Frank Conlon . . . A Tribute

By Rebecca Carroll

 I don’t know when I first came to know Frank, but it seems like a hundred years ago even though it was probably in the 1970s. My first husband Doug worked with him in the coal mines, and he later became his business partner, a partnership that lasted until Frank’s death.

 If you met Frank, you never forgot him. He had a cheerful greeting and smile for everyone. He was a great kidder, joker, a joyful person. When talking to Frank, you might think him loud and boisterous, but he really wasn’t. He was quiet and reserved, making his presence known in little ways – like bragging on a grandchild or one of his children. He observed and made his comments known but not in a showy way.

 Frank’s trademark was that he often went shirtless. If he had a shirt on, you knew it must be really cold outside or he was at church or a wedding maybe. Once you got to know Frank, the shirtless thing was, well, it was just Frank, and you liked him so much it didn’t matter.

 Frank was a fixture at the local ballgames. His kids were gifted athletes; his son Brian was on the baseball team that brought home a state title in 1998. Frank quietly cheered them on, supporting them through victories and defeats. And now his grandkids, also stars on the athletic fields, will miss his loving face at those games. But Frank will be there in spirit.

 Frank was a hard worker. Born in New York, Frank somehow ended up in the tiny hamlet of Coalfield, Tennessee. Somewhere along the way—I don’t know the story—he met a Coalfield girl, Pat Keathley, and married her. He worked in the coal mines in the 1970s when coal was king in the area and then teamed up with Doug Brooks, where he worked as a mechanic and expert on heavy equipment, transmissions particularly. It was hard work. 30+ years of it. In the meantime, he raised a family – 5 children and now several grandchildren and great grandchildren.  He and Pat also raised a sister-in-law and helped many others navigate through life. Frank was proud of his kids and grandkids, not in a bragging way, just honest-to-goodness proud of them as people.

 His family is his legacy, easy enough to see. Over the years, his children’s love and respect for both Frank and their mother was evident in their conversations just as it was in their final eulogies to their father. In Coalfield on Thursday evening, May 23, 2013, his heritage stretched to the large crowd that gathered to pay final tribute.

 I will miss you Frank Conlon.




The Deadly, Scenic State Route 62

By Rebecca Carroll



Tennessee State Route 62 is a snaking stretch of 2-lane highway that meanders mostly west to east from Monterey at the edge of the Cumberland Plateau and disappears in downtown Knoxville. If you live in southern Scott County, Sunbright, Wartburg, Joyner, Petros, Coalfield, or in any of the other surrounding communities, you have to travel it to get to Oak Ridge and/or Knoxville.

It can be scenic with its mountain views, curves, and straight stretches that tempt the faster cars to get around those enjoying the scenery. However, for many, it is literally a graveyard, a last stop on this earth in twisted metal and the white residue of the deflated air bags.

I have no statistics, just my memories of all those whose lives ended or families who were tragically affected by near misses on the stretch that goes through Coalfield. I was reminded of this fatal stretch of highway just today as I drove my grandchildren home. Near the Presbyterian church is a small memorial to a 6-year old child who died last week after the car she was riding in was hit head on by a dump truck. A wreath and some other flowers, while appropriate, are an almost pitiful reminder of a life so hideously and wrongfully stolen from this girl. There will be no first grade, no prom, no makeup, no growing up for this little girl. Those sweet events of life were stolen by that road that is outrageously out of date with its 2 lanes, curves, and narrow shoulders.

There are other accidents that have left imprints on my mind. I certainly do not pretend to recount them all—there are too many for that. My own son, when he was just learning to drive, hit–or was hit–by a truck at Coalfield’s most infamous intersection: the Snack ‘n Pack. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt. My nephew wasn’t so lucky; he was hit there and had a serious head injury but recovered. I remember my husband’s employee as he came to the house to tell me of the wreck. His face was white. “It’s bad,” he says. I can’t forget my sister (his mother) and me standing, shaking, on the side of the road as they pulled him out of the car. I can’t even begin to imagine her feelings as she watched.

