Soddy-Daisy – United for Progress
It was in 1969 that a commission worked to bring together the tiny town of Soddy with the neighboring tiny town of Daisy, each anchoring the 9 mile stretch of Highway 27 along the base of Montlake, Mowbray and Flat Top mountains. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure the goal was to bring the resources of both quaint towns together for a bright future. I can gather that from several sources, including the slogan, “United for Progress” as well as anecdotes from my wife’s uncle, Ralph Gibbs. And, also, from attending city commission meetings after moving here, where they were determined to bring industry and other commercial enterprises to boost the economy.
The two sleepy towns became one sleepy city. And that is not a bad thing – I have heard it referred to as “a little piece of heaven on earth” and “the town of 7,000 friendly souls.” Soddy Daisy is rich with natural beauty, from the lake to the mountains, and maintains a quiet and pleasant, and safe, atmosphere, and the 7,000 has slowly grown to 11,000+. Still not much industrial activity unless you count the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant. It has, instead, become a bedroom community with subdivisions, supporting retail and food shops, good schools, and a balanced budget. It is a great place to live without the hubbub of city traffic, noise, and general mayhem. I like to say if you need all that, it’s only 20 minutes away, and then you can come back home. To Soddy-Daisy.
We Came for Family
My wife Diana was born here, of local parents, back in 1955. She moved for a time to Florida but came back as a child and stayed. Until she left for other opportunities (“join the Navy and see the world”). I met her up in Washington, D.C., the exact opposite of Soddy-Daisy, where we were married in 1984 and lived for a time. Then we moved south to Charleston, SC and, after 8 years there, the siren call of her hometown beckoned us back. I say “us” because I came with her, having no hometown of my own.
We came for family. We came for her mom Libby Lusk, for Uncle Ralph Gibbs, for Granny Gibbs, the grand matriarch of the clan, for brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles. We came because it was home, in her heart, and always had been.
I remember walking into the Daisy Prescription Shop and Ralph greeting us like we were somebody. Because we were – we were family, although I suspect they viewed me with some suspicion as a Yankee interloper. (Just for the record, I had not ever lived above the Mason-Dixon line.) But the welcome was genuine, and if you were lucky, Ralph had a few minutes to sit and regale you with stories from the past and, if you were really lucky, maybe an off-color joke or two.
Rental properties were few and far between back in 1995 and we ultimately settled in at what my kids still refer to as The Brown House. You know the one, up on the hill behind the old Walmart, next to the trailer park, with the barn roof. It was a strange, rambling house but had a commanding view of that part of town that I liked to call the “dash” in Soddy-Daisy (actually a mile or two north where the old high school used to sit). We could see the flashing light at the intersection of Sequoyah Road and Dayton Pike (it was a very quiet town just 25 years ago!) and we could hike up into the woods behind the house, where there was an old quarry.
So we were set, ready to live small town life, ready for our remaining three kids (our oldest had stayed behind in SC to finish high school) to enjoy small town schools, ready to eat holiday meals with huge family gatherings, ready to slow it down a bit.
Selling Cars Like Candy Bars
But somebody had to pay the bills, and with Diana enrolled at UTC to become a teacher (a life-long dream) I guess that meant me. I had sold cars in South Carolina, so that seemed an obvious choice. And that is when I learned what really greases the wheels in a small town. My mother-in-law Libby said, “Go see Shag Rogers, he has a car lot.” Libby and Shag, or Charlie, had gone to school back in the day and, rumor had it, had dated a bit. And sure enough, after a call from her to him, I was working at Charlie Rogers Ford-Mercury in Dayton. At the time it took only 20 minutes to make the commute up the valley, no stop lights at all, just trees and farms and cows.
At the Ford store I furthered my education into how the world turned in these parts. You can’t judge a book by its cover, especially if it’s a country cover, clothed in overalls and dirty boots, needing a shave, working a deal with one foot propped on the bumper of the desired pickup truck. Because in these parts, that farmer can pay cash, although it may have a slight musty odor from the cans it was stored in. I also learned that locals knew I was not one, when I was driving a prominent customer home and he asked where I was from. I answered “Soddy-Daisy” to which he replied, no you aren’t. Because I wasn’t, in those early years. I can probably get away with it now, but then someone will want to know who your people are, and I learned to trace my wife’s family back to Ralph Gibbs. And that made me somebody.
