Thursday, September 26, 2013

From Section Two of My Memoir: NORRIS (Chapter Eight)

Chapter Eight 

During the construction of Norris Dam (1933-1936), the Norris Community Building provided a recreation center for all persons (male and female) hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to build the dam. The structure consisted of a large lounge, a refreshment area, an auditorium-gymnasium with a stage at one end and a projection room at the other, a lending library and reading room, a barber and beauty shop, restrooms, an administrative office, including committee and lecture rooms.

The Norris Community Building (U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photograph Division)

The facility was built on the west side of Ridgeway Circle opposite a sizeable cafeteria. On the north and south sides of the circle were two dormitories for single men. Northeast of the circle along Ridgeway Road were four other men’s dormitories. Southeast of the circle at the north end of Oak Road across from another men’s dormitory (destroyed by fire in 1936) was the lone women’s dormitory. Most of the women who resided there worked in the cafeteria.

Once the dam was completed and construction workers began to move to other TVA projects, many of these buildings were used by TVA in other capacities. For example, early in 1937 the cafeteria became the Forestry Building and the town’s primary employer. Until then, TVA’s Division of Forestry was in Knoxville. The women’s dormitory became an inn for visitors, and then later, after Norris was incorporated, a nursing home.

By the time we moved to Norris (in 1949) the Community Building had been serving the needs of the permanent residents of the town for over a decade. The Community Building’s refreshment area had become a restaurant, a county art center had replace the library and reading room, which had been moved to the Norris School building in 1936 (later moved back to the Community Building in 1954), and the space formerly occupied by the barber and beauty shop had become the offices, display room, and storage room of the Southern Highlanders Craft Cooperative.

In 1934 TVA asked the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild to help them form a craft-marketing cooperative. Soon TVA began promoting Appalachian crafts through a cooperative called Southern Highlanders that was officially incorporated in the State of Tennessee on May 7, 1935. That same year, as part of TVA’s mission to create sustainable economic development in the region, the cooperative opened its headquarters in Norris, as well as its first retail shop.

For a brief time the cooperative maintained five shops in the United States. However, due to disappointing sales at the Patton Hotel in Chattanooga, the Chickamauga Dam site, and the Palmer House in Chicago, the cooperative soon reduced its retail outlets to Norris and Rockefeller Center in New York City. In order to reach a larger buying public it produced and published a 24-page catalog offering a variety of craft items, including hand-woven textiles, furniture, baskets, toys, and jewelry.

Soon after TVA sold the town in 1948 the cooperative's headquarters and shops closed. Once the town was incorporated in 1949, the offices of the city government were in the Community Building.


My first vivid memory of the Norris Community Building occurred one evening in the fall of 1950. The jukebox was playing a song by The Weavers:

To this day, whenever I hear that haunting melody, my mind flashes back to that moment. The lights of the restaurant are dim. There are several couples on the floor dancing to the song.

The origin of the old folk standard is unclear. The American blues musician Huddie Ledbetter ("Lead Belly") had been singing a version of the song as far back as 1908. By the 1930s he had made the song his own, rewriting most of the lyrics. The musicologists John and Alan Lomax first recorded "Lead Belly" singing the song for the Library of Congress in 1933 while he was still in a Louisiana prison.
Despite the song’s popularity within the New York City blues community, it never was a commercial success until 1950 when the Weavers recorded their version of the song, six months after "Lead Belly" had died. The song was on the Billboard Best Seller chart for 25 weeks, peaking at number 1 for 13 of those weeks.

The Greenwich Village-based folk quartet was made up of Ronnie Gilbert, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Pete Seeger. Formed in November 1948, by the early 1950s the group had become a commercial success, selling millions of records under the Decca label.

Unfortunately, during the McCarthy era and the Red Scare, an FBI informant (who later recanted his testimony) denounced Pete Seeger and Lee Hays as Communist Party members. Eventually, both Seeger and Hays were called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Hays took the Fifth Amendment while Seeger refused to answer on grounds of the First Amendment.

Seeger was found guilty of contempt by the Committee and placed under restrictions by the court pending an appeal. Finally, in 1961 his conviction was overturned. Nevertheless, Seeger was blacklisted by the entertainment industry and prevented from performing on television and radio throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s. All of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance.

Late in 1953 Decca Records terminated The Weavers' recording contract and deleted their songs from its catalog. The group’s records were also denied airplay, which greatly limited their income from royalties. With their economic viability on the wane they disbanded.

However, in December 1955 the group reunited to play a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. A recording of the concert was produced and distributed by Vanguard Records. Despite a surge in popularity of folk music and a backlash against McCarthyism, the group never really recovered from the witch-hunt. It was not until 1968 that Pete Seeger was finally able to appear on a nationally syndicated television show – The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Over the next 13 years while I lived in Norris there would be many other memorable moments, events, and activities at the Norris Community Building. One of the longest reoccurring was the annual Birthday Ball, later becoming the Polio Ball, and then the March of Dimes Ball. Held in late December on or near Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s birthday, it was a highly successful fund-raiser for polio research and later for the Cripple Children’s Foundation. Attendance was often so large that there was hardly room in the auditorium to dance.