In the early 1960’s, there was a wreck near Middle Creek Baptist Church where 2 high school girls were killed. The accident was much talked about. They were beautiful girls whose lives were gone in an instant. In that same time period, another woman was killed closer to Middle Creek, and a child died in separate accidents. A man walking was also killed near the church.

There’s more . . . .

My family lived on the highway in the 1950’s. Our paper boy was hit by a car (only a broken leg); Dad’s car was hit turning into our driveway one evening; and a coal truck loaded with coal wrecked into our yard once to avoid hitting the school bus that had stopped for my sisters. https://sunnybrooktales.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/coal-truck-wreck-on-the-mountain/. No one was hurt in that accident, but it was perhaps the last straw for my dad. He moved the family to the more rural Back Valley Road.

There’s more. . . .

Who could forget the high school girl who was stopped to make a left-hand turn into Walls Hollow? The turn-off sits just over a slight rise. She was hit in the back with such a force, she did not survive. Her mother launched a campaign to install a turn lane, and the state came through this time.  

There’s more . . . .

My former sister-in-law and her companion both perished farther toward Stephens. I seem to remember someone’s mother gone after another wreck near Snack ‘n Pack.  And my husband and I were involved in a 3-car accident once near Big Mountain Church. There were no serious injuries, but it taught me the importance of seat belts. We had only lap belts at the time, which allowed my knees to crash into the dashboard.

There’s more . . . .

Near the auction, 2 men lost their lives one night trying to pull out onto that tricky stretch with limited sight and crowded cars parked at the auction. A classmate of my daughter’s and his friend wrecked there one night, severely injuring them both.  Incredibly, my kids and I once watch Lifestar land on the stretch of highway between Middle Creek Church and the top of Big Mountain hill to pick up a victim. A woman’s car was down in a ravine. She did not survive.

There’s more . . . .

There are speed limits, flashing lights, people who drive cautiously through certain areas, but nothing, NOTHING (I am shouting) will help until the State of Tennessee decides to build the mythical, far-into-the-future, modern highway east to west through Morgan County. Morgan County needs a four-lane, divided highway with wide shoulders and turn lanes so that our loved ones can make it to their jobs safely and back home again, so that little children are not crumpled in head-on collisions, so that you don’t have to get that terrible, dreaded phone call. The same could be said for Highway 27. Yes, we are thankful for the stretch that is almost finished from Petit Lane to Wartburg, but it is not enough. We have been traveling on the same highway for 50+ years with very little improvement. Wake up State of Tennessee!

There will be more . . . .

The “J” Factor

The “J” Factor

            My first name does not begin with a “J.” You are probably asking yourself how this could be important. It does not matter; I still look and feel the same as if I had been named Jean or Jocelyn or Janice, but the fact that my first name does not begin with a J tells you a little bit about my family dynamics.

             I come from a family of J’s. My dad’s name was Jesse, and my mom’s name was June. It was totally coincidental that they married. They named their first child Judy and the second Jenny. Then, I came along. Like a red, out-of-place dot in a sea of jade dots, they named me Rebecca. I will give them some credit; they did give me the middle name Joyce, but I never went by that name. I had one aunt who always called me Joyce, and when I was twelve or so, I pretended I didn’t hear her if she called me Joyce. The important part here is that my parents never called me Joyce.

            The next child in the family was named Janet. By this time, I was feeling a conspiracy or whatever a five-year-old would feel. Next there was Jerry, and last, Jeff. When I became a teen and really felt sort of odd in this family of J’s, I asked my mom about leaving me out of the J’s. She said—and I really had no reason to doubt her—they (my parents) did not intend to start the J pattern, but by the fourth child, they thought it would be interesting (not cool because my parents never tried to be cool) to keep up the J names.

