Jane and Horatio

I went on an adventure on my day off to sketch at Tulip Grove.  It is an estate attached to the Hermitage, in Tennessee.  It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to go back since getting my membership. It has been bitterly cold this winter – not conducive for outside activities.

When I go to a place to sketch, I like to walk around first and see what catches my eye.

Strangely, the most interesting thing about this locale wasn’t the building (which was locked) but the sundial / memorial in the back yard.

Here is my picture of it.

at TG1

Here is my sketch.

Tulip Grove Berry

This was sketched around 3:30 pm, Friday January 26th, 2018. It was 56 degrees and sunny.  The sun set in about an hour.

It says this on the stone (Marble? Granite?) base –

“The memory of Jane Berry Buntin and her son Horatio live on at Tulip Grove. Their home 1915 – 1964.”

Here is a picture from above –

at TG2

So who are (were) these people? Why were they living at Tulip Grove- a historical mansion?  It had been built for Andrew Jackson Donelson – the heir to Andrew Jackson.  He was his wife’s nephew – they never had children.


I did some research.


Jane Elizabeth Berry married Charles Erwin Buntin.  They had four children – Charles Erwin (Jr.), Rachael Craighead, Horatio (Ratio) Berry, and William (Billie).  They are listed in the book “Notable Southern Families, Volume 2”.  Berry is the important line – all the wealth comes from her side.  Horatio was a common name in her family.


Jane was born May 29, 1883 in Tennessee. Her parents were also from Tennessee.


Charles Sr. was born April 7, 1880 in Tennessee. His parents were also from Tennessee.


Charles Erwin Jr. was born January 5, 1909 (died May 3, 1985, at 76)

Rachel Craighead was born February 8, 1910 (died January 22, 2001, at 90)

Horatio Berry was born September 15, 1911 (died February 23, 1984, at 72)

William Allison was born January 24, 1914 (died November 2, 1996 at 82)


Jane and Charles bought Tulip Grove in 1914.  It is 26.33 acres and has a mansion.


In the 1920 census both parents and all four children are living there.


Charles Sr. died July 3, 1932.


In the 1940 census, Jane is 56 and living with Horatio, who was 28 and William who was 25. They are all listed as employed as farmers, but there is no income listed. All three Buntins are listed as having completed the second year of college.


A white female housekeeper named Francis Hayes (38 years old, completed high school) is also living there.


The home value is listed as $35,000 in 1940.


In 1944 there is a lawsuit against Jane concerning property she owned at 306 and 308 Second Avenue North, which was leased to the Stephens Manufacturing Company, which started 1/1/1942.  This means she was involved in real estate at least as early as 1942.


In 1962 she sold 175 to 200 acres in Hendersonville to Maddux Realty and Construction Company.  She is listed in the article as “a descendant of the surveyor who gave Tennessee its namesake, Daniel Smith”.  The Berry family owned what was Indian Lake (now part of Old Hickory Lake) – it was a land grant from the Revolutionary War that had remained in the family.


She was active in the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA) and signed a warranty deed 3/11/1964 transferring Tulip Grove  to the LHA with the agreement that she and her heirs were to be paid one-third of all gate receipts to Tulip Grove for 99 years, in monthly installments.   If they didn’t make at least $600 within 6 months (except in the case of renovations or restoration) then the contract is null and void and the property returns to the heirs.


From 1965 to 2001 the family received $300,000.  The LHA closed Tulip Grove to the general public in 2001 and paid the minimum amount of $600 every 6 months.


Her heir and granddaughter, Jane Berry Field, sued the LHA around 2011 because they hosted private paid events at Tulip Grove and didn’t give the family any proceeds from those events.


Jane died at age 98, Friday, July 3, 1981, while living at the Imperial House Apartments.  She was buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, 1101 Lebanon Pike, Nashville TN.  All four of her children were buried there as well.


The Imperial House Apartments were located near St. Thomas Hospital, and operated from 1963 to 2017, when they were demolished.  They were damaged in the 2010 flood.