Buy ‘Em Books, Send ‘Em to School
One of the big appeals of moving to a small town full of family and old acquaintances was the public schools. When registering the kids at Daisy Elementary (Diana had gone to Daisy, albeit the old one where City Hall now sits) Diana was able to connect the relationships with the teachers – a simple “who’s your granny” would get the conversation going. There is great comfort in being in a sphere of relationship and most of the teachers back then had some connection to this city. We felt confident in leaving our precious babies with these strangers because, well, they weren’t strangers at all, but family. Maybe separated by a few degrees but cut from the same cloth, holding the same values, and ready to take your kids under their wings as their own. Interesting, the kids came home one day proudly holding fresh copies of Gideon New Testaments. I asked where they had gotten them, and it turns out the teacher was handing them out. I find it hard to believe that was only 25 years ago – how times have changed!
As they grew up all the kids ended up in band, marching for the Trojans at Soddy Daisy High School. As band parents for 8 years (you know what I mean if you’ve been there and done that) we went to plenty of football games – it was mostly expected, at least until after the halftime show – and witnessed the profound display of community pride. Every game began with the players entering the stadium from the top of the stands, to raucous applause and cheering from the standing, adoring crowd. Every game began with prayer from a local pastor (until those pesky atheists from Wisconsin – Wisconsin! – threatened a lawsuit), every game began with the Star Spangled Banner, and every game began with the announcer playing Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold, loud, as if it were still 1976 and nothing had changed. Because it really had not. And I was amazed at the regulars, locals with no school aged children, who would sit in the same spots, eating chili-cheese fries and hot dogs, and follow the game like it was the NFL, cheering the home team on from the packed stands.
Who’s Laid Out at Williamson’s?
It took me a while, but I finally figured out that looking at the marquee at Williamson & Sons Funeral Home was an important part of my duties. Diana would routinely ask me who was laid out (as gruesome as that sounds) and I was supposed to know. But she would know, at least by climbing through the branches of that particular family tree. And then we would we know if we were expected to get our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes on and pay our respects and offer our condolences. It was never a grim time though, as the crowd grew and the murmurs rose to buoyant conversation, with kids running around, a food & beverage spread on display. Even jokes and laughter. I think the Irish call it a wake, where, while the grim reaper is indeed grim, life needs to be celebrated. Because everybody present knows that death is only the end of this part of the journey.
While we came to Soddy-Daisy for family, we unfortunately made many unplanned visits to Williamson’s to see them off. From Ralph Gibbs to Granny Gibbs, my wife’s parents Bill Lusk and Libby Lusk, plus many others, family, friends, old high school buddies, their parents. The trip to Williamson’s may not have been for the happiest reasons, but it was place of connection, of reminiscing, of conversation with friends old and new. And a place of love. Because life always triumphs over death.
Where’s the Camera?
After Veterans Park opened (referred to by my kids and most locals as the Helicopter Park, for obvious reasons) there was a big celebration. We were not living here yet but happened to be passing through and spent the day enjoying a big slice of local culture. There were booths, old cars (all American iron, too) music and speeches. I watched in dumbstruck awe as a young man, trying desperately to affect a Mick Jagger swagger with jeans and chains and bandanas, gave his feverish rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil.” It was a hot afternoon and maybe not the most appropriate number for this crowd, but I do not think anybody noticed. Other than the fact that he was somebody’s son and his granny was likely swooning with admiration for his efforts.
The whole affair was so surreal, having no personal reference point with which to process it, that I turned to Diana and asked, “Where’s the cameras?” I was sure this was some staged, Hollywood attempt to capture the small-town ambience of the South. But the real thing is better than anything they could ever pull off, and after moving here we made it an effort to go to such events. You really haven’t lived until you have unfolded your chair, staked a claim on a piece of ground at Soddy Park (the “other” park) and laid witness to the Fireman’s Muster. As good as it sounds, with the local volunteer fire corps competing in various feats involving hoses, barrels, stuffed overweight “bodies” and ladders.