The President's Ball 1948 (Knoxville News-Sentinel – 1948)

Another annual event held at the Community Building was the Norris Religious Fellowship’s Church Bazaar. It was the Fellowship’s biggest fund-raising event of the year. There were all kinds of games and activities, as well as food and donated items for sale at the White Elephant Booth. Everyone in town came. The Fellowship’s Young Peoples Group ran many of the booths.

Perhaps the town’s longest running and most prominent cultural activity at the Community Building was the Norris Little Theater. It began in 1937, staging as many as three plays a year. It was truly a community endeavor. There was never a paid director. Everyone was involved in the productions – either as actors, set designers, stagehands, make-up artists, or merely audience members.

For a number of years in the late 1950s the young people in town also began staging their own productions as the Norris Summer Players. In 1958 they performed an original play – “Throw the Rascals Out” – by Sandy Brandt (a writer for both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Atomic Energy Commission in Oak Ridge and a long time resident of Norris). My senior class performed the play again in 1963.

In 1998 as part of the 50th Anniversary of the incorporation of Norris, the Anderson County High School drama club performed Mr. Brandt’s three-act political satire. I was invited to the performance because I had played one of the leading characters in the original Norris High School production. Mr. Brandt (who was by then suffering from dementia) was accompanied by his son Chancellor Robert (Bob) Brandt. At the end of the performance the students called Mr. Brandt to the stage and gave him a standing ovation and a bouquet of roses. It was a very memorable occasion, one I will never forget.

Early on, what brought me to the Community Building most often were the Boy Scout meetings of Troop 73 sponsored by the Norris Religious Fellowship. I joined the scouting program first as a Cub Scout. At age 11, I became a Boy Scout, advancing toward the goal of becoming an Eagle Scout. Though I fulfilled the requirement of at least 21 merit badges, I never did an extensive service project. By the time I became an Explorer Scout at 14, my interest in rising in the ranks of the scouting program had greatly diminish.

I still remember and can recite the Scout Law – "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent" – and the Scout Oath – "On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." What I remember most, though, about Troop 73 are all those incredible outdoor adventures – from exploring the Outer Banks along the North Carolina coast to the camping and backpacking trips in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I have very fond memories of our annual fall camping trip to Greenbrier Cove: rock-hopping up and down the Little Pigeon River, taking baths in the river with snow on the ground, hiking to Ramsey’s Cascade and off trail to Wooly Tops where we discovered the wreckage of a small plane, being dropped off at the Alum Bluff trailhead and hiking up and over Mount Le Count and back down through Trillium Gap to our campsite along the Little Pigeon in Greenbrier – a hike of over 18 miles.

I remember our annual encounters with "V-neck," a black bear with a white V-shape marking on her chest. We thought she was a male until one year "V-neck" showed up at our campsite with two cubs. I remember returning from an all-day hike to find her sitting in Fred Lewis’ tent. She was hovering over a chessboard and an unfinished game, seemingly contemplating a move.

I remember another year when my tent mate, Dewey Grieve, brought a lockable, small metal chest for non-perishable food, thinking it would prevent wild creatures from eating our food. Unfortunately, we were awakened in the night by loud grunts and thuds. Scrambling from our tent we found "V-neck" heaving the metal chest into the air. The loud dull sound was the chest impacting the earth. Though it remained intact, the contents were a sordid mess.

I vividly remember a weeklong canoeing trip on Norris Lake northeast of Pellissippi Pointe at the confluence of the Powell and Clinch Rivers along the shoreline of Central Peninsula. It was on that trip that I saw alligator gar in the wild for the first time (the largest fresh-water fish in North America). A small school of them (all at least six-feet long) actually rubbed up against the bottom of our canoe. A year earlier while on my eighth-grade trip to the state capitol in Nashville I had seen a stuffed alligator gar nearly 10-feet long at the state museum in the old War Memorial Building.

On that same canoeing trip I had an experience that I will never forget. On the evening of our last night we pulled our canoes ashore near a freshly mowed field. As we were setting up camp someone suggested gathering the hay and using it as bedding in our tents. Around four o’clock the next morning I awoke with chigger bites all over my body. For the next two weeks I tried every home remedy known to man to relieve the intense itching – from calamine lotion to nail polish. Nothing worked.

Chiggers are the larvae of harvest mites. They begin as eggs, hatch as larvae, develop into nymphs and then become adults. Nymph and adult harvest mites are vegetarians. But in their larval stage they are parasitic.

Too small to see with the naked eye, chiggers do not burrow under the skin as many people believe. They feed on skin cells. After injecting a digestive enzyme that ruptures the cell wall, they suck up the cells' fluids. Obviously, the process irritates the skin, causing a discomfort that can last for weeks.

What I should have done was grab a bar of soap, dive into the lake, and scrub every inch of my body. On further reflection, what I should not have done was use freshly mowed hay as bedding. But at the time I was naive and ignorant.

The original Norris Community Building remained the social and cultural hub of the town for many years, until a horrific fire of a suspicious nature and undetermined origin destroyed it in 1978. Fortunately, volunteers were able to save many of the city records and library books. A number of residents wanted to rebuild the structure on the same site utilizing the original design. However, (to the dismay of many of us) the new Community Building, completed in 1983 at a different location near the town center, was not at all like the old.

