Archive | Stories – Nonfiction

Chattanooga Redemption by Julie Terrill


I will try anything twice. An initial bad experience may have been a fluke or a food item may not have been well prepared. I am game for just about anything… except Chattanooga. I considered my initial encounter with Chattanooga to count twice – my first and last.

To be fair to Chattanoogans, this was not about your city.

This was about it being the unfortunate setting for living out my worst fear; getting lost and never being found. 03 Obviously the latter was not the case but I was quite certain that it would be.  I had taken my children to Tennessee for a grand adventure and now we would be lost and gone forever.

This was back in the day of “dumb phones” –  no Siri, no GPS, no Google Maps at my fingertips. It was dusk and I could see the lights of the highway but could not find an on ramp.  Nightfall only made matters worse.  One of my oh-so-witty teenaged children began to sing “Hotel California”.

Following a humiliating freak-out in front of my children, and with much assistance, I eventually became found and everyone lived.

For over a decade I twitched at the mere mention of Chattanooga.

My new friend, Linda, and I discovered that we are both involved in anti-trafficking efforts. She introduced me to Blazing Hope Ranch, a nonprofit organization in Tennessee that works with individuals who had been trafficked and was in the planning stages of its first summer camp experience for at-risk kids.  I was excited about the prospect of working with an organization that utilizes equine therapy. I submitted an application, provided references and underwent a background check.

Meanwhile, Linda and I began making travel plans and I assured her that I was an easy traveler. “I will try anything twice,” I said, “except Chattanooga. “

No words were necessary; the look on Linda’s face and awkward silence said it all.

Really??  You’ve got to be kidding me! During the months leading up to camp I worked hard not to ruminate about 04“Dreaded Chattanooga”.

Upon arrival I discovered that downtown Chattanooga and the Riverfront District have undergone an extensive redevelopment since my last visit.

The area is home to trendy restaurants, bistros, breweries and an arts district.  There is a bicycle share program with several hundred bikes available for rent at over 30 docking stations throughout the city.

The aquarium, art museum complex, children’s museum, a minor league baseball stadium, a renovated pedestrian bridge and the Tennessee River Walk, a thirteen mile long urban trail adjacent to the river, contribute to the welcoming atmosphere.01a

As a history nerd, this area is like one stop shopping!

The region contains numerous Civil War battlefields and memorials, historic mining sites, the setting of The Scopes Monkey Trial in nearby Dayton, and many Native American mounds, archeological areas and The Trail of Tears.

One serendipitous evening, we were offered the opportunity to see a reenactment of the Scopes Trial that was held in the very courtroom where, in 1925, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow captured the attention of the nation while arguing this historic case. Be still, my nerdy little heart!

07While the city initially captured my attention, it was the wilderness areas; the waterways, caverns, waterfalls, mountains and temperate rainforests that captured my heart.  We walked, hiked, stacked rocks, watched wildlife and spent a glorious afternoon cooling off in a swimming hole. It was probably best that we didn’t meet up with the ranger until we were leaving. The knowledge that water moccasins also enjoy the swimming hole may have lessened my bliss.

So, am I glad that I went? Absolutely! Would I go back? In a heartbeat!

Like I always say… I will do anything twice.


About the Author: Julie Terrill


Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at:

A Most Important Maker by Lawrence Davanzo

Davanzo Lead Photo

Last summer I attended a photography workshop in Berlin, expecting to spend time taking in the city’s fascinating street scene—photographing people and architecture and trying to artfully capture the grittiness that is unique to Berlin, one of Europe’s most diverse cities. But on the first day of the workshop I learned we would be photographing two artisans’ studios—a luthier, which is a maker of string instruments, and a pipe maker. Although initially disappointed I wouldn’t get to photograph Berlin’s urban scene, the two days I spent in their studios turned out to be far more satisfying than I had hoped for.

As an amateur violinist, I knew how a violin was made, but I’d never actually witnessed the process firsthand. And during the next day’s shoot observing the pipe maker, who turned out to be a former Major in the East German Army, I learned about the hundreds of different styles and designs his customers could choose from when ordering a pipe, with prices of up to several thousand dollars for his most elaborate designs.

When I returned to Santa Barbara, I began exploring the possibility of putting an exhibit together documenting artisans and craftsmen in their workspaces.

I liked thinking about these people as Makers—individuals who made something that required skill and creativity and gave people pleasure in the finished product. Not long after the new year, I approached a gallery in Los Angeles with the idea of an exhibition and they quickly agreed to host the show in early June.

