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West Tennesseans are my teachers

West Tennesseans are my teachers

By: By Lisa Smartt

I wasn’t born here. I never went to school here. I was almost 40 years old when we moved to West Tennessee four years ago. But this is home. You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried. I’m a West Tennessean. A native daughter. OK. I’m not technically a native daughter. But maybe one’s real home is not about birth. Maybe it’s about choice.
Because I wasn’t born or raised here, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. Thankfully, the folks in this area have willingly provided a crash course in West Tennessee history and heritage. My latest blessing has been my 3-times-a-week trip to “town” on the physical therapy van. I’ve been blessed to ride with some “pillars” of our community. Older folks who have had knee replacements or hip replacements. Middle-aged people who’ve had accidents or medical traumas. Van drivers who graciously open doors and call people by their names. All of these fine West Tennesseans have become my teachers and I have become their willing student. What have I learned from traveling down the highway with the “locals”? Oh, the lessons have been rich.
People in this area have labored. Real labor. Many have spent their lives doing back-breaking work in order to provide for a family. But the work wasn’t just about provision. It was about a sense of pride and accomplishment in a job well done. I’ve seen men with calloused hands describe the days when they worked for a few dollars a day … and felt lucky to have a job. I’ve met women who remember what it was like to wash clothes outside and store food for the harsh days of winter. I’ve had the joy of hearing about kids and grandkids. I’ve learned about leaving a legacy to the next generation, whether they choose to live in West Tennessee or not.
I’ve been educated about West Tennessee families. People have willingly explained about their kinfolk: “That blue house there is where old George lives. He married my cousin back in ’53. They had three boys. My cousin died. The boys live in Nashville. But old George still does his own yard work. Folks ’round here thought he and Irene were kind of sweet on each other a few years back. But nothin’ ever came of it. I doubt old George will marry again.” The blue house never looks the same to me again. It has a story. A human story.
Maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned on the physical therapy van is that suffering doesn’t always produce bitterness. Pain doesn’t always produce anger. Difficulty doesn’t always strip away one’s sense of humor. I’ve met countless people who have found a way to experience thankfulness, even when their physical health was less than ideal.
In the last month, I’ve had the privilege of being in Georgia, California and Texas. My husband just returned from Washington, D.C. We appreciate the opportunity our work provides to take us to places far away. We enjoy the diversity of other regions of the country. But no matter where we roam, we always remember the unique joys of living in West Tennessee. We’re extremely proud of this area of the country. There’s nothing like turning onto that little country road and driving through the familiar twists and turns that lead to our place in the woods. Some might call it “backward livin’.” We’re privileged to call it home.
Editor’s note: Lisa Smartt’s column appears each Wednesday in the Friends and Neighbors section of The Messenger. Mrs. Smartt is the wife of Philip Smartt, the University of Tennessee at Martin parks and recreation and forestry professor, and is mother to two boys, Stephen and Jonathan. She is a freelance writer and speaker. She can be reached by e-mail at
Published in The Messenger on 10.24.07


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