For those who would like to read Chapters 1-8 of My Memoir click here.

A Few Photos of Flowers from Sydney's

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Few Photos from the Past

 198 Oak Road shortly after we moved in 1949

 Dad building stone fireplace and grill 1950

 Dad and Dee at stone fireplace 1950

 Dad and Dee at beach summer of 1951

Alice and Dee on Vista lane in Oak Ridge 1947

 Dee, Jay, and Peggy on Vista Lane in Oak Ridge spring of 1948

 Dee skating at Roy Swanson's tent skating rink in Gatlinburg summer of 1948

 Dee, Peg, and (?) at Fontana Dam and Lake 1947

 Dee at Big Ridge State Park summer of 1948

Dee and Jay spring of 1948

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

From Section Two of My Memoir: NORRIS (Chapter Seven)

Chapter Seven

 When TVA completed the construction of the Norris School in January 1935, the two-story brick building (as I referenced before) was the largest electrically heated structure in the world and was technologically the most advanced school in the United States. There were photoelectric cells that controlled lighting in all the classrooms and an automated sprinkler system for the lawn. Located at the north end of the auditorium high above the floor was a fireproof projection booth equipped with a state-of-the-art motion picture projector.

Norris School 1935
The Henry Hawkins house to the left.

 Early on, TVA contracted with the University Of Tennessee School of Education to manage the school’s core curriculum. The cooperative venture between TVA, Anderson County, and the state’s flagship university was demonstratively superior, exceeding all of the state requirements.

 The upper story of the Norris School in 1935

While the school was federally financed and under an operational contract with the University of Tennessee, it remained an exceptional place to acquire an education. However, when TVA sold Norris in 1948, it also stripped the school of its advanced technology. For example, the high-tech motion picture projector was sold to the Bijou Theater in downtown Knoxville.

When Anderson County bought the school in April 1949 and took over the administration of the curriculum, it soon became clear to faculty, parents, and students that the school would have to make-do with fewer services on a budget greatly reduced. Nevertheless, the school continued to provide a good education for its students, mainly because it had quality teachers, an active and responsible PTA, and a community sensitive and responsive to the needs of its children.

Moreover, though the University of Tennessee (UT) School of Education was no longer administering the school's curriculum, it did continued to utilize the school as a teaching experience for their practicum students.  For six weeks (and sometimes longer) each year the Norris School had a back-up faculty (from 15 to 20 UT students) who became an integral part of our community, living in town or at the Norris Dam State Park.

Norris School Mid 1950s

Originally, TVA designed the school as two independent but physically similar units. A centrally located administrative department on the first floor (simply known as the ‘office’) and an auditorium-gymnasium on the second floor separated the high school from the kindergarten and elementary school. The high school not only received students from the elementary wing of the building but also from five other elementary feeder schools located throughout the northeastern part of Anderson County.

The school building was constructed on the northeast slope of a hill facing what once was Henry Hawkins’ cornfield that became the Town Common, known to residents as The Commons. The slope was incorporated in the design of the school. The result being that the front of the building is two stories in height and the upper rear of the building only one story, adding yet another safety feature to the structure by allowing direct egress from each floor without the need of using stairwells.

My father and me painting the wall between the first and second grade classrooms. My mother is to the right, standing near the water fountain.

In 1957 the first six grades were moved to the new Norris Elementary School located northeast across The Commons, just beyond East Circle Road in a small valley surrounded by trees. Two years later the seventh grade was moved there to relieve over-crowding at the high school. A year later, the eighth grade was moved there as well for the same reason. By then, I was a freshman in high school.


For the most part, my first memories of the Norris School are very pleasant. The kindergarten was located on the back of the upper west wing of the school. It was a spacious, self-contained unit with its own separate restroom facilities, sink, and drinking fountain. The room had a large fireplace and windows on three sides that provided both natural light and ventilation.

Though the room had been specially adapted for small children, providing a safe yet stimulating environment, what I most remember and cherish about being in kindergarten is not the large wooden building blocks, the singing and dancing, the cookies and milk, the afternoon nap, nor the playground outside, it is something less tangible, more like a feeling of fulfillment or contentment. From the very beginning, school became an enjoyable place to be, where both information and the wonder of the unknown aroused my curiosity and imagination.

However, by May 1950 I was ready for summer and our annual family vacation to Florida to visit Mama Nell (my mother’s mother) and Pop (Monty Montgomery, her husband). We often would rent a small cabin for four or five days on the beach near Tarpon Springs, just north of Tampa where Mama Nell and Pop lived.

In late June, while we were in Florida, the Cold War suddenly turned hot. North Korea invaded South Korea. The United Nations led by the United States began what President Truman called a "police action" against the aggressors. Eventually, this led to a heavy military and naval involvement by America, especially once the Chinese became involved. Though no one believed that the task would be easy, no one expected that the violent conflict would continue for three more years.

In September, in spite of being three months short of my sixth birthday, my parents decided to enroll me in Mrs. Rosenbalm’s first-grade. I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, within a few weeks I began to be physically bullied after school by a couple of my classmates.

