It was last year just before Memorial Day when my wife, Laura, and I loaded up our belongings and returned to Chattanooga after 12 years in Knoxville.
As I mentioned in a column then, she had wanted to move back to our former hometown after retiring from her work as a pastoral counselor with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church.
As I also admitted at the time, I was a little sad to be leaving Knoxville.
But I was also pleased that I still had some freelance writing and adjunct teaching opportunities there that would allow me to still stay slightly connected with Knoxville while also being able to get reacquainted with Chattanooga and be closer to family.
So what has changed in a year? In some ways, not a lot, but in other ways, plenty has changed.
Although I know sometimes that freelance or part-time work can be fluid, I am still getting to contribute to a publication in Knoxville, as I was this time last year. And I am scheduled to teach two introductory journalism classes on an adjunct basis at the University of Tennessee this fall after getting to do that last fall and spring, too.
I am driving the roughly 100 miles up there twice a week, although it will just be about once a week this summer, so Interstate 75 and I are getting to be pretty chummy. In fact, if the Tennessee Highway Department gave out airline-like points for frequency of use of the welcome center restrooms just below Athens, I would be a gold card member.
I have also started to notice subtle scenes along the freeway that I never paid much attention to before. They include a tree with a 90-degree trunk near mile marker 40 on the northbound side, a neat farmhouse behind some trees just south of the Tennessee River, and an old barn also behind some hardwoods above the Lenoir City exit.
I also never get tired of admiring the Tennessee River, the Hiwassee River and that Appalachian-style model log cabin for sale at Exit 60.
But mostly I daydream about my journey through life to date while traveling this busy highway.
Other than if I had an opportunity to be a best-selling author – who could be celebrated without having to make public appearances – I am not sure there is much else I would rather be doing.
I love getting to teach, even though I mainly just do it to give back to society and don’t consider myself close to being a master of the craft like so many other teachers I have observed. I enjoy getting to know the students and their backgrounds and goals and trying to help them however little I can with their writing.
Just this past semester, I had the granddaughter of a well-known former Tennessee politician in one class, and the granddaughter of a founder of a very familiar Nashville private school in the other.
To me, there is something special and rewarding about being able to work at least part-time at the flagship university in the state of Tennessee – in classrooms less than a football field from Neyland Stadium.
I also love the mixture of opportunities I have enjoyed of getting to write about interesting people and places in both Knoxville and Chattanooga, which has uniquely allowed me to stay connected with both cities.
Most journalists will tell you that a joy of being a journalist is the diversity of people you meet along the way. Just in the last couple of weeks I interviewed the valedictorians of West and Bearden high schools in Knoxville, and the May queen at Girls Preparatory School. I also wrote about a longtime tradition of having a Laura Ingalls Wilder day at one Knox County elementary school, and went to Orchard Knob Middle School to meet the new Krystal CEO as he presented a check to the band.
I have enjoyed writing plenty of non-school-related stories as well.
Of course, I am not making nearly as much money traveling back and forth as do the regional managers and sales representatives and probably truckers sharing the Interstate and welcome centers with me.
I wrote last year that I was sad to be leaving Knoxville as a fulltime resident. There are still times when I am up there hurriedly rushing to and from my UT classes or to an interview, and wish I could stop and soak in a little more of what I used to enjoy doing.
But most people who move from a city don’t get to do what I do, so I am grateful at least at this point for the ability to stay connected to Knoxville in a small way.
And I of course am enjoying getting resettled in Chattanooga and re-exploring the place where I have already spent four decades or so of my life. We are enjoying living in our 1960s home near Northgate Mall and are thankful it has hardwood floors in many of the rooms.
We also redid the kitchen last year to make it look a lot like the one we left in Knoxville. Laura and I learned that when a contractor tells you he will finish the work in July, he actually means he will begin in September. But it looks nice, so we are thankful.
Now we are working on our yard, and I am enjoying the fun experience of digging holes for the seemingly 500 bushes Laura is looking to plant. Actually, she is working harder than I am, and she is putting to work her master gardener certificate she has earned since we moved back.
She has also opened an antique booth at Dirty Jane’s on Dayton Boulevard, so she probably wins the award in our household for most productivity over the last 12 months.
As for my perspective of the Scenic City, it is amazing to see all the changes to downtown Chattanooga, the Southside and the North Shore. But really, most of the other areas of town seem close to the same to me as when we moved up to the Cleveland, Tenn., area in 2003, even though areas like Red Bank are subtly changing in terms of becoming more popular as places to buy older houses.
I actually just wish there was an old-fashioned style cafeteria near Northgate Mall.
As far as the countless eating places near downtown Chattanooga, I must admit I have trouble keeping up with them. Of the ones I have tried, about the only places that I genuinely love and places I would encourage visitors to frequent for simple good taste and uniqueness are Mojo Burrito and Clumpie’s ice cream shop. Of course, Rembrandt’s and Tony’s in the Bluff View Art District are very special to me, too, as is any Panera in Chattanooga or Knoxville.
Regarding the media, I have realized since moving back that the Chattanooga Times Free Press does a great job, and I have enjoyed watching the local TV news again. Some of the news personalities do an admirable job, including a few longtime ones, who – like me – have probably aged physically a little less gracefully than we all would have liked.
I must admit I have developed an even greater appreciation for the style and skills of sports announcer Dave Staley from WTVC Channel 9 after moving back. He is the “Mojo Burrito” of sports personalities in terms of providing a unique local flavor in my opinion.
I am also enjoying trying to get settled in as a new member at First-Centenary United Methodist Church while also realizing how comfortable I was at Church Street United Methodist in downtown Knoxville with all the people there I knew. I still attend the Wednesday noon services there when I am back in Knoxville and my schedule allows.
I am also enjoying getting reacquainted with some of the parks where I go jogging, an activity that at age 58 might look like walking to observers. Two of my favorites are the Hixson Greenway, which at one time was known as the Spangler Farm, and the stretch of the Tennessee Riverpark off Amnicola Highway and below the C.B. Robinson Bridge.
They are both pretty areas and have plenty of grass to jog on to keep me from getting shin splints.
I am also enjoying the view from our backyard. It is nice with the dogwoods and native azaleas in the woods in the spring, the deep canopy of hardwoods in the summer, and the turning of the leaves in the fall. The only drawback, of course, is that these leaves unfortunately drop to the ground and don’t rake themselves up.
And then in the winter, we have a great view through the cleared woods toward Signal Mountain from our hilltop location.
We had fenced in the backyard with a wooden fence early last fall, and our 11-year-old Westie, Maisie, is having more fun chasing squirrels than she ever has.
We unfortunately lost our 4-year-old Calico cat, Eva, late last summer when she ran into the woods before our fence was there. We thought she would come back, but we never saw her again, and fear some wild animal like a coyote might have gotten her.
To replace her, we went to the McKamey Animal Shelter in October and got two young male cats, William (a black tabby) and Harry (who is orange-haired like the recently married royal prince). They are both quite adorable and don’t seem to want to wander as much as Eva did.
As for me, I am still wandering up to Knoxville twice a week, but am also glad when my car pulls back in the driveway in Chattanooga on those nights, and Laura, Maisie, William and Harry are there to greet me.