I had two collections ready from my Berlin trip, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough for a solo show; I needed another two or three makers to round out the exhibit. My oldest friend has been a painter all his life, and has a studio in downtown Los Angeles. When I approached him about including him in the show, he agreed to let me spend a day shooting him while he was working on a new composition. I have another friend with a woodworking shop in Santa Barbara, my hometown, where he’s been making furniture for nearly thirty years. So both of those shoots easily met my definition of Maker.

This provided four series for the show, but I wanted five.

As I was organizing my work for the show I came across images from another photography workshop I attended in 2012, where I documented workers at the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Pt. Reyes, California. Could oyster farmers be considered Makers? They probably weren’t artisans like my other subjects, but I was intrigued by the possibility.

When I photographed the workers at Drakes Bay, they had taken the time to explain what it actually meant to farm oysters. I love oysters, but I’d never really given any thought as to what was involved in bringing them to the table.

As I reviewed the images I’d taken four years earlier, I realized that the process of growing an oyster from microscopic larvae to its edible state was the literal making of an oyster. Here was my fifth series for the show. It might have been a bit of a stretch, but it met the requirements of skill and creativity—by needing to deal with weather and harvesting variations—as well as by providing pleasure to people.

There were some days when I had second thoughts: Wouldn’t it be better to photograph a chef in her kitchen, making a wonderful meal, giving pleasure to a table of friends or customers? Isn’t a kitchen a better studio of sorts than an oyster farm? But every time, I returned to the idea of including the oyster farmers in my exhibit.

I went back to my pictures, and came across the image below of the oyster seeds or larvae that are the starting point of making an oyster.

davanzo Photo 1

Oyster Larvae in a salt water bath

Drakes Bay would get a few million seeds from a hatchery in Oregon and disperse them in buckets of cold water like the one above, gradually adding warmer water to reanimate the seeds. The seeds would then be placed into a larger tank containing nets filled with recycled oyster shells.  After a few days, the seeds would attach themselves to the shells before being relocated to the ocean while still in the nets, thus beginning their long growing process.

davanzo Photo 2

Young oysters attached to recycled shells in net bags

After two to three months the baby oysters in their shells are attached to “trees” of metal rods that are suspended in the Drakes Bay Estero where they would grow for two years or more until they are ready for harvest. Workers retrieve the oysters, strip them from their metal rods, and harvest them for us to enjoy.

Davanzo Photo 3

Oysters are attached to metal rods and suspended in the ocean for the long growing period.

Davanzo Photo 4

Workers harvesting oysters

Drakes Bay has been in commercial oyster production for nearly one hundred years. Sadly, the National Park Service (NPS), after a lengthy and controversial legal battle, shut down the company in 2015. The workers shown in these images have all lost their livelihood; the historic buildings and equipment at the site have been removed and the NPS is in the process of dismantling and removing the oyster racks and related materials. I was fortunate to have documented the process of making oysters in the last surviving oyster operation on the California coast. Like so many things, it is an art—requiring skill, ingenuity, dedication and care.

About the Photographer: Lawrence Davanzo

lawrence_davanzo_bioLawrence Davanzo is a Santa Barbara-based photographer.

You can see more of his work at

Polkas, PotLucks, and The Final Next by Jeanette McGurk

Mother’s Day Weekend, I went to a “Celebration of Life” ceremony for my Dad’s best friend Satish. We gathered at The Spirit of the Centennial by Raoul Jossetwhat used to be the Woman’s Museum at Fair Park in Dallas.

Fair Park is an anomaly in Dallas, where there is little love for anything with a bit of tarnish on it. Somehow though, Dallas developers have been slow to demolish this group of Art Deco buildings.

This particular building has a fascinating history, as most old buildings do. Before it was a failed Woman’s Museum, it served as an administration building. And before it was an administration building, it served the community as a coliseum for livestock auctions by day, and a music hall by night.

The front entrance has a nude female statue looking very much like the Venus De Milo, only she is rising from a cactus. Perhaps the rest of the world would find her tacky, yet both my mom and I loved her. Instantly.

It is certainly a place that feels like Satish, the man we have come to celebrate. He was definitely the Venus D’Milo blossoming from a cactus. As I think this, I feel his shimmering presence, my father’s best friend. I can see his face, crinkled in laughter.

And as we walk into the door, there he is greeting us from beyond the grave. There is a table filled with watches, watch faces, leather straps, larger clocks, all displayed in an old fashioned box with different compartments.

The little sign says, “Take One”.

I fondly remember Satish’s watch phase. He would buy ancient dead timepieces, nurse them back to life, re-swizel them and give them to friends. We show our wrist to the others around us, sharing his love with Satish Originals wrapped around our wrists.