When my father found out from my sister that I had been for nearly a week taking a circuitous route home to avoid further harassment, he sat me down and gave me some fatherly advice. He told me that if I continued to run from my tormenters their bullying would only get worse. He then told me what he thought I should do and say if they continued to physically harassment me.

The next day, despite feeling nervous and anxious, I did not try to avoid my tormenters. As a result I found myself penned against the back brick wall of the school by the leader of the two. In the struggle, I somehow was able to push him off of me and deliver a solid punched to his upper abdomen, as my father had instructed me to do. He immediately fell to his knees. I then told them both in the clearest voice I could muster at the time (using the exact words my father had told me to say): If you ever mess with me again you will regret it.” My father’s advice could not have been more sound. Not only was I never harassed again, both boys eventually became my friends.

After all these year I recognize the experience as a milestone in my life. What I discovered in myself during that confrontation was courage and confidence. Despite my apprehension I was able to face my fear and in the process realize my potential. Given that I was not yet six years old at the time, the realization was extremely powerful, providing me the poise to face even more difficult conflicts in the years to come.


The principal of the Norris School at that time was Robert (Bob) Moore. Mr. Moore’s youngest son, Tommy, was my age. Tommy and I had a number of things in common. Both of us had a difficult time learning how to read and we both had a gift for drawing. (Years later, I would learn that our reading problems were due to the fact that both of us are severely dyslexic.)

One morning during the fall of 1951 when we were in the second grade, Tommy drew a picture of a boy peeing and tried to surreptitiously pass it around the room. When the drawing got to me, our teacher, Mrs. Niles, confiscated it, assuming (since it was rendered so well and anatomically correct) that I was its creator. Though I denied it profusely, she did not believe me and had me stand in the corner, wearing a pointed dunce hat.

At the end of that school year the Moores moved from Norris to Sewanee, Tennessee. Mr. Moore had taken a position as the headmaster of the Sewanee Military Academy.

Nearly 40 years later, while I was on a plan flying back to Nashville from Washington, D.C., I happened to overhear a conversation from the row of seats directly behind me. A man, who was approximately my age, was chatting with a young college co-ed. When he disclosed to her that he was a teacher at a special school in Connecticut for children diagnosed with dyslexia, I began to listen more intently to their exchange.

As he was revealing to her that he was going to Sewanee to visit an old artist friend at the home of his friend’s mother, I suddenly realized that his old friend must be Tommy Moore. Moments later, I was on my knees leaning over the back of my seat, introducing myself and telling him the aforementioned story.


As I said, reading was always difficult for me. Over the years my mother bought numerous books on the subject, including Rudolf Flesch’s 1955 bestseller, Why Johnny Can’t Read. It must have been extremely frustrating for her because she was such a prolific reader.

To compensate for my inability to read, she read to me and not just grade-level books. By the time I was in the fifth grade she had read many of the classics to me, including The Red Badge of Courage, Les Misérable, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. By the time I was in the sixth grade she had read to me all three volumes of H. G. Well's History of the World.

Unfortunately, my inability to read at grade-level made it more and more difficult for me to perform near my potential in the classroom, especially during written test. Though I had successfully completed the fifth grade, the timed achievement test given at the end of that year (which I was unable to complete) decidedly determined that the reading requirements for the sixth grade would be too much for me to manage, unless I was somehow able during the summer to drastically improve my reading skills.

I was given a choice. I could spend the entire summer with my fifth grade teacher Mrs. Shaw as my reading tutor or repeat the fifth grade and use that time to improve my reading proficiency, given that I had already fulfilled the fifth-grade requirements. I suppose in order to help me feel better about myself, my mother reminded me that I had started school a year early.

Since I did not want to miss out on playing Little League Baseball or participating in the Norris Summer Recreation Program, I chose to repeat the fifth grade. In addition, my parents hired two people as reading tutors – Mrs. Blake (Tommy Moore’s grandmother) who lived at the time on the east side of The Commons near the school in the old Henry Hawkins house (one of the two original homes left standing when the town was built) and Peggy Borgers (a peer) whom I had known nearly my entire life (as noted in previous chapters). Both of them played an important part in helping me develop strategies to improve my reading accuracy, fluency, and speed.

I was told later that my sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Arnurius was concern that I was performing far below my potential because of my inability to read at grade level. After consulting with Mrs. Emmons, the school’s guidance counselor, a decision was made to give me an oral IQ test to determine my reasoning skills and my problem-solving abilities. The results of the test not only confirmed but also exceeded what they both believed to be true. According to the test my IQ score was 148.

The first time I ever heard the word dyslexia was in 1959 from my sister. She had just completed her junior year at George Peabody College for teachers. She told our parents and me that she thought she knew why I had had such a difficult time learning how to read. She believed that I was dyslexic. She brought home that summer a battery of test for me to take to determine whether or not I had symptoms of dyslexia.