            The story does not end with the last child named with a J. The second child, Jenny, conveniently married Jimmy. They produced children named Julie and Jeremy. Julie married a non-J but named her boys Jackson and Jayden. I’m the third child, but under the circumstances,  I saw no need to seek a husband with a J name; I married a D and named my children with 2 K’s and 1 C. My C child married Jessica. The fourth child, Janet, married a non-J, but she named her boys James and Jesse, and Jesse now has Jesse, Jr. Fifth child Jerry named his children Jacob, Jill, and Jerika. Sixth child Jeff named his son Joseph, and his daughter Kassidy (who missed the J names by one letter) named her new son Julian. The rest of the siblings married non-J’s and didn’t name their children with J’s.

            Our story is certainly not unique; you can find many stories of families who carry out the tradition of names beginning with a certain letter for several generations. Ours has been passed down through three generations. We have a good time remembering the days when Dad would call out every J in the family until he got the one he really wanted to talk to or about. Mom never seemed to have this problem—she got it right on the first try, and at family gatherings, we have fun guessing who will produce the next little J or perhaps marry a John, a Jason, a Josh, or a  Janine.

I was visiting my brother’s family in Georgia. I went to the bathroom, left my purse in the living room. When I returned, there was a Vera Bradley purse the same style as mine but a different pattern–the Capri Blue. Inside was all my stuff! My old black/brown purse was gone.

Okay–that’s not what really happened. Only what I tried to get Terry to believe!

I was really visiting my brother’s family. Sister Judy was leaving, and I noticed she had a Vera Bradley purse–same style as mine but the lovely Capri Blue pattern. I said to her that we had the same style of purse, but I liked that pattern better. She said she liked mine better. I said “do you want to trade?” She agreed, so we dumped everything out right there on the sofa and traded. An exciting moment! Those with us thought we were nuts, but we both now have a new purse!

There was a time when my purse always matched my shoes–always! This was pre-kids, in my twenties. Of course, after having a baby, who would have time to coordinate shoes and purses? I gave it up for a large utilitarian purse.  After the years when I thought I would carry a perennial diaper bag, I settled for a purse large enough to still carry those needed kids items like tissue, wipes, hair bands, and whatever else the kids handed me to carry.

Finally, the kids were almost grown and independent, and I went the “as light as possible route.” My purse was just a wallet with a shoulder strap, and it would hold a lipstick, a brush, a compact, and cash and credit cards. I made it that way for a while. Then came the time when I HAD to have my glasses with me. In their hard-body case, they just would not fit into this small purse, so I dragged out the old large purse that I paid quite a bit for at the time and carried it for 4-5 years. I carried it during my antique store days, and once I discovered a plate in it that had been there about a week!

You could really categorize me as not being into designer purses, but a few months ago, I need a new, large purse with lots of dividers, zipper pockets, etc. At Dillards, they had one on sale that seemed perfect. It was a great price so I bought it. When Kerry saw it, she said, “Wow, Mom, a designer purse.” It is a Gianni Bini (I had never heard of it, but Kerry recognized the brand immediately). Kerry usually does not care for my sense of style, but she really liked this purse. I carried it for a while longer and discovered it had a couple of features I didn’t like. The handles weren’t meant to be shoulder straps, but they were long enough that I could, with some effort, get them on my shoulder. It also had a magnetic closure which was difficult to get into with one hand while driving–yes, on occasion, I have to dig in the purse! My arthritic hands made this difficult.

When we were in Europe, I decided to buy a red, Italian purse. I let the “cute factor” make the decision. The purse looks like a minature brief case, has some pockets, shoulder straps–it seemed perfect! It wasn’t! It was too small for what I need to carry.

Now, I’ve seen plenty of Vera Bradley purses and accessories at school, and my step-daughters like Vera Bradley. I have bought them some accessories for their birthdays or for Christmas. I like the fabric the products are made of, but I am usually slow to follow a trend. There is a shop in Karns called Spoiled Rotten, and they have a good selection of Vera Bradley; they also have lots of baby items that are very cute–overall, a cute shop to visit. When I discovered the red, Italian purse was not going to work, I went to Spoiled Rotten and bought a retired pattern (Cafe Latte–a black/brown pattern) purse at 25% off! It is big, has lots of pockets and zippers, and it fits my shoulder nicely. The only problem was at the beach when we were visiting attractions outside, it seems to be very hot to carry (Kelly noticed this when I carried Daisy and she carried the purse). But I love the purse. I might have chosen a different pattern, but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the price.

