“Where the Heck is Soddy Daisy, Tennessee?” is a great t-shirt. And a great question. If I am on the phone with a customer service rep, and they ask my address, I always say that I live in “Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee – and yes, that’s a real place!” If they are personable enough, I tell them how it came to be. Sometimes, they even know where it is. I was traveling out west years ago and, while getting gas, a biker-type dude asked my wife whereabouts in Tennessee we were from. When she told him, he said “I’ve been to Soddy-Daisy!”
It’s a small world, after all, and my Soddy-Daisy story begins in 1967.
My dad was fresh back from Korea, courtesy the US Army, and we had orders to Germany. Before we headed across the big pond for three years, my parents figured a nice American vacation was in order. So, we piled in the Plymouth Belvedere III station wagon, along with my Mamaw Puckett, and headed south out of E-town, Kentucky. We stopped in Chattanooga for Rock City, where we saw Seven States, as promised, and headed up to Gatlinburg. That was a different place back then, it was actually kind of quiet and uncrowded. We stayed in a quaint cabin and enjoyed the Great Smoky Mountains, bought fresh taffy, cruised the gift shops, stopped at Tour Thru Hell (seriously). And that was my only Tennessee experience until many years later.
In 1968, living on base at Patrick Henry Village in Germany, we got new neighbors across the hall. Mark and Lilo Thomas, and their two kids, Mark and Virginia, were just what I needed as neighbors. Our parents hit it off, and Mark and I became fast friends. We walked to school together, played with Legos and GI Joes together, went on trips – I guess we were what is now called BFFs. It was an idyllic time of preadolescent childhood, but after just a couple years was cut short when we shipped back to the States, Woodbridge, Virginia to be exact. The Thomas’s stayed on a couple more years, and we later reunited back in VA. But Mark went to a different school and we just never rekindled the friendship to the previous level. I ran across him from time to time, but by the late 1970s the trail went cold.
Fast forward to 2014. By now I was firmly ensconced in Soddy-Daisy with my local girl Diana and our family. I got a call one night from Stefanie Whitt. I knew her because our spouses were in the Naval Reserves together, and when Diana’s mom, Libby (Mary Elizabeth Gibbs Lusk), passed away back in 2009, Stefanie was the ombudsman (sort of a liaison between military families and the military). She brought me a commemorative Bible from Oak Street Baptist, Libby’s home church.
But back to the call.
Stefanie said she was sitting there with someone who said he knew me in Germany – and then she put none-other than Mark Thomas on the phone! It turns out they were somewhat related, and the Thomas clan (sans Mark, Sr. who had passed) was in town for a funeral. I have a hard time following genealogy, but I know it is important around here, and Mark Thomas, Sr. was from Dayton and was related to Stefanie’s father-in-law, who had just passed. I guess that made them cousins. But, like I said, I have a hard time following this stuff – I like to say my wife doesn’t have a family tree but more like a family bush.
We headed up Highway 27 that evening to Dayton and spent an enjoyable time with Mark, his wife Stephanie, and Virginia and Lilo. When we flew up to DC for our 30th Wedding Anniversary we got to spend more time with them at Mark’s house. Utterly amazing coincidence, that after nearly 40 years a local friend brought two old friends back together again.
But now it is the end of an era, and that’s what prompted me to write this today.
Last week Virginia messaged me that Lilo had passed away. She was a big part of my life for a while, and I have so many precious memories of her. Lilo was German, forthright, strong of will, a force of nature. But she was also fun, and loving, and loyal. She and my Mom remained friends since our meeting in Germany in 1968. Lilo was at my wedding, in 1984 in Alexandria, Virginia, and I have a picture of her and Mark, Sr. talking to Diana’s mom Libby. I realize now that they were probably talking about Soddy-Daisy!
It’s a small world.
We all live on this one planet, called Earth. On that planet there are 195 countries. This country, the United States of America, has 19,502 incorporated cities. But there is only one Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. And somehow this little town of 11,000 or so people connects me to my oldest friend, my wife, some biker dude out west – and to my childhood. In ancient times they believed the Sun revolved around the Earth. Now we know that is not true, but I understand that sentiment. It is easy to feel and believe that the world revolves around our personal world. And in a way it does.
“There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship to everyone
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
It’s a small world after all” It’s a Small World, Sherman Brothers/Disney
Now this town has become my town, and my world revolves around it. My four kids will always consider this home, even if they all live elsewhere now, as close as Hixson and Murfreesboro but also in Georgia and California. And when we get together you’ll find us posing together, at a place like Poe’s Tavern, a recreation of what started it all.
The next time someone asks you where you are from, don’t answer “Chattanooga” or “a little town in Tennessee” or “just outside Chattanooga.” Tell them, proudly, and with passion, “I live in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. And yes, it’s a real place.”
You will likely be surprised with the answer they give. Because it is a small world, after all.
Where the heck is Soddy-Daisy, indeed.