We continue further inside and deliver offerings to the potluck room. My oldest happily denotes our hummus as vegetarian; she takes it upon herself to read the ingredients on the dip next to ours and proclaims it in need of a vegetarian sign as well.

After the all-important work of labeling, we follow the crowd into a large gathering room. Somewhere out of site is a projector flashing pictures of the family on a huge wall. It is good to see his happy face surrounded by family.

Time arrives for the formal part of the celebration and we’re ushered into a small auditorium. An eloquent man rises to speak, and with the ease of conductor, he directs us through a symphony of laughter and tears. He speaks of death as a gift of appreciation for the people we lose, a thought that strikes me as true though I’ve never considered it before.

It has been about two weeks since Satish has died and it is sinking in that I will never delight in one of his lively tales again. I mentally chastise my terrible memory, forbidding it to forget his voice, his laugh.

Before the presentation even started, a man tapped me on the shoulder and told me that as a 52 year old black man, he had been unable to find a job until Duke hired him. He proudly says this changed his life.


The man sitting next to him was younger and Indian. He seemed shy but in a rush, he spoke of how Satish mentored him, took him under his wing, and helped him on his life and career path.

A series of speakers take the podium…

A college friend touches on the brilliance of Satish, something I forget often because he was so wonderfully silly. All my Dad’s friends are brilliant, but Satish, he was special. He attended ITT, the MIT of India. Several of the men in the room attended ITT, but they all defer to Satish as the most brilliant: 53rd out of the 3000 accepted and he graduated 2nd in his class.

And yet, it was his humanity and love of people that stands out above the fact that he was google long before there was a google.

Another man comes to the podium, this man worked with him at Parkland hospital. He calls him Duke and shares several stories about the real difference Satish made in the lives of the people he came into contact with. Heads were nodding up agreement throughout the audience and he finishes with a quote from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

They play Bill Withers “Lean On Me”

Most funerals share the stories of those from the best light, for Satish, it felt no one could full capture his light with mere words. I look at my father; he stares straight ahead. As tears roll down my face, I see he is holding them in. He reaches over and holds my daughter’s hand, as the young and old do, she comforts him.

The last speaker is Satish’s youngest daughter. She is amazing as she captures the warmth, humor, and wit of her father. She carries us through the journey of his life: the early days, his crazy jokes, his heart attack 12 years before…and the final hour of his life. I am in awe of her strength in this hour of loss.

We drift back to share a meal together as they play Man of the Hour by Pearl Jam.

I slip away to the bathroom and blow my nose and as I look in the mirror, I hope my fellow celebrants focus on the PotLuckfood and ignore me. All my makeup is gone and I look like a swollen turnip.

I fill my plate and sit down. It is amazing what good samosas’ and mint chutney can do for the soul.

The celebration ends with folk dancing. Satish and Carol met in a folk dancing class. Two kids from two different parts of the world embraced in their love of different cultures twirling in celebration of life. It is fitting that their goodbye would bookend their hello; and what a wonderful goodbye.

We gathered for food, dancing, remembrance, and love. I am profoundly grateful for the Satish time in my life. I slip a tiny watch face into my purse, devastated there won’t be more time with this man.

Back at the house, Mom and I plop on the couch, exhausted. We have a moment alone and we reflect on the ceremony. We talk about how good it was, but even with the cheer and happy funny memories it was hard.

Death is hard. 

Then Mom says aloud the fear in the back on my head. Satish was 69. My Mom is 69. “I guess I am at the age where friends are going to die,” she says. Then my Mom starts to cry. I join her.

It is now out there in the open, just as scary as it was in my head. The inevitable “What’s Next” in our lives. Birth. Adolescence. Adulthood. Old Age. Death. And the tick, tick, ticking of the clock towards The Next for my parents.

Time is running out and I know, one day, in the not too distant future, they will be gone. I can’t say this to my Mom. I just can’t, so instead I say, “Mom, you were so right about having kids. They fill my heart.”

Moments later, the kids and my dad emerge from their walk to the pond for stale crackers from the pantry for the hungry fish. Mom and I quickly put death back on the back shelf of our minds, mostly hidden and as far from our daily thoughts as possible.

The next morning is Mother’s Day. We feel lighter with death hidden behind thoughts of flowers and breakfast in bed. Later in the morning, Mom and Helen go sit on the porch.

Surrounded by men of science – her father, my father, Satish – Helen is quite certain that the big bang happened without the aid of a creator. “Maybe there is a creator,” Mom offers. She asks a series of questions to prod Helen’s thought process. Who created the molecules that created the bang? How did something start if there was absolutely nothing to start it?