So, now I was stuck with the designer purse I don’t carry. Kerry’s birthday was in June, so I sent her the purse and a very nice Hard Rock Cafe Barbie from Paris. She was thrilled! She was carrying the purse when she came to the beach! Of course, when she saw the Vera Bradley purse, she made it clear she does not like Vera Bradley. But that’s okay–that is what keeps everyone in business! And, it doesn’t bother me that I will carry the purse until it probably wears out!

Hoskins Drug Store in Clinton also carries Vera Bradley, and there is a pretty good store in Pigeon Forge–I don’t know the name, but it is on the right going towards the Smokies.


To be fair–I am patriotic–I have to write about the good aspects of the great United States as opposed to the good things about Europe.

Here’s what we do better: fast food and food courts.

We know that we can travel on the interstate in the U.S. and find eating establishments along the way whether it be fast food or Chili’s, Cracker Barrel (in the southeast, as least). In Italy–and we covered a great bit of territory there–they have something called Autogrill. These are built either over the autostrada (interstate) or 1 on each side of the interstate at one exit. First, if it is over the interstate, you have to make sure you don’t get confused and go out the door that is on the other side of the interstate. Yes, I did this once and led a whole group of ladies with me. We exited the building and looked around and realized our error. Then we had to go back inside the building and follow a maze (more later) to get out the other side. I think other members of our group did this also.

The Auto Grill (doesn’t even sound Italian, does it) is a combination of a convenience mart, gas station, cafeteria, fast food, and tourist trap. It sounds nice, but it’s not like having a McDonald’s, Burger King, Arby’s, or Chik-Fil-A all at the same exit. Inside, you have to decide if you are going the cafeteria route (expensive!) or do the pre-made sandwiches. It took us a couple of times stopping at these to understand that you pay for your food first, and that means you had to go up to the crowded counter and look at the offerings in the glass case (usually sandwiches), try to figure out what you wanted (understanding Italian), wait in line to pay for the food, then take your ticket back to the crowded food case and wait in line to get your food. By that time, the tour guide is getting nervous about getting everyone back to the bus on time. You also had to make sure you bought everything else you might want (water, Coke, candy bars, etc.) when you pay for your sandwich; otherwise, you would have to stand in line again.

If you decided on the cafeteria, you had to go through several sections and select your food, and before you knew it, you were paying $20 for lunch! On one occasion, I spilled the balsamic vinagrette dressing in the floor; the attendant scolded me for it (not what we would do here in US). At the same place, we took our food off of the trays to put on the table, and the same attendant scolded us for that. Yes, they were rude!

So, now, you are done with your food, whatever you decided, and you have to find your way out of the building. You cannot simply walk out the door. You have to follow a virtual maze through their aisles of merchandise to get out the door and hope you don’t end up on the other side of the interstate Thus, we know how to do food at an exit much better! Lots of choices, not too expensive and fairly easy to figure out the logistics of getting the food!


My Absence

I’ve been telling myself I have to get back to blogging, so here I am. I have been incredibly busy lately–traveling the world–okay, I’m just making it sound better than it was! We had the Europe trip in May/June, and I plan to write more about it. Then, I started a new job; then we went to the beach for a week (more later), then I had surgery. I don’t advertise the trips when the house is going to be empty.

