could see the Fotomat where I rushed my film to get my pictures from beach trips and church camps developed. At one time they printed one 3×3 and two tiny ones along side it. The miracle of one hour photos came to life there for me.
As I glanced to the right I saw the back entrance to Madison Square, one I hadn’t thought of in decades. Instead of the Sticks and Stuff and its Going Out of Business sign, I saw the Harveys store with its carousel horse, and the green and white stripes of the old Chesters store with the talking Mynah bird in the basement.
To the right was a cleared area where Sir Pizza (and a lot of other businesses) used to be. I could see its yellow and red sign and its dark interior and I could feel the tenderness of the roof of my mouth after I had burned it (ouch!) on that first irresistable bite of pizza. How many Sunday nights did we flock there after church?
On the left there is an Arby’s but what I saw in my mind was the Eddie Arnold’s Chicken place where I first learned to appreciate horseradish as a dipping sauce for their breaded steak strips. My mouth watered as I tasted the potato wedges that had just the right amount of red pepper seasoning on them. I didn’t pay much attention to the Big Lots on the right, but in its place I could still see the Zayre discount store that anchored the strip of shops.
The only thing that seemed the same was the cemetery I passed where my grandparents are buried. Wait, no, it too was different. It is a National Cemetery, where soldiers and family members are buried with identical marble headstones. But there are many more now – far, far too many more – than there were back then.
I passed Colonel Tom Parker’s house (Who’s he? Elvis’s manager) that is now a realty office but still stands, and I passed the site of the Jim Reeves Museum (country music star of old) that had been bulldozed to make way for a giant Home Depot. I saw only the dog-trot style home, Evergreen Place, built in the 1800’s, and the spring house down the slope.
I drove past my parents’ former house, where I grew up, and along some neigboring streets. The houses looked more well kept than they had in the recent past. More like what I remember growing up – and even better. I suppose now that Nashville is the “It City,” all property has become more valued – and that is a good thing. Our daughter and son-in-law have found a jewel in another neighborhood of Nashville and are currently remodeling it. They see the value in well built construction and tradition as well.
And now I am still amazed at and pondering how my mind’s eye saw images from the past so distinctly. What a journey I took on that short drive through time.