I still do not know why only Horatio is mentioned along with Jane on the memorial.  Why are the other children not named?


Horatio was married to Willie Davis (Johnson) Buntin.  She was born May 24, 1911 and died October 17, 2001.  She is listed as “Mrs. Horatio Buntin” in a news article about President Lyndon Johnson (a distant relation of hers), when he visited the Hermitage in 1967.  She is listed as a Regent of the Ladies Hermitage Association.


The secret place

She’d walked around the lonely house, going clockwise.  She knew better than to go widdershins.  That way lay madness, and she didn’t need any help there.

The house was closed for renovations for a month at least.  It wasn’t exactly off the tour, but you still had to get a ticket to go on the grounds.  It wasn’t far from the main house, the star of the show, but it was far enough to not attract attention.  It was perfect for walking alone with her own thoughts.  They were loud enough as it was.

She’d rounded the back and discovered the sundial.  Set in concrete, it was an anomaly.  It spoke of other residents, from other times.  It spoke of people past those named on the placards out front, in the public area.  She jotted down the names and dates in her sketchbook and continued on down the ramshackle brick path.

How many of these bricks were original?  How many were replacements?  She suspected nobody who worked here could tell, but she could.  She could feel it, sure as if the bricks spoke out loud to her, told her of the day they were made, showed her the hands that had removed them from their molds.


She knew more than she should tell.

Perhaps she should have been an archaeologist, gotten paid to do what came naturally.  She could speak to the ghosts of a place, know the history, the story. Sometimes they spoke quietly.  Sometimes they were very loud. Like now.

One brick stuck out.  Perhaps it was the shadows at that time of day that helped. There was something magical about the hour before sunset, when the colors deepened and the shadows got longer.  Things became visible that were overlooked before.  It wasn’t as if they weren’t there.  It was more like they simply blended in before.  But now, in this magic time, there was an aura around them to those who had eyes to see.

It didn’t take long to decide to check.


The brick came up easily, quickly.  It wanted to be moved.

But what was inside?


The shadows that had helped her “see” the place rendered the cache almost invisible.  A closer look was required.


She still could not tell.  But her sense had never been wrong before.  She’d have to come another time, earlier, or with a small flashlight.  Or perhaps a trowel.  There was more than meets the eye here, she knew it.

It would hold its secret well until then.  She had no fear of that.  It had waited this long for her.  It could wait another week.


The silence of sound

He was seven years old when he learned he was deaf. Born deaf, to Deaf parents, he never knew anything was different about him. His first language was Sign, and it was the only language he needed until it was time to go to school. The only problem was that the school was not within the town. When the town began, there was no need for a school of its own, and the citizens who lived there now all wanted as little taxation as possible. So they sent their children to the nearest town over to go to school.

Haverford was a small town, and a quarter it off it were deaf. Some families were entirely deaf, like how other families all had brown hair or green eyes. It was just the way it was. Some deaf couples had moved here, to join their lives with this unusual community.

You see, everyone here learned Sign from infancy on. It was a way for the babies to talk to their parents before they could use their voices. It was a way for everybody to communicate in crowded bars. It was a way to check if your friend wanted to have a hotdog or a hamburger from 30 yards away in a noisy football arena. It was a good language for everyone to know, whether they could hear or not. More languages meant more brain cells firing, more neurons developing.

It also made the town more welcoming for deaf people, except when it came to schooling. Strangely nobody really thought twice about it, how the school in the next town over separated the hearing kids from the deaf ones. While all classes were taught in English and Sign, the classes with the deaf were different, were lesser than.

It took an outsider to see how. Sometimes an outside perspective can make all the difference. Sometimes “normal” is just what you get used to. Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean that is the way it should be.

The deaf children were taught the same subjects, but not in the same way. There wasn’t the depth. The teachers (all hearing) felt they were just biding time, babysitting, not teaching. They had no expectations of their young charges, no hopes for their future. So they didn’t challenge them, didn’t prepare them for life outside of their home town.

