Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Remembering Tennesee

Off the Beaten Path: Tennessee by Tim O’Brien &
The Tennessee Handbook by Ed Speer

For those of you who are not here in the Salt Lake Valley with us we have had an extraordinary rainy month so far! In fact we have already passed 300% of our average precipitation for June, and there are more storms on the way. All of this rain reminds me of my mission in Tennessee. I remember one day after a particularly long and monotonous series of storms spontaneously coming up with the lyrics

In our lovely Deseret,
Where not everything is wet
You can walk around
And not be ‘fraid to drown!
There the skies they are blue
And the people cheery too
‘Cause they get a daily dose
Of the sun!

I must admit that the one thing I could never find myself liking about my mission was the climate. The people, however, have left a lasting impression on my way of thinking and on the way I view the world. I served as a Spanish language Elder in the Knoxville Tennessee Mission from 2003 through 2005. I therefore had a chance to meet lots of people from a startling variety of backgrounds and in a very wide array of situations. If there is one thing I took home from my mission it was that there is something I can learn from everybody if I am humble enough and let the spirit guide me.

I have been remembering my mission an awful lot lately. Perhaps it is because I am in regular correspondence with Sister Pomeroy (Missionaries love letters, so everybody be sure to write!), and maybe it is because I have just realized that I have been home from my mission now more than twice as long a period of time as I was out there. Whatever the case may be, a sense of nostalgia prompted me to get these two books from the library and read about what they had to say.

The Tennessee Handbook by Ed Speer is really just a compact history book. It has a brief chronology of the State’s history, a copy of its various constitutions, demographic statistics, and trivia about Tennesseans who have served their State in congress or who have served as national leaders. It also had a list of geographic features and favorite recreation areas.

The book is a very handy reference and useful if you are looking for specific information, however I have to admit that it was a bit of a dry read. There were really interesting things to read about, though: like the Tennessee Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves which was founded in 1814 (of course in East Tennessee!) There was also a lot of information that I was very happy to see about Chattanooga (a place that was a very big part of my mission experience- both by virtue of the amount of time I spent there and the spiritual experiences I had there) and the Battle of Chattanooga from the Civil War in particular. In the end I didn’t learn a lot of new information from this book, but it was a very pleasant stroll down memory lane and I wish that I would have found out some of this information before or during my mission.

Tennessee Off the Beaten Path is one in a series of tour guide books. It lists a lot of events and attractions from various areas that I was in during my mission, some of which I recognized and some of which I wish I had known about in order to take advantage of! It is a more condensed book arranged in geographical areas, making it easy to read just the sections about Eastern Tennessee. I was especially nostalgic reading about the old Walnut Street Bridge and Coolidge Park. When and if I make it back to some of the backwoods areas of Tennessee I will defiantly consult this book!

In the end both of these books were really just a nostalgic high. I would have loved it if my friends and family back home had checked out books from their local library and told me more about the areas I was serving in. One of the difficulties missionaries have sometimes is really becoming part of the people they are with, and all too often missionaries either come off as completely uninterested in the local culture, or only as a tourist who happens to wear a tie and tag. So all of you out there who have a missionary friend out: find out something about the area they are in and then write to them about it!