I see her ten-year old face contorted in the way it does when she is deciding whether or not to keep her own opinion or consider a new one.

Of course this whole set of hows and whats always makes my head hurt. I always go back to who created the creator.

Still, we are here. We exist somehow until we don’t. I have no idea what comes next. Lots of people feel certain they know but I never have.

I hope we have a next that somehow involves spirits no longer separated by bodies and picture us merging together. I am comforted by the thought of merging together with my grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, children and parents into some super spirit.


Who knows? Maybe all the love and light and one place caused the big bang, exploding into a new universe of life. It seems as plausible to me as any other theory.

Until that next comes for the people I love and for me, I am going to enjoy the now.

When the final next does come, I hope people will do the polka through their tears, eat some roast beast with horseradish sauce, and compare my living years to the Venus de Milo blooming out of a cactus.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings.

Odyssey Adventure by Jeanette McGurk

As I was on the cusp of entering early adulthood, the minivan was becoming the family car of choice. I distinctly remember my twenty-something self saying, “Oh my God, I will never have a minivan. I will never be that vanilla.”

But, it’s twenty-years later, and oh my God! Yes, I am that vanilla. I’ve had three consecutive minivans, and I confess silve_honda_minivanthe bland doesn’t stop there: All three were Honda Odysseys, and all of them were silver.

My lease was up about seven days ago and I was finally ready to step outside my mini-van box. This is not a decision I took lightly. I am married to someone whose career has focused for decades on IT disaster recovery. Remember Y2K? He was one of those guys.

My husband is a master at finding the disaster lurking behind ordinary things. Couches with loose back pillows? Complete domestic disaster, they will look rumpled years before a tight back couch will. It took us four years of research to find the right replacement for our old couch and nine years to find the right house.

Two years into my three-year car lease, John says, “We need to start researching a new car.” For normal people this would be plenty of time and possibly even overkill, but as you can see from previous purchases, we are not normal people.

In fact, I have friends whose car died an untimely death and they had to buy something in two days. Color me astounded to discover they walked into a dealership and drove out with a car, perfectly happy. They did this without watching hours and hours of YouTube comparisons nor did they spend weeks test driving every vehicle in its class multiple times. They even did this without spreadsheets.

I became hopeful. Surely, John and I, with a year, could muddle through and figure something out.

My requirements were fairly simple. I wanted third row seating. I did not want a giant SUV (I have a problem with hitting curbs, the house, my Mother in law’s car). And in no uncertain terms did I want another Odyssey.

The contenders competing for the new family shuttlecraft looked so sporty and fit on the starting line. But, like the American Gladiators, they would get halfway through the course and into the pit they would fall.

The Toyota Highlander? Great price, good gas millage, and comfortable. But wait: not comfortable at all in the third row. In fact, there is not enough legroom for a four year old. SPLATT!

The Volvo XC90? Not only safe and comfortable, but also beautiful with super cool smart technology. Sure, a little pricy. But wait! It was loud on the road and underpowered. Do we really want to spend that much for a noisy four-cylinder in Dallas, home of the never-let-a-person-in-your-lane driver? SPLATT!

On and on it went, contenders falling left and right. In the meantime, so was our year buffer. Time was slipping. We were at four months, then three, and then two. At two we started getting panicky and being snippy with each other.

John and I have been married for sixteen years. I realized, not too long ago, that if we went to a wedding reception with one of those marriage dances, we could actually be on the floor a while. People would look at us, completely engaged, thinking how sweet. In reality we would be staring into each other’s eyes, intently hoping for the answer to our car dilemma.

A week before the official turn-in date, we had narrowed it down to three potential vehicles. At the top of the list, the Ford Explorer.

Let me be honest: I have only owned one other American car in my life and it was my dream car, a Jeep Sahara. My parents were mortified when I bought it. They couldn’t believe anyone would give me a loan. In their defense, I looked pretty shaky on paper. I’d only been in my new job for four months and my apartment for four weeks. Yet, despite a horrifying interest rate, I got that beautiful Sahara.

Once, the engine fell out when I drove over railroad tracks, but both the car and I survived.

I had a corporate job at the time, and actually had to wear business skirts and pantyhose to the office. Let me just say that neither pantyhose nor actual business attire are the proper apparel for a jeep. It is sacrilege. I stopped counting the number of times I would be standing in a parking lot wearing sensible heels, skirt and a suit jacket fighting with the canvas and plastic jeep cover as raindrops were starting to fall. I think it was being a jeep-owner trying to get the tiny cover back on the frame that helped me fine-tune my cursing skills.