In order to graduate every student had to successfully interview for a job, but the advisors did all the work. They would set up the interview, provide an interpreter, and arrange for a taxi. They didn’t show the students how to do any of those things. They might as well have told the students that they were babies and would never grow up. They had never tapped the potential of their students.
It was the outsider who began to question this, to say this was wrong. She had been raised by a deaf mother and hearing father, and knew first-hand how strong the deaf can be if appropriately encouraged. Flowers don’t bloom in gardens that don’t get sun or rain, after all – and people were just the same. She encouraged the town to build its own school, where the students could learn together, regardless of hearing ability. This became what saved the citizens, and knit them into a tighter community, one that was an oasis.

How had this started, this deaf town? The town was founded a century earlier by Benedictine monks, who had all taken a vow of silence. They had all learned Sign to communicate, both with each other and the few lay people they had hired to help them. Everyone had to know the language whether they were there for religious or secular reasons. This ensured the monks didn’t have to break their vow when they had to interact with the workers.

The town had slowly grown up around the monastery. More and more people came – not a lot, mind you, but enough.

But that was before the Soft Revolution, the one that slowly took over the society as a whole, over the course of several decades. It was so subtle, so sly, that people didn’t even realize it was happening.

How did it start? Was it with the “Christians” aligning themselves more with the righteous than with the poor? Was it when they started making church more like a social club than about social justice? Was it when “churches” started protesting at funerals of gay people? Perhaps the push to say “Merry Christmas” instead of the more inclusive and welcoming “happy holidays” was the final blow?

Christians were seen not only as “behind the times” but also as rigid, intolerant, and worst of all, unkind. People left the church, or never joined, because they felt it was irrelevant, or even infantile. “Freethinkers” cried against the pointlessness of the faithful – that they were sheep mindlessly following their master, who sadly was often wanted for tax evasion or sexual immorality.

The church had done it to itself. Nobody had closed the institutions like had occured in the French Revolution. No law had made it happen. But the effect was the same – church was irrelevant, in part because it was irreverent. People hadn’t left church. The church had left the people.

But this little town, this vestige of a silent religious community, remained. Everyone here still used Sign, regardless of whether they could hear or not. It became a tiny oasis in a world of too much noise.

Strangely, surprisingly, it became the center of a new form of faith, one where people listened to God in their hearts instead of from a “leader”. They began to put their faith in an invisible master instead of a visible one. They turned away from following people or institutions or rites or creeds, and started following the One who speaks to us all. This silent community became the new seed of hope in a world all too often distracted and divided.

The oddball

He heard colors.

He saw voices.

People told him he’d gotten it wrong when he said it like this, but he knew better. It took so much effort to tell anybody the truth of what he experienced that it didn’t matter if he told the whole truth, so help him, God.

God was the only one who could help him now, anyway.

The people recoiled when he told them about the voices. What little they knew about mental health warily shuffled to the fore at the word. Everyone knew that test, said quickly, almost as an aside, an afterthought.

“Do you hear voices”, as if that made sense.

“Of course I hear voices”, he wanted to scream. “How do you think I can hear you now? How does anybody hear voices? Don’t we all?”

But they never said the rest. It was assumed, unspoken, perhaps out of fear of raising the spirits. What they meant was “Do you hear voices of people who aren’t here?”

Ghosts perhaps.

Or demons.

They didn’t care. All they knew was it was bad.

But they conveniently forgot about the prophets, the real ones. They heard voices too. Well, to be precise they heard a Voice, the Voice. The prophets were respected. Sometimes ostracized, but respected.

He didn’t want to admit it wasn’t one, though. There were hundreds. He listened to audiobooks to drown them out. Sometimes the voices joined in. Sometimes he couldn’t tell which characters were real, but he didn’t let on about this. It was best not to alarm people more than they already were.