About the surgery: I had a front-end realignment (as Terry calls it) which translates in lay terms to having my bladder rehung. The medical term for it is a transvaginal bladder neck suspension. I had this done this past Tuesday, so I am at home recovering on the couch. Now, usually I am not a wimp with surgery (I had my gall bladder removed on a Friday and was back at school the next Tuesday, walking slowly, I admit.) Anyway, this was a horrible surgery. I think it was worse than having a baby! I had to spend 1 night in the hospital and came home with a catheter (it comes out Monday). When I woke up Thursday morning, I felt like a truck had run over me. I was sore all over (part of that was due to a bicycle wreck at the beach); my eyes were swollen; I hadn’t had a lot of sleep; my stomach was upset; the catheter hurt; and my throat was sore. Thankfully, Kelly came by and gave me some much needed care. She brought breakfast, helped with with dressing and other stuff, and provided moral support. Terry had to go to work–he had not worked the whole week of the beach and missed part of Tuesday & Wednesday due to the surgery. By the time Kelly left, I was resting comfortably on the couch.

I am slowly improving but don’t feel like getting too far from that couch!

Ladies, if you have had that surgery, tell me what you think about your own. If I had known. . . . I think I might have lived with the problem. I am hoping in a week or two that I will be glad I had it, but now, I’m not too sure. I have needed it for a long time but have put it off.

The Romance of Trains!
I’ve been saying this for a while. The United States needs to return to train travel. And not just in the big cities. It used to be you could travel a short distance to a train station and ride a train to almost anywhere. Now, we get in our big cars and clog the highways for our excursions to Gatlinburg, the mall, or other travel sites. For my job, I travel to Cookeville on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and what I would give for a nice train ride there and back. I could sleep, grade papers, daydream, and grade some more papers!

In our recent travels in Europe, we rode a bullet, fast train from Nice, France to Paris. It was absolutely lovely! We were exhausted after 10 days of non-stop walking, bus riding, packing, unpacking, and sleeping on lumpy beds. Although the train approached a top speed of about 200 mph, the train ride was about 6 hours. At first, it made a few stops and traveled rather slowly through the French countryside, but it was spacious and comfortable. We were on the top deck and thus had long views of the scenery. We had room to stretch our legs, and although we tried not to fall asleep, the gentle rocking of the train soon lulled us into naps. We ate our sandwiches we had bought at the train station and walked through several cars to the dining car (rather informal) to buy Cokes and used the better-than-an-airplane toilet!

The getting on the train proved to be sort of an adventure in itself. Our excellent tour guide Alex had a plan: “When the train pulls in, boys put on the luggage, girls get on the train!” He was emphatic about this plan. It seems the train is only at the station about 10 minutes, and we had quite a bit of luggage. The station is generally crowded with lots of people trying to get on. Our large group of 31 was separated, and my group was in the last coach of the last set of cars.

The good old days could be  good again. Think of the gas and pollution we could save by traveling more by train! Terry and I hope to return to Europe on our own in a few years and ride trains from country to country.  Our country did it once; we can do it again!
(Note: Hopefully, I will learn to post pictures soon to go with my posts!)

Porch Party

My family likes to have get-togethers. That could be an understatement. My sister Janet and her family have a perfect place for a cook-out (whether she agrees–especially after the clean-up–is another story!). She has a nice big yard with a fabulous view (she’s hosted 2 weddings there), a back yard with a trampoline, and best of all, a wide wrap-a-round porch that is an inviting backdrop for these gatherings.

So yesterday, 47 of us gathered on her porch, in her yard, and in the house to celebrate the May birthdays, which are a few: Daisy, Grant, Big Jesse, Little Jesse, Janet, Ruth, April, and one of April’s girls, Ella–and maybe a few others I have missed. There were many, many children there, and there were a few tense minutes when Jayden and Tanner went missing but were found safely with some other adults. With woods and a nearby pond, it could be easy for a little one to slip away!

The children mostly entertained themselves with the trampoline, bubbles, and balls, and did it rather peacefully considering how many there were. Almost every adult brought some sort of bubble contraption for the little ones. (Note to parents: sword bubbles are more attractive as a sword than what is in the sword.) By late afternoon, all Janet had to do was pour some water onto the porch and mop it with plenty of soap from all of the spilled bubbles. 