Still, it was a glorious time in my life, being a twenty-six-year-old with a jeep. I felt like an REI commercial even though most of my drive time was spent in Dallas traffic. That was a mere technicality. In my mind, I was really off-roading in the high desert.


Perhaps the Explorer would be the road away from my alter-ego Minivan Mom.

John and I went to drive it one more time. At the last minute John says, “Let’s test out the third row.” Great I think, remembering how roomy it was. I start to move the seat. It will not budge.

The sales guy steps in to show us the ease of moving the seat and getting in and out. There is no ease. It is ridiculously hard. I can barely manage it. There is no way a couple of kids are getting in or out of there in less than twenty minutes. I delay looking at John as I know his disaster meter is going off. One glance confirms it: our big Gladiator hopeful has fallen on the last obstacle.

This leaves the Honda Pilot and by some miracle, the Volvo is back on the list thanks to the Internet. Seems the Volvo dealer’s web page has a stellar deal: the monthly payment is less than the Honda! Yeah, the Volvo is a bit noisy and underpowered. But have I mentioned the TOTALLY cool stay in your own lane technology? Considering my driving skills, the little arrow on the mirror that indicates when someone is in my blind spot would be more than a little helpful. And there’s also magic involved: when under thirty-one miles per hour, the Volvo can drive itself in a straight-away. So. Freakin’. Cool.

John calls the dealership, but first, he figures, just to be safe, he will see if our credit union will get a buyout going on our current minivan. We are now three days to drop-off and time is ticking, but we are really thinking the Volvo is going to be it.

If we get the Volvo, it will be the nicest car I have ever owned.

John reminds me that I’ll have to change my evil ways: No more driving around inside a trash can. I will have to ancient VW Buswash the exterior. (Rain doesn’t count.) If I do not keep this car from getting the normal Jeanette-car-smell, he will divorce me, sell the car and buy me a 1968 Volkswagen Bus that already smells bad.

His concerns are not without warrant. I typically drive a pigpen car. A little swirl of dust, several papers, toys – even the odd biscuit – will often fly out during when I’m dropping the kids at school. I always cringe when the Vice- Principal opens our car door.

Before I have too much time to contemplate whether the Volvo is really worth risking my marriage, I hear John in the other room, “Shysters! Total misrepresentative shysters! The price is $400 more a month than on the web page. We will not buy from these people.”

And another car bites the dust.

We are down to the Honda Pilot. John makes it unappealing when he smugly informs me that the Pilot is really an Odyssey. He reminds me that we can only get a white or silver car. Dark colors are too hot in Texas; other colors show too much dirt. Considering I only get the car washed when the dealership does the free oil change, I kind of get where he’s coming from.

John hates the pearly white color currently offered by Honda so that leaves silver. Again. But, it is different enough, and it has blind spot recognition. It is going to be great!

Then it happens: John gets the call from the credit union saying we cannot buy out the Odyssey, if we choose to do so. Evidently, we cannot get a $17k car loan. The repercussions of this are that we cannot get a car loan from anyone anywhere.

You see, John has been at war with Honda Finance for three years over $109 Honda says we owed after the return of one of the previous Odysseys.  John insisted we didn’t.

Three years of nasty notes from Honda Finance are seeming more ominous than I imagined now that the current car must be returned in less than forty-eight hours. John now hates Honda with every fiber of his six-foot, three-inch being.  “There will never be another Honda in our home after this one!”

After a year of looking for cars, I am actually beginning to question whether I will ever again have a car at all! I try to biccycle2picture life in Dallas on a bicycle. It is not pretty. On the up-side, I have wanted to lose weight. If I don’t have a car, I can’t go out to lunch or the grocery store.

For some reason I have about 10 cans of pumpkin in my pantry. I am sure the family can live off that until the stalemate with Honda Finance is over.

John concedes and pays the $109 to Honda Finance the next day. Only after making it clear that we will never buy another Honda. Our children will never buy a Honda. Our children’s children will never by a Honda.

He also informs them that if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, we are certain Honda will cause it.

Turn-in day arrives for the Odyssey.

Our credit union calls to say that we are now considered upstanding citizens. The $109 blemish that has prevented us from getting a loan is now gone.  We can buy out the lease on the three-year-old Honda Odyssey sitting in my garage.

John asks me what I want to do. I think about the ten cans of pumpkin in the pantry. I think about the year we have spent test driving. The hours we have spent watching YouTube comparisons instead of Downton Abbey. I realize there are worse things than being vanilla.

“Let’s buy the damned Odyssey,” I say.

“Okay,” John says, “now that we have that settled, can I go buy a convertible BMW?”

“Of course,” I say, “but only if there is a zombie apocalypse.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising.  She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round.  Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram.  She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes