It was a pleasure to visit Sewanee, a place about which I’ve heard for many years. Should you go to the website of the University of the South you’d be able to read some of the history of this fascinating place which was planned to be the “Oxford of the South”.
The University owns some10,000 acres of mountain land, known as “The Domain”. At the heart of this are some very fine and handsome buildings, including the All Saints Chapel - which is more like a Cathedral. The School of Theology is a quasi-independent school within the University, and it was at this school that I visited my friends.
Karen Meridith from Cambridge days (yes that is the correct spelling of her last name) arranged a simple dinner party at which I got “caught up” with her, with Tracy Wells Miller (Cambridge) and her husband Thomasjohn, and with Wayne Farrell (Sarasota). Wayne’s wife Trish was sadly unable to join us.
I was able to attend two seminary services and to participate in a seminar for “middler” students, as well as enjoying the community lunch at which I was introduced to the assembled diners – faculty, staff and students. My good and former colleague from Cambridge days, the Revd Ben King now teaches at the School of Theology – and he joined us all for this lunch.
At Sewanee some students are allowed to wear academic gowns (it all depends on their GPA – “Grade Point Average”) – and it was “very southern” to see young men in boat shoes (with no socks), shorts – and a dress shirt with bow tie – all surmounted by a black academic gown.
Sewanee is fairly remote. The nearest airport is a piddling little affair in Chattanooga – it is served by no more than four airlines.
I got off the interstate on my way to and from Sewanee, and drove through un-manicured mountain terrain – with a few small towns and great evidence of rural poverty. Many folks live in fairly run down trailers. It all “felt” very “red-necky” and I could imagine that Barack Obama would have no traction in this part of the world.
Indeed I saw many men with huge bellies and straggly beards – fitting right into my stereotyped image of Tennessee Mountain Men.
At breakfast on Thursday I listened to the conversation of two women (I was not eaves-dropping – they had very loud voices). They were Americans. They were speaking English. But their dialect was so pronounced that I understood not a word.
The whole area is over supplied with small fundamentalist Churches.
I spent my first night in a Days Inn Motel in the small town of Monteagle. It was the worst Motel of my life. The owner or manager was downright surly, to the point of being rude. My door would not lock properly, the tissue dispenser was half hanging off the wall, and the bath tub was unpleasant. The Motel offered breakfast, which featured some old looking fruit loops, some silver dollar sized bagels, and some generic white bread for toast. I chose not to eat, glad that I had an apple in my bag. When I decided not to stay for a second night and went to the office to get a refund of my prepaid bill, the owner’s first words were “what’s wrong”. I did not have the time or patience to tell her, but I will be writing to the Days Inn franchise to express my complaints.
I spent my second night in a “La Quinta” Inn in Chattanooga. The desk clerk was the model of southern politeness, the room was clean, and the bed was as comfortable as beds can get. There was a “real breakfast”, with scrambled eggs, sausage patties, “gravy” (a southern staple!), fresh fruit and juices, good lookin’ bagels, and a waffle iron for “make your own waffles”.
It was a good trip. I was so happy to see my good friends again.
Now I am glad to be back at home