When I had completed the tests she told us that though her assessment was not a formal diagnosis of dyslexia (which could only be determined by a licensed psychologist), she was convinced that I had dyslexia. She said the tests confirmed that I was highly intelligent and articulate, but unable to read, write, or spell at grade level; that I learn best through hands-on experience; that I am often confused by letters, words, and sequences; that when I am asked to read or write I often repeat, add, transpose, omit, substitute, and reverse letters and words; that I often mispronounce long words and transpose phrases, words, and syllables when speaking; that I am ambidextrous and often confuse left/right; and that my complaints of seeing non-existent movement while trying to read or write (especially on bright white paper) is consistent with being dyslexic. She said she believed that neither side of my brain was dominant.


Over the years I have place myself into some very embarrassing and troublesome situations from which there is often no clear or easy way out. And yet it seems I have a knack for cleverly extricating myself from these self-imposed jams. For example, I once found myself during recess in the third grade needing to pee, but I was having too much fun to take a break from the game I was playing. So, I waited until the bell rang. As I was rushing to the restroom to relieve myself I realized that I had perhaps waited too long. My urinary sphincter muscle was on the brink of exhaustion. As I struggled to unzip the uncooperative zipper to my pants the muscle relented to fatigue.

Now, this was a fine-how-do-you-do! The crotch to my pants was soaked with urine and the next class period had begun. For what seemed like a long while I just stood there looking at myself in the mirror, desperately trying to come up with a solution to my predicament. And then, suddenly, it came to me. I walked over to the sink and began splashing myself with water. By the time I walked into Mrs. Higdon’s third-grade classroom I was soaking wet from head to toe.

Of course, I was asked by everyone, including Mrs. Higdon, “What happened?” My explanation, I believed at the time, was clever. I told the class that a group of older boys bombarded me with water balloons. Everyone seemed to accept my fictional account of what had happened. That is, until my pants began to dry. Though no one ever challenge my story or informed me that they knew what really happened, the smell of urine eventually became quite noticeable, at least to me.

There also have been over the years a number of self-imposed jams needing instant solutions that were more troublesome than embarrassing. For instance, there was that time in Coach Carl Bean’s seventh-grade general science class when I had completely forgotten to prepare a mini-science demonstration.

Coach Bean was surprisingly a pretty good science teacher. One of the things he had us do was to prepare, on our own initiative, a demonstration of some basic scientific law or fundamental principle. Through the drawing of lots each week a student or two was responsible for a short scientific presentation. As a reminder at the end of each week he would write on the upper right hand corner of the chalkboard the names of those responsible for the next week’s presentations.

One Monday morning, as I sat down in my desk a fellow student leaned over and asked me if I had prepared a presentation. Sure enough, when I looked up, there on the upper right hand corner of the chalkboard was my name. Immediately, my mind began brainstorming, desperately trying to spontaneously generate some creative idea to solve my self-inflicted crisis.

When Coach Bean entered the classroom I still had not come up with an adequate idea or a viable excuse. As he was calling the roll, suddenly, an idea came to me. When he asked me if I was ready to present, I told him I was, but that I first needed to go to the drinking fountain in the hallway and get a mouth full of water. Permission was granted.

Returning from the water fountain to the classroom, I began by gargling to demonstrate that there was actual water in my mouth. I then proceeded to stand on my head and swallow the water. While still on my head I informed the class that what they just witness was a demonstration that water and food actually pass from the mouth to the stomach by a series of wavelike muscle contractions of the esophagus and not by gravity. Though I cannot say that the applause was deafening, I can say that I received an A+ for my scientific demonstration of esophageal peristalsis.


Although my poor reading skills continued to cause me to perform far below my academic potential, my confidence in my value and abilities remained high – thanks in no small part to my family, friends, and wonderful teachers who never made me feel embarrassed or ashamed of my disability.

When I started high school in 1960 the school was over a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, certain preconceived opinions and attitudes among those who lived in and outside of Norris prevailed. The lingering ill-feelings associated with the town’s creation and the often contrived social disparity made it difficult at times to overcome the animosity and develop meaningful friendships.

Nevertheless, I believe my athletic prowess, especially on the basketball court, including my observance of fair play and respect for others, singled me out as a leader on and off the court. My calm self-assurance, appreciation of differences, and willingness to confront and challenge my inadequacy and anxieties allowed others (city and county) to see me as an approachable and assessable friend.

From TrueMove H : Giving (A Must See)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Section Two of My Memoir: NORRIS (Chapter Six)

When TVA sold the town to David Epstein’s Philadelphia-based syndicate, Norris residents, under the terms of the sale agreement, were entitled to maintain their leases for one year. Epstein had also assured the community that all residents would have the opportunity to purchase their homes. The syndicate kept their word. By the time we move to Norris a year later, nearly every home had been bought, financially placing the syndicate’s investment decisively in the black, even though it had a substantial amount of non-residential property yet to sell.

The remaining assets of the town were not sold until 1953, after the creation of a permanent municipal government and the formation of another citizen-owned company. The newly established Norris Corporation bought the town’s commercial district and 650 acres of undeveloped land for $200,000.

By then we had been living in our new home at 198 Oak Road for nearly five years. When we moved in, it was a small simple two-story, five-room, one-bath, cinder block house with a fireplace and a metal roof. Within those four years, my parents had the exterior façade bond stoned and added a Florida room on the east side of the house.

