Jen Jeffrey: 2012 - At The End

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

Do you remember the movie “The Holiday” with Kate Winslett? Her character said that she had always been ‘the supporting actress’ in her own life and never the leading lady. That stuck with me as I had lived my life that way too. I was always outgoing but I also felt that I needed to make sure that I didn’t step in anyone’s way. I was taught to be polite and think about others before myself. I have to admit, that being a homemaker and raising my children for the first half of my life, I never observed what was around me. I have lived in Chattanooga since I was 16, yet there is so much I haven’t seen and have never acknowledged.

The job I have gets me out of my house and has opened my eyes to what is around me that I never knew was out there. It is overwhelming just trying to learn about Chattanooga now - when I have been here for 30 years.

As I interview people and find out by accident  their connection to Chattanooga, I marvel over the history I never knew. And, as I mentioned, it is overwhelming trying to learn it all. I think my worse trait is learning something that fascinates me and then not retaining it. Oh, I am not stupid; it’s just that I don’t know how to hold so much in while I am still learning even more! I think God gives some people big brains and others He gives big hearts. My heart is much bigger than my brain.

I was invited, while corresponding with a person to interview, to meet him at the Walden Club for lunch. I had always heard about the Walden Club and mistakenly in my head I thought it was that cute historical looking building that is the ‘Mountain City Club. I had no idea where it actually was. I wrote in a Facebook status “Okay, girls, what do you wear to the Walden Club?”

Someone teased, “Shoes” – knowing my love for shoes. Or should I say, my former love for shoes. I have retired my four- and five-inch heels since my feet no longer love them. But even pumps in a three-inch heel can hurt my feet – and I am in need of a change in my shoes. Do you know how many shoes a woman needs to go with outfits? It’s not just about color; it is about style and what outfit you are wearing. In mid-move of living at Mama’s and still needing to get the rest of my things from my apartment, I had a red dress at Mama’s that I planned to wear and I had grabbed red shoes from my apartment.

The person I was going to meet told me about Republic Parking nearby, but I parked at one a block away thinking that the Mountain City Club was where I was going. As I came upon that building and saw their sign, I dreaded walking further in the red shoes that were already killing my feet and wished I could click them together and just appear at my destination. I asked someone on the street where the Walden Club was and they told me the tall, white building. It was a bank building!

That sort of shot down the allure I had about the Walden Club. I expected an old architectural building with beautiful stone. It was just a tall bank building. When I went inside, I was instructed to take the elevator and push the WC button to the top floor.  I noticed on the way up, my right leg started shaking like Thumper on the movie Bambi.

What was that about! I may get a little nervous when I am in new situations, but it usually passes quickly. I had already decided how this interview would go and I really didn’t think I was nervous, so why was my leg having a spasm? That wasn’t even like me – I never do that. Were my aching feet causing it? Maybe I was a little nervous just because of how some people have made the Walden Club a big deal.

I saw my interviewee right away and introduced myself. As we waited for someone to seat us, my leg was still spastic and I tried to ignore it. We went into the main room and sat at a table with a gorgeous view.  There were walls of windows and in each direction you looked it had a mountain view. That was the best part! The fireplace was neat to see – it looked like diamonds burning. Instead of wood, the fire was burning on sparkly glass, it was pretty.

Since the purpose of going was to interview someone for a story, I didn’t really plan to eat anything but a quick salad. Doug decided to just eat a salad as well, but we had to help ourselves at the bar – I had just got my spasm under control - more walking in the red shoes. I think the part I was actually nervous about was just the interview- how do you conduct an interview over lunch? Did I ask questions while we were eating? I had bought people a few coffees when we had to meet at a coffee house but mostly I try to go to their office if they have one, or do it by phone. Most people like to meet in person and I do my best to have a good meeting place where I can hear well.

I took Doug up, on his offer to meet for lunch because I knew I may never be invited to the Walden Club again and I just wanted to see what the big deal was. This was for work – so it was a great opportunity without pressure - just to see it and to say that I had. If I were to go on a date – I really don’t think I would want to go there. Why?

This is what I have been pondering; the differences in social status. I think we can all be snobs no matter what your income is. I think lesser-income people can be just as much of a snob as a wealthy person if they judge because someone is wealthy. I have tried to never do that.

In fact, when I worked at the Y nearly 20 years ago, I think the reason most people were my friend was because I treated them the same. I didn’t call them “Dr.” if their Y card only said John or Pope … I just called them by their first name. My smile was the same for everyone who came in and worked out in a Tshirt and sweated the same. I didn’t know the ‘who’s-who’ of Chattanooga. It didn’t matter to me. My friends at the Y knew that I liked them for them and not their financial status or importance – they were important to me just because they were my friend.  I feel everyone I meet is a friend.

