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  • Randy Tarkington

Nashville Strong

I moved back to Nashville in 2006 after 12 years in California.   I loved my time there and still count some of my best friends as those made there.    However, shortly after returning, I was reminded of the joys of living in Nashville.   I was committed from the time I got back that East Nashville was where I wanted to be.   It was this great mixture of families who had lived there for years, musicians, artists, interesting new restaurants, a diverse community including a  growing LGBT community,  and all living together in this fascinating combination of new and old.    My first house was on a block with a lesbian on one side, a woman who had lived there over 70 years across the street, an African American family two doors down, and people from a range of socio economic status.   I loved it.   My first trip to the East Nashville post office reminded me I was home.   I was in line and the person in front of me began a conversation about family, kids, school, and it seemed like it went on a very long time.  The Californian in me wanted to blurt out that people were waiting and could they move along.   And then, I remember this moment, when I just smiled and realized the joy of being in a community like this.

A little over a year after being here, I moved to my place on Woodland St.   I was in the heart of 5 Points and I had never lived somewhere I loved as much. As a housing person, I organized a progressive party ending of course at my place.  There I met my friend Jaimie who has made my experience in Nashville one filled with more joy than I could have imagined.  I got to know my neighbors and we still every few months have a progressive dinner party to stay connected.

I discovered the joys of dining at Margot's and after a hard day, there was no place I wanted to be more than sitting at the bar having dinner and chatting with my neighbors. Those neighbors include Margot and Heather and now Jake who make me feel like family.    For several years, I had brunch there every Sunday and I would walk in to find my place set at the bar with coffee waiting.  That was actually better than home because they had much better food and coffee.

I discovered the breakfast sandwich at Sweet 16th which to this day tastes as good as the first time I had it.  But even more, I got to know the owners, Dan and Ellen and friendships were formed.   One day, I walked down the street from my loft and found Wonders on Woodland.   It sealed my love of mid century furniture but more than that, began a friendship with the owners Deb and Wayne that I cherish.  I found a little place years ago - High Garden Tea.  I had never been anywhere like it and I followed them through a couple of moves and was thrilled beyond words when they settled in a place across the street from me.  The passion Joel and Leah had for all of us was contagious and there is no place like it because of them.   My friend Deb who I met at Margot followed her passion for fashion to open an amazing store next to High Garden.    At Art and Invention Gallery, I met Meg  who had started this little thing called the Tomato Art Festival.   My weekend was not complete without stopping in to say hi and catch up on life.

One night I was home and heard the sound of loud bass.  It felt like someone was playing a concert outside my patio door.  I stepped outside and realized Basement East was open.  The 50 something in me was ready to pick up the phone and call and demand they turn down that loud music.  The 20 something still somewhere inside of me thought better of it and realized how cool to have a venue across the street playing awesome music.  I never missed Guilty Pleasures performing there and it was always in the company of my amazing East Nashville friends.

I could go on and on about this neighborhood I love so much.  Tuesday morning, I woke to the various alarms on my phone warning of possible bad weather.  This is nothing new and there have been many nights I needed to go rearrange my patio after a thunderstorm with high winds. Sadly, this one was very different.  Luckily, I have a very good roomie who looked out the windows and realized this was not just a thunderstorm.   He yelled out that we needed to find shelter.

I ran into my bathroom in hopes of finding safety and then experienced what I had read about so many times -  the sound of a freight train, the building shaking, and experiencing moments when you were not sure what would happen next.   It was quick and I opened my door to find nothing damaged.   I looked out on the patio and it was like the many times before except some minor damage to the patio and some things no longer there.  Overall, I breathed a sigh of relief until I looked out of my patio to the street below.

I put on shoes and began to examine.  You have all seen the reports and there is no need to repeat but for so many of my friends and neighbors, their experience was very different.

I started calling to check in and see if they were safe and they were calling and texting me.  After a few hours, I finally went back to bed to get a few hours sleep.  The next morning in the light of day, I saw the extent of the damage.  I walked from Main to Woodland to Holly.  I saw destruction everywhere.   I also saw the friends and neighbors out with chainsaws, donuts,  and water.  I saw groups cleaning debris from yards and streets.   I walked with tears flowing down my face because of what was lost, but also because of the love and compassion I saw all around me.

It's a few days later and life is still surreal. I live in this interesting combination of gratidtue and profound sadness.   We still don't have power.   There is like one way in and out of the neighborhood.  There is an eerie darkness broken only by the blue lights of police cars placed to control entry and exit.  Yet, everynight, there are the workers trying to bring back power, clearing safety hazards and working around the clock.  Each day, there are neighbors helping neighbors.

Just like in 1998 after the last tornado or the flood of 2010, we will be back.  It's the Nashville way.  We will be stronger and tighter because of it.  But there will be lots of hard days on that journey.   My experience is with East Nashville.  I know that those who live in all the other communities impacted can tell similar stories.  Again, it's  not only the Nashville way but the story of the Volunteer State.   I know that well as Cookeville was my home for college.

Part of that returning to our life will be work life balance.  It will be going out to eat, going to concerts, street parties, and so much more.  It will soon be spring when the days are longer and there is more to do than we can find time to enjoy it all.  I so look forward to the day I can visit the places damaged and once again dine there or buy tea or clothes.     I will return next week with the usual  list of things to do and places to visit.  It just felt like this week was one for reflection.

There are many ways you can help.  I am sure many of you already are.  It might contributing to a friend who lost their homes or valuables.  It might be volunteering through Hands on Nashville.  It might be giving to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Through all of this, I have been reminded that it is our diversity which makes us strong.  It is people who have an idea or dream and open a business who give us places to go and things to do that help define a community.   And it is neighbors who enjoy those things together in good times and take care of each other in challenging ones -  that is this amazing place called Nashville.  A city we love.  A city that has faced this before and will do so again and be stronger on the other side.

Finally, I am sure some of you reading this were greatly impacted by this storm.  I wrap my arms around you in love and remind you there is so much more love out there.   Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Even though it may not seem like it is possible, there will be better days.   On these nights without power or in a place that is not your home, I hope you can wrap that thought around you like a familar blanket to help through these tough times.

See you next week with reminders of all that awaits us in the amazing place we call home!

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08 mar 2020

I graduated from Vanderbilt last year and I've loved loved loved your emails all throughout grad school. I've lived in Nashville for 8 years and, just when I think I know everything there is to know in this city, your emails always taught me something new!

I too live in East Nashville and was minimally affected by the tornado (despite living in 5 points). We lost power for four days and faced some damage, but that's it. Your work life balance note seriously brought tears to my eyes. Your connection to this place is so real and so valuable. I wanted to thank you so much for all you do here in this community.

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