He was an oddball. Everybody knew. There was no denying he stuck out, and yet he was invisible too. He was so unusual in his manner and looks that everybody walked around him, not engaging him, in case he was wild, or dangerous, or both.

They didn’t know why he felt so odd to them. It was the kind of oddness that you didn’t even notice, like bad feng shui, or the house that is always abandoned, or the business that always fails on that one particular corner.

He was like that, ill-fated, no blame to it, but there you go. It doesn’t matter whether there is blame or not to a car accident, either. The damage is the same.

They didn’t realize that their abandonment only worsened the symptoms, only made him sicker and stranger. It was a snake eating its own tail. It was a feedback loop producing only more and more noise.

Perhaps this was why psychiatrists used to be called “alienists” not very long ago. That sense of otherness, of being alone and lonely, of not fitting in, reinforced over the years by unthinking others, made him feel like he was an alien from another country, or planet. Never welcomed, never included, never brought in from the cold to warm by the fire, he drifted, cold, heartless and loveless.

Spiritual fiction

A short list of fantasy / science fiction / speculative fiction where faith is a major element.

Bowker, Richard – Forbidden Sanctuary
Cogswell, Theodore – Spock, Messiah!
Del Rey, Lester – The Eleventh Commandment
Easton, M. Coleman – Iskiir
Elgin, Suzette Haden – Star Anchored, Star Angered
Farmer, Philip Jose – The Stone God Awakens
Foster, Alan Dean – Cyber Way
Grabien, Deborah – Plainsong
Kemelman, Harry – Friday the Rabbi Slept Late
L’Engle, Madeleine – The Wrinkle in Time series

As far as the East is from the West

As far as the East is from the West

Today, January 25th, 2018 is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. What does “conversion” mean? In Christianity, it means “repentance and change to a godly life”. It is very closely related to the Hebrew concept of “teshuvah”, which is often unfortunately translated as “repentance”. A better way of translating it would be “a turning” – to turn away from sin, and to turn towards God.

What are you following? Or better, WHO are you following? Which way are you headed? What direction are you pointed? What is in front of you?

Consider this verse from Psalms –

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed
our transgressions from us.
– Psalm 103:12

And now consider this quote –
“When a person stands facing the east, that person needs but a turning about to face west. Likewise, a sinner needs but a slight mental turning-about to be far removed from one’s transgressions.” – Rabbi Nathan David Sidlovtzer (19th century Hasidic rabbi)

How far apart is the East from the West? A long distance, you’d think. Yet, really, the only difference between East and West is direction. If you turn around, you are facing the other direction.
It isn’t about distance, but direction.
Our sins are removed from us in that turning towards God.

It isn’t about how far away we are from our sinful past, but what direction we are pointed. It doesn’t matter if you have been sober for an hour or a decade – it matters that you are on the right path.
Every time we turn towards God, our slate is wiped clean. We get a second chance.

Spiritual but not religious – poem

“Spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to create a religion
he came to start a relationship.
Jesus wants you to know
that God loves you personally.
That God isn’t some
amorphous thing in the sky
waiting to catch you screwing up.
God loves you
God made you.
God wants you
to know God personally,
without an intermediary.

Jesus couldn’t stand
the religious authorities
of the day
and how they made sure
that people
saw them praying,
and saw how big
their prayer shawls were.

Jesus wants people
to show
how big
their hearts are.

Jesus wants us
to be in relationship
with each other
and with God.
He wants us to serve God
not by religious observance
but by taking care
of each other.

Jesus would rather a person
never go to church
than spend all their time
in church
and none of their time
helping people.

With Jesus,
your religious observance
would be in a soup kitchen
or helping people clean up
after a tornado
instead of sitting for an hour
in a building, in “church”.

Jesus came to tell you
that you
are the church,
not the building.
That we collectively
make up living stones.

Jesus didn’t want us
to be anything
other than equal.
We are not supposed
to have
ordained and lay people,
but all the same people.
We’re not supposed
to have
bishops and popes.
The only one
above us
is God.

So “spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
His teachings are true.