The Faith of our Fathers
For such a small town, we have a lot of churches. Mostly well-attended, too. Some are little and humble, like Melville Baptist, some are large and prominent, like First Baptist. We also boast plenty of Church of Christ, Church of God, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Independent, Assembly of God and even Catholic. Plus, the very specifically named Feet Washing Baptist Church.
We initially settled in at Soddy Community Chapel, mainly because Diana knew so many people there. It was fiercely traditional, as I soon discovered, and most of the families present had connection to the previous generations who had built it. Literally built it, from the ground up. I once suggested we remove a wall because a Sunday school class had grown beyond the wall, and I was informed that so-and-so’s grandfather had built that wall. So, no. We ended up at an upstart church called Grace, because that is what it’s all about, after all.
But it is important to note that I say none of this disparagingly. One thing about the small-town South, you can be a Baptist or a Methodist or Fill-in-the-Blank. It does not matter if you worship with music or a cappella, if you holler and carry on or if your worship is more restrained, if you dunk or sprinkle, there is room for all. Even if you choose to not attend any church. I’m proud to neighbor with a bunch of God-fearing Americans following the faith of their fathers, folks that know right from wrong, people who bow their head when someone says, “let us pray.”
Up to the Walmart
Some towns have town squares, a place to meet and discuss the local happenings. We have the Soddy-Daisy Walmart. I say that with reverence, because I like to describe the difference between our local store and those others, this way. If you are crossing the walk at Soddy-Daisy’s ‘Mart, cars will stop, the driver will wave, she may even roll down the window and say, “how’s your granny?” At the Hixson location, the cars will slow down but the driver will avoid eye contact. Now, across the dam it goes downhill fast. I was heading into the Superstore over “there” and, I swear, the car sped up, either to run me down or encourage me to hustle. No “how’s your granny” there. At all.
I even have had to plan, especially after many years selling real estate, on extra time at our local ‘Mart to stop and talk shop or just talk. And, without fail, after years of her teaching locally, some strapping 6’ tall bearded young man will run up and hug Mrs. Fleshman, their beloved kindergarten teacher from years back. So, you can keep your fancy town square. Real life happens in the aisles at the local Walmart!
So is it Soddy or Daisy?
Those are fighting words to a local, much like the Hatfield/McCoy feud of days gone by. Because, over 50 years after the birth of Soddy-Daisy (the hyphenated name is the legal name of this city) there are still people who hail from Soddy. And there are still folks who claim Daisy as home.
A little-known story (I just found out yesterday) but when my wife was born, her parents lived in Soddy. Later, after a brief move to Florida, she came back as a little girl and her mom bought a house on Harmony Lane, in Daisy. She will tell you to this day that she’s a “Daisy Girl” and those of you out there that know her will agree. Although, ironically, she’s actually a Soddy+Daisy girl, just don’t tell her I said so.
This seemingly small point matters so much that when the new barber shop opened, calling itself the Soddy Celebrity Hair & Beard Lounge, I was initially going to avoid it, taking offence because it was, indeed, sitting right smack in the middle of Daisy! I ended up giving it a try (a great place for a good cut!) and the young proprietor says that her generation calls everything “Soddy” and my own daughter agrees. I guess because it’s easier, even if wrong and a slap in the face to Daisyans. The Soddyites probably love it though.
Where I live, Where I’ll die
I said all that to say this, and proudly. I moved here with my family 25 years ago. In 1995 we sold our house, packed up a truck and moved to Tennessee. We had little money, no job prospects, no friends. But we had family, and we had friendly people. We found love and we found acceptance; we found a good life.
Raised an Army brat, I had 18 addresses before I turned 18, and many more since, but after 25 years in Soddy-Daisy I can tell you my roots are down deep, my soul entwined with the souls of the rest of the fine folks in this little piece of Heaven on Earth. We now own a home on Harmony Lane, in Daisy, where my wife grew up. I suspect it will be my last address, and I am fine with that as I sit on my front porch looking up at the mountain.
I think Montgomery Gentry sang it best:
“Where I came back to settle down
This is where they’ll put me in the ground
This is my town”
Soddy-Daisy is My Town. Thanks for having me.