We welcome Laura Creekmore as our guest author today. The photos we’re sharing with Laura’s walk down memory lane depict the East Nashville of today. A new take on silver and gold. Enjoy!
Dear East Nashville,
I’m writing a public letter to you here on StyleBlueprint (SB), because SB knows that there are some serious misconceptions about you, and they want me to let other folks know just why I love you so much. But truth be told, this is also my confession.
When SB co-founder Liza Graves asked me to write about my beloved ‘hood (yes, in the ‘hood we actually call it the ‘hood), she thought I might defy the stereotype, since I’m a mini-van-driving mother of 3 who happily lived in East Nashville for 17 years. At first, I thought I’d give my own account of the fabulous restaurants and stores in East Nashville and the quirky personalities of the neighbors themselves. But, thinking that many people may have already read about how you are thriving in the New York Times, Glamour and Budget Travel, I wanted to write you, East Nashville, instead, to tell you that I haven’t forgotten about when we first met, back in the mid-1990’s. Memories of those early days – when you were all dive bars and one mediocre restaurant and a bunch of people who loved old houses and the crack dealers who were their next-door neighbors – are what I hold dear.
I first heard about you when I was a student at Vanderbilt in the late 80’s and early 90’s. My dad, who’d attended Vandy in the mid-1960’s, would tell me that he’d only crossed the river to play golf at Shelby Park, and he highly recommended that I not venture over the Cumberland myself to meet you, based on his memories of the neighborhood.
After graduation, my fiancé and I moved to Faux Brentwood, which is what we called that area of town south of Crieve Hall, in between Brentwood and Antioch. We decided after a couple of years that we wanted to be back in the city, and because he was about to start his MBA at Vanderbilt, we needed a cheap, cheap house – one we could afford on my small salary.
He knew the friend of a friend who knew you well (she owned a house in your vicinity) and he insisted we meet. I was COMPLETELY opposed to the idea (terrified, even), believing you to be dangerous… You were, after all, East Nashville.
In one Sunday afternoon, his friend-of-a-friend (now one of my lifelong best friends) and her beautiful early-1900’s home helped me do a u-turn and come back to stay.
Do you remember the house we bought on Fatherland Street in December 1995? How lucky we were to buy a house on a “good block,” as they were called at the time. You’re right, we were damn lucky, accidentally buying the cheapest house on one of the best blocks in East Nashville. No crack dealers in sight — but only because you couldn’t quite see all of the blocks due to the