Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010 - Carterville

Since this year's Christmas letter theme was so focused on Carterville, thought I would share on this blog.
Dear Friends,

Time to write the Christmas letter again. Wow, I have never been so not ready for Christmas. I'm ashamed to admit this, especially after reading last year's Christmas letter, but for the first time in my life, I did not put up a Christmas Tree (usually, I have three trees, plus other decor). Needless to say, not having a party this year either. What can I say, I've been on the road A LOT and it just didn't seem worth it. Pretty sure I was wrong about that, and we'll have to consider this a bad science experiment that I'll never do again. Heck, next year, the tree may go up on Halloween.

I can pretty much sum up 2010 with two words: "Trails" and "Carterville."
Trails mean, for now at least, I'm still overseeing marketing at Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. We have a massive project that is 16 self-guided driving trails, leaving major Tennessee destinations and taking you through all 95 counties. It goes through small towns, pointing out the hidden gems that so many of us take for granted in our own back yards. It's a project right up my alley.

And it is what possibly sealed the deal in the projects that I have taken on in my hometown. I have always had an old-soul sense of pride for my hometown, largely due to being proud of generations of family that have been a part of it. I've lived in Nashville for twenty years now, and I can't think of a time that I left Carterville to return to Nashville, and wouldn't spend most of the drive redoing downtown Carterville in my head and dreaming up new business ideas that somehow would link to this town.

So, when my high school English teacher and mentor, Sheri Hunter, asked me a few years ago to write a book with her on Carterville history, I said that we would definitely have to do that some day. She had discovered a wonderful collection of photos in the Carterville Library, "a treasure that needed to be shared in a book," as she put it.

I've been driving through small towns and researching town history for more than a year now with the trail project, and decided that there was no time like the present to finally start this book project with Sheri.

The project kicked off on May 22nd at First Baptist Church, where after having two newspaper articles, a segment on local ABC-affiliate television news, being interviewed on three radio stations, and putting up posters all over town, we held a "Carterville History Photo Day." With volunteers running six scanners for six hours straight, we had folks lined up out the door, with their favorite Carterville photos in hand that they were willing to share with us for the sake of preserving history.

After this surprising turn-out, my mom gave me one of the best compliments I've ever had, simply saying, "Your grandparents would have been very proud of you today."

Granted, might have been easier to just write a book with the photos we had from the library and call it day, but seemed rather important that if we were going to take on this milestone project, we better do it on full cylinders.

So, after presenting the concept to interested groups in town, we formed the "Carterville Heritage and Preservation Foundation" and created a 13-member board of directors. Our foundation is selling business sponsorships, exclusive opportunities in each chapter, and have made considerable progress with this effort. As well, we just recently kicked off a "Friends of the Carterville Heritage & Preservation Foundation" fundraiser, that will also provide ads in the book, and the community is embracing this opportunity to become a part of this important project. Portions of proceeds will go to Anne West Lindsey Carterville District Library and all remaining portions will go to the foundation to help preserve and restore towns of Carterville, Cambria and Crainville.

Some might say, why on Earth are you getting so involved in your small town? Because truly, it has taken up most of my personal time this year, as I bought a Mac to layout the book, and Sheri and I are researching and writing what will be a 300-plus-page book with more than 1,000 photos/images.

And I would have to respond that, in my gut, it is simply something I know I'm supposed to be doing. I may not have that gut feeling about everything in life. For example, my future in my current job position is uncertain with a new governor administration taking office in January, and I tend to have a ton of different ideas on what I could or should do. My gut hasn't figured out what that is yet, but it will come to me (hopefully quickly), as God has always prepared me for next steps in my life, that I am certain of, even when I felt like I didn't deserve it.

I would also say that it is for various other reasons. It's about paying respect to my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. My grandfather, Raymond Talley, was the manager of a downtown clothing store for more than 30 years and extremely involved in the Lions Club and other community activities. He would love that I'm working on this. It's also because Carterville has enormous potential, for various reasons that are sometimes too close to us. And it's because history, which I've grown to love recently, is simply worth preserving and utilizing to its fullest. The stories I've learned about a town that I spent half my life in have made me richer and more appreciative of my family, my community, and life in general.

So all that say, what does this have to do with Christmas?

All I can say is that I find it ironic that Jesus was born during a pilgrimage his parents made to a town that held their family roots. While not referred to as their hometown, and granted the travel was due to a census, Bethlehem was the town of David, and Joseph belonged to the house and line of David.

As well, my family line is tied to a small town with no room in the inn, well, basically no inn at all. And rather than shepherds, it would be more fitting in the day to say that an angel appeared to coal miners leaving their shifts nearby. I'll stop these comparisons before using the lit Dairy Queen sign as a star in the sky. But Joseph and his new family would spend considerable time in this town important to him, at least two years possibly before Herod's wickedness forced them to leave. And the comparison is, the town of my family is important to me also.

It's also interesting to note some of the town history we've discovered, that may mean more to all of us during this season.

For example, there was a grade school teacher that read to her class every day from the Bible. On Mondays, she would ask her students to raise their hands if they went to church on Sunday, and if they did, they could line up for recess first. Schools always presented a "Christmas" program, not a "holiday" program, and it was performed at one of the churches for the entire community. In some cases, the principal was also a church pastor, and a revival was held the last two weeks of school with students attending. Some may consider that this would not be appropriate for these current times, and I would find it interesting that in all the research, teen shootings and other school challenges of today were not discovered during this era.

I know this Christmas has been low key for me in general, because of travels and focusing on this book. But if this season is about giving, I hope folks from my hometown will feel like Sheri and I have started a community-supported project that will be a wonderful gift to all of us.

Stay true to your roots in 2011, and make sure you take a look back before conquering all that is ahead of you in the New Year. And for those wanting to buy a book about Carterville, Cambria and Crainville, expect it to launch in late spring.

Merry Christmas,

P.S. The photo is Carterville Community High School, built in 1924. It is where I went to high school, as well as my parents and grandparents. The card is from the 1950s, brought to us in a scrapbook during "Carterville History Photo Day." I had to scan it for future opportunities such as this. It's rather fitting next to high school photo, since the school property was once Prentice Farm, where cows once roamed.