198 Oak Road in 1953

In our front yard, bordering our property line, my father (with limited help from me) built a series of stone-lined flowerbeds. Using Crab Orchard flagstone he also excavated and paved a sidewalk from our front door to and through two stone, four-foot high, rectangular gate columns that supported a wooden-arched trellis. In addition, he landscaped (again, with my limited help) a portion of the backyard with another series of flowerbeds, constructed a small concrete block tool and storage building, and built an outdoor dinning area with a stone fireplace, a cooking grill and table. At one end of the table he fashion a seat for me out of wire mesh and concrete in the shape of a saddle. My father and I gathered much of the stone used in the making of the fireplace and chimney from an old, abandoned homestead at the north end of the Norris watershed.

It was during that excursion that I learned a very important lesson. As my father stop to explain and demonstrate how to safely pick up each stone (making sure to only lift the far end of the stone while keeping the rock mass between you and whatever may be beneath it), the nose of a large copperhead struck the end of my father's left middle finger as he carefully raised the stone. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

There is no doubt, if one survives; experiential learning trumps abstract learning every time.

Our next-door neighbors were the Hammonds and the McBees; the Hammonds to the east and the McBees to the west. Both families had two boys and a girl, although Erin Sue Hammond was not born until I was 16 years old. Erin Sue’s brothers, Pat and Billy, were, respectively, two and four years my junior, as were Danny and Kenny McBee. Their sister Peggy McBee, I believe, was six years my junior.

The circle we lived on enclosed a communal play area used by all the kids in the neighborhood. In the middle was a clay basketball court with a hoop and backboard attached to an old hickory tree. We played just about every game imaginable within that circle – from kickball to kick-the-can, from mother-may-I to hide-and-go-seek.

Our house sat on more than an acre of land. The back of our property adjoined the southern section of the town’s surrounding greenbelt, which consisted of a dense hardwood forest with an undergrowth of flowering dogwoods and redbuds. A small portion of our property also ran along side a section of the only farm within the city limits of Norris.

Located within the forest, a quarter of a mile south of our house, near the Norris Freeway in a large open pit, was the town’s dump. It was a marvelous place to explore, offering a trove of discarded treasures. In fact, I still possess an old pewter pitcher that I discover there over 60 years ago.

Me as a cowboy in 1952. I was 7 years old.

I have fond memories as a young boy extensively exploring both the forest and the farm. I remember lying in wait, watching and observing the habits of an abundant wildlife population (including deer, fox, raccoons, rabbits, snakes, tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, turtles, hawks, and owls).  My observations of domesticated farm animals (mainly cows, horses and chickens) provided me the opportunity to witness a number of other distinct and extraordinary events, including conception, birth and death.

I once saw a cow jump the farm’s fence, which ran along the southwest corner of our property in order to graze with the deer on the lush green grass growing in our backyard. Granted, the fence was on a slope, which reduced the height of the barbed wire barrier a good foot on the farm side of the fence. Nevertheless, I would have never believed it possible if I had not witnessed it with my own eyes.

Norris was truly a paradise for a child like me who loved the out of doors, who took great pleasure in exploring the natural world. Even as a young boy I had a deep sense of being free and independent. I knew that as long as I did not dishonor my parents, or myself I had the run of the town, as well as the greenbelt surrounding it.

Besides, the town was so small I knew that if I did anything wrong my mother would know about it long before I got home. There were parental eyes everywhere. Perhaps that is the reason I enjoyed so much being alone and in the wild.

Though my mother never discourage me, I do not believe that she ever truly became comfortable with the various and sundry wild creatures I caught and brought home for her to see, especially all the snakes and spiders. Most of the creatures I captured I released immediately. Occasionally, I would confine a creature for a short period of time, no more than an hour or two.

For a long while I believed my capture and release strategy to be benign – that is until one hot summer day when I uncovered a mole in our backyard. As I was examining its velvet fur body with no noticeable eyes or ears and its short powerful forearms with large furless paws oriented for digging, my mother yelled out the back door and asked me to run an errand for her. I quickly put several handfuls of dirt in the bottom of a large discarded flour can that I had found at the Norris Dump and had converted into a temporary enclosure for my captured creatures.

Placing the mole in the can with some more dirt, I snapped on the lid which I had punctured with numerous air holes and placed the can beneath a tree in a cool shady spot. Unfortunately, when I returned an hour or so later, the sun had moved westward and the once shady spot was directly in the sun’s rays.

When I pulled off the can’s lid the temperature inside the container was unbearably hot. The poor innocent mole had been baked to death. It was the last time I ever captured and confined another innocent sentient being that was doing me no harm. I decided that my observations from that point on would have to rely on strategies and actions that were truly benign.

I soon learned that by choosing a suitable spot and sitting very still and quiet, patiently watching and waiting, all kinds of creatures who normally were extremely wary of humans (including deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds) would venture close to observe me. There was no need for stealth stalking on my part. As long as I remained and appeared harmless, their fear was quelled by their curiosity.

There were many wild creatures that took no effort at all for me to observe. It was common to see deer, raccoon, fox, snakes and box turtles in our backyard, as well as hawks and owls perched on nearby limbs. The strangest creature I encounter in our backyard looked prehistoric, with three distinct rows of spikes and raised plates.