When I interview people – they don’t have to be like me. They don’t have to have my same faith or run in the same circle. I once interviewed a man who didn’t even have a faith. But he was fun to talk to.

They say that there is no stupid question, but when you have lived in Chattanooga for three decades and you don’t know simple things about Chattanooga –it is sometimes embarrassing to ask. Doug was a delight and told me so many stories. I wished I had room to write about them all. The best part about the Walden Club was the pretty view and the company.

After the interview, I started back toward my car. On my way - while I had my camera in hand, I took photos of two beautiful churches on Chestnut Street. 

When I got home, I was back in the study unloading my recorder and I heard Mama yelling into the phone. Listening to her end of the conversation amused me as she frustratingly yelled, “Sir, I cannot understand you…” Mama repeated herself a few times. She had been having trouble with Comcast and was talking to customer service. We all know how lovely that can be anyway, but for Mama to talk to someone across the country telling her what to do with her computer, I knew this was not going to be pretty.

“Sir, I cannot understand you…” Pause. “May I speak to your supervisor?” Another pause and then Mama raised her voice.

“Are you calling from the United States of America?!”

She was not happy. As soon as I heard, “You are going to charge me for tech support?” I knew I had to intervene. This guy was probably as frustrated at Mama and he was trying to sell her tech support with a monthly fee. But Mama took care of herself just fine, “I don’t need tech support, my son in-law is an expert. When the guy told her that he wasn’t an expert just because his business was computers – Mama hung up on him.

It’s these little antidotes that make a busy week seem less frazzled. I was dealing with packing and moving things out of my apartment, hosting out of town family, conducting interviews, and working on my writing around company and then having Christmas gatherings that I really didn’t have time to think about! It made for a hectic week. I am never micro-managed about my work and have a very understanding employer, I am sure he expected Christmas time to go a little slower but I push myself. I try to do it all even if I can’t. I at least have to try.  At times, I can take myself too seriously or panic if I am not 100 percent but then Mama comes along and makes me laugh and I can ease up on myself. She is good for me.

I caught her on the phone the next day with information, trying to find the number for her nephew. The recorded voice said, “City and state please…” Mama said in a clear tone (that I call her SunTrust voice, when she used to work there) “Olive Branch, Mississippi”. The robotic voice answered her with a question, “Did you say United States Government?” Mama was already ticked off from the Comcast guy so her patience was thin. I was taking notes for more Mama Sagas and getting tickled.

Mama thinks the robot can hear her better if she spells it slowly, “Olive Branch, o-l-i-v-e---b-r-a-n-c-h!!!” The computed recording on the other end of the line was not happy with Mama yelling and there were consecutive loud beeps as if to scold her. The voice then said, “Transferring to an operator…” Mama knew the recording couldn’t hear her reply but it made her feel better to go ahead and say, “Thank you, it’s about time – I like talking to a real person!” Don’t we all.

Over the weekend I was packing and moving and cleaning my apartment spic and span! The apartment could have been moved into that day if someone wanted. There were no marks on the wall, no soiled carpet – I had to be one of the best tenants they had ever had. I left my solitude, my mountains with a bitter sweet feeling. I did say out loud, “Bye Mountain” as I passed Lookout.

It was good to see family and to celebrate Christmas at church too. This Christmas seemed very special with family; it was as if everyone appreciated each other more. 

Coming to the end of 2012 I did ponder my bucket list of things I had wanted to accomplish this year. I may not have gone rock climbing or hunting but I did try fishing and I did my best to touch the worm. I may not have gone to my first football or baseball game; I may not have talked anyone into going with me to the symphony but I did a few things that weren’t on my list - like the Walden Club. Never thought I’d go there but for work, it was sort of cool because I didn’t have to worry about someone trying to impress me.

I didn’t get to take Landon on a train, but we did get to fight the aliens in our spy adventure. I also got to play in make-up and dresses and sing with Kylee. I have taken yoga when I could and I did start cooking more – especially with the fresh foods I bought from my farmer friends! I have begun to write more Mama Sagas as each day brings laughter and joy being with her. I have made new friends and love that my job helps me to do that! I got my Jeep and it’s all mine. I also have lived this year saying, “Why not?” -  and it has been a blast.

This year brought me further along in my starting over phase but just as I had learned to be on my own and make my way; the end of this year brought more unexpected changes – but that’s okay; I don’t regret being here for Mama for a second!

In fact, I still wake up excitedly every morning and ask God, “What are you up to today?”

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