The trampoline required division of the sizes and ages. No older children with the little ones, and I was assigned the task of getting Daisy off of the trampoline. The trampoline has magic powers; it can trap a child there for hours. Even when the parent has declared she wants to go home, the trampoline turns into a huge magnetic field for the children!

The food was perfect of course: grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, and trimmings, deviled eggs, baked beans, chips, fruit salad, birthday cake, cheesecake, cow paties, cupcakes, and more I can’t think of.

We usually do a porch picture, which amounts to everyone posing on the wide porch steps, and I think it was discussed, but the round-up would have been nearly impossible. I don’t think we’ve ever had that many at a cook-out.  Lots of cameras digitalized the memories, however.

There was a plethora of gifts, and I wish I had noted more of their contents. There was a victorian costume and a poop/pee doll for Daisy, a scrapbook and a sheep picture for Janet, blocks for baby Jesse, and much more I missed!

There are those we missed: Jerry; Jeff and his family; Judy’s boys and their families; Aaron; Chris; Clark and Jessica; Kerry; Stephen; and of course Mom and Dad, who would have loved the chaos!

The youngest was 5-month old Charlotte, and the oldest was 76-year-old Betty.  There were 7 grandmothers, 2 of which are great-grandmothers; 5 grandfathers, 1 of which was a great; 1 great-great aunt; and many great aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins!

May the get-togethers never end!

© 2003 This was published in the Birmingham Arts Journal http://birminghamartsjournal.com/pdf/baj2-3.pdf

Coal Truck Wreck on the Mountain 

Rebecca Carroll 

I remember eyes–just eyes–no noses or mouths, but eyes of children looking at me through the school bus windows. Their eyes all traveled together as the bus moved forward. I remember that I was wearing a frail cotton dress. My mother would tell me later that she had sewn it for my older sister, but it was too small for her. I remember the bicycle, its shiny red paint still new, my haste in throwing it down when the black came, and my haste in jerking it off the ground to put it in the garage. I remember standing at the front door with my mouth open but no words coming out, and Mother looking at me with fear on her face. I remember the swing set and how the neighbor children and I swung higher and higher, thinking we could swing over the top, in a circle. Pam fell off the swing and broke her arm. Her mother swished her off down the highway to the doctor.

I don’t remember the smell of the brakes on the truck as they ground through metal. Or the sound of screeching tires as they left their prints far up the highway. I don’t remember the way a fully loaded coal truck sounded as its driver instinctively braked and steered hard enough to send it off the road into a yard. My yard. I don’t remember the sound of coal spilling out onto the pretty green grass, black dust swirling in the early fall morning, around my head, settling onto my blond hair.

The neighbors all came. Brownie cameras snapped. Everyone had to hear the story of the little girl almost buried by coal. No one hurt, except the truck driver who sprained his ankle when he jumped from the cab of the truck as it lay on its right side. It was a day.

My mother gave me the details over and over through the years. I would beg, “Tell me the coal truck story.” She would tell me again how my sisters had just stepped on the bus when the truck came speeding down the highway, and the driver realized he was going to hit the bus. He chose to crash in our yard. The bus went on to school, and my sisters told their grandmother, a teacher at the school, their small tale of horror.

“Rebecca was standing right there,” they said.

“Was she hurt?” Grandma asked.

They didn’t know. The bus had pulled out.

For months after, even though someone came and cleaned up the coal, Mother would take us out in the yard and we would find small chunks of coal. We put them in water and maybe some other liquid in aluminum pie pans, and in a day or two, the water turned beautiful colors. Sometimes, I drive by the house, no longer owned by family, and I want to take a spade and dig a little and find a piece of coal. I know it’s there.

The coal truck wreck, as it forever came to be known in our household, was the deciding factor in my parents’ decision to move away from the busy highway to a more rural area. There were, and have been since, many wrecks with fatalities on that stretch of highway.

When I drive by, on occasion, my mind sees a small girl waving at her sisters. I look to where the swing set stood, and I hear the untroubled laughter of children as they swing towards the sky.

It was a day.