Early one morning while my father was working on a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table and I was preparing some cinnamon toast for breakfast, we heard what sounded like 'Mr. Mack' (Clyde Mack) collecting our garbage. But it was Saturday, not a garbage pick-up day.

When I opened the back door, I immediately saw one of our large metal garbage cans tipped over, chaotically rolling from side to side. Stuck halfway within the can was what we referred to as a 'sawback', a gigantic alligator snapping turtle. It must have been a least 24-inches wide and weighted over 100 pounds. I remember struggling to hold the can as my father pulled and tugged on the turtle’s long, thick tail.

Once we had achieved its release, it did not seem a bit appreciative of our efforts. Its enormous neck and head kept turning back and forth, snapping first at my father and then at me. Each time it opened its jaws to snap at us a strange worm-like appendage on the tip of its tongue was prominently displayed.

When it finally calmed down my father slowly and carefully grasped the turtle’s shell just behind its neck and in front of its tail. He then picked it up and carried it toward the greenbelt, releasing it at the forest’s edge.

But perhaps, the most significant and meaningful animal observation of my childhood occurred not with a wild animal, but with a group of domesticated farm animals. I was no more than 10 years old when I came upon a scene I will never forget. A lone cow appeared to be surrounded by a large number of other cows. As I ventured nearer, I saw a new born calf lying motionlessly on the ground. The calf had obviously been born dead. When I looked closer I saw tears rolling down the face of the one I believed to be the calf’s mother. She was actually crying.

For a long time I just stood there – amazed, watching and waiting for the mourners to disperse. But they continued to maintain their vigil, ignoring my presence. Eventually, I left the wake and continued with the day’s exploration. Several hours later as I was returning home I happen upon the scene again. None of them had moved. They were all still standing there, keeping watch over the stillborn calf.

Twenty years later I told a colleague of mine who had been raised on a farm the above story. She did not believe me. That is until she went home to visit her parents for a long weekend and observed with her own eyes a very similar scene. Her father who had raised and lived with cows for nearly his entire life assured her that he had witness the phenomenon a number of times.

The road we lived on (Oak Road) extends both north and south from Garden Road. The north end of Oak Road leads up a long step hill to where the old Community Building on Ridgeway Circle used to stand. A horrific fire of an undetermined origin destroyed it in 1978.

The south end of Oak Road curves up a gradual hill in a southeasterly direction and then north to a cul-de-sac on a wooded knoll. Our house was on a small circle just south of the dead end. By road, it was over a mile and a half to Norris’ town center and the school. As the crow flies, we lived farther away than all the other children in town. For that reason my sister and I soon learned every short-cut to take to school.

Heading in a northeasterly direction we walked up to the cul-de-sac at the end of Oak Road. From there we took a path down and through the woods to the corner of Garden and Orchard. Continuing in a northeasterly direction, we walked up and across the commons on Orchard Road through the Jernigan’s yard to another path that led to a service road behind the houses on the west side of Dale Road. Taking the service road we walked north to West Norris Road. Turning right we then followed West Norris Road down to the corner of Dale and hiked up and across a steep grassy hillside to and through a line of large white pines that bordered the west side of the school’s athletic field.

Every morning during the school year (rain, sleet or snow), from kindergarten through the 12th grade, I made that mile-long trek, often running the entire way.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From the White House: President Obama Addresses the Nation on Syria

If you missed the President's address to the nation, please watch. It's a must see. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

From Section Two of My Memoir: NORRIS

Chapter Five

During the summer of 1949 we moved 17 miles northeast of Oak Ridge to the small town of Norris, Tennessee in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. A year earlier Henry David Epstein, representing a group of Philadelphia businessmen, bought the entire town from the federal government (including 341 dwellings, a small business district, a large brick school building, a multi-purpose Community Building that housed a restaurant, library, a gymnasium and theater, as well as, an assortment of other structures on 1,284 acres). Epstein had out-bid the Norris Citizens Development Corporation (NCDC) that had been formed by a group of Norris residents to purchase the town.

The auction took place on June 15, 1948 in front of Norris’ only school building at the time; a large Georgian-style brick building that once was the largest electrically heated structure in the entire world. The NCDC’s maximum bid of 1.9 million dollars was not enough to secure ownership of the town. The auction bidding contest continued for several more back-and-forth-rounds between Epstein and a representative of J. W. Ferrell, a real estate company from North Carolina, before Epstein’s offer of 2.1 million dollars prevailed.

Until then Norris had been owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a corporation of the United States government. Congress established TVA in 1933 to address a wide range of technological, economic and environmental issues (including flood control, navigation, malaria prevention, reforestation, erosion control, and the production and delivery of low-cost electricity).

The town of Norris was originally built during the height of the Great Depression as a model planned community by TVA to house the workers who were constructing TVA’s first major hydroelectric project, a dam on the Clinch River.

The dam and the town were name for Senator George W. Norris, a Progressive Republican Senator from Nebraska who was a staunch supporter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives and the prime senate sponsor of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933. He was also the prime Senate sponsor behind the Rural Electrification Act of 1935, which brought electrical service to rural areas across the United States.

Arthur Morgan, TVA’s first chairman, envisioned Norris as a model of egalitarian and cooperative living, as an independent, self-sustaining community. The responsibility for the town’s design rested with TVA’s Division of Land Planning and Housing and was loosely based on the English garden city movement of the 1890s.

Roads were made to follow the natural contours of the remote East Tennessee terrain, winding over the hills and through the valleys. Utilizing indigenous materials (native wood and stone, brick, cinder blocks, cedar shakes and shingles), the twelve basic house designs were also made to fit into the natural environment, without needlessly cutting down trees. Though a variety of exterior materials allowed neighborhoods to appear visually diverse, nearly every one of the all-electric homes included a porch and fireplace.

In addition, as a way to preserve the idyllic character of Norris the planners created a greenbelt surrounding the entire town, as well as, numerous patches of wooded areas and village greens. Just north of the town, TVA also acquired 5000 acres of pristine woodland, encompassing and protecting the Clear Creek watershed, the source of drinking water for the community. This sizable forest was (and still is) laced with an extensive system of old CCC hiking trails and shelters, leading north to the teal-blue, crystal-clear water of Norris Lake with its 880 miles of hardwood shoreline.

When Norris Dam was completed in 1936 many of the construction workers and their families who lived in Norris left, transferring to other TVA work projects. The plan to populate the town with the displaced rural families of the soon-to-be-flooded valleys of the Clinch and Powell River Basin would never happen.

Though the Southern Highlanders Craft Guild would open two outlets, one in Norris and the other at the Norris Dam Visitors Center, Arthur Morgan’s utopian dream to sell quality crafts made in Norris would never be realized. His belief that subsistence agriculture and small cooperative industries would one day form a part of the community’s economy was admirable but was never really adequately pursued.

As the construction of the dam neared completion, other more pressing concerns deposed many of TVA’s original plans for Norris and its residents. The building that once housed the cafeteria was taken over by TVA’s Division of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries. The Authority also opened a hydraulic laboratory where it built and tested scale models of its many impending projects.

Obviously, the employees of these operations and their families needed a place to live. Norris soon became a TVA company town, almost exclusively inhabited by college-educated professionals –engineers, foresters, wildlife biologists, chemists, lawyers, secretaries, teachers, writers and journalists.

In addition, with TVA’s headquarters in Knoxville only 20 miles away, a short 45-minute drive on the Norris Freeway, many of TVA’s professional leadership began to see Norris as an attractive alternative to city living and soon began moving into the remaining houses vacated by the departing construction workers (including David Lilienthal, one of the three original TVA directors, its third chairman and later the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and Gordon Clapp, TVA’s first general manager and fourth chairman). Arthur Morgan and his wife Lucy also lived in Norris for a while. FDR and Morgan’s vision that indigenous people of the region would one day populate Norris was never to be realized.

Later, during World War II when Y-12, X-10 and K-25 began to be developed in Oak Ridge to separate, produce and purify uranium-235 from the natural uranium-238 for use in developing a nuclear bomb, another influx of non-indigenous people began to seek housing in and around Anderson County. By the end of 1943 nearly one-third of Norris households had a member working in the Secrete City.

From the very beginning TVA’s vision of Norris as an ideal model for an American community was flawed. Conforming to the so-called “customs and traditions” of the area, TVA officials excluded black families from living in the town. Needless to say, their supposition was false. As black leaders at the time were quick to point out, poor blacks and whites had lived and worked together in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee for generations, long before TVA came to the region.

Nevertheless, despite its flaws, Norris was still truly an idyllic place to live and raise children. And that is the reason that my parents, like many other Oak Ridgers after the war, chose to move there.

* * *

A Beautiful Spring Day

My first memory of Norris is not pleasant. The experience must have scarred my psyche for life, given the fact that I was only four and a half years old at the time and I remember it as if it were yesterday.

In May of 1949, a month before we actually moved to Norris, my family and I, along with my Aunt Etta and Uncle Charlie, who were visiting us from Atlanta, Georgia, drove over to Norris to take a look at where we would be living.

The six of us were able to easily fit into the family car, a light blue 1948 Ford sedan.  My eleven-year-old sister, Alice, was sitting in the front seat between my dad who was driving and my Uncle Charlie who was riding shotgun. I was sitting in the back seat between my mother on my left and Aunt Etta on my right.

It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was clear and blue. Expectations were great. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, psychologically prepared to have a good time.

However, before we had even left the city limits of Oak Ridge I began to complain that I needed to pee. By the time we got to Clinton, seven miles away, I was struggling not to pee in my pants. In spite of my pleas to pull over, my father continued to believe that I could wait until we got to Norris, another ten mile away, to relieve myself.

Unfortunately, though I almost made it, he was wrong. As we pulled into a parking spot in front of Gossett’s Hardware Store in the town center’s small business district, the pressure and pain in my bladder became too intense for me to continue to hold back the onslaught.

Though the bright sunny day allowed my soiled-soaked pants to dry rather quickly, the lingering stench emanating from my body, my clothes and the car seat must have been too offensive for my Aunt Etta to remain silent. For what I remember most about that beautiful spring day was her emotional reaction, her incessant, ill-tempered grumbling about how she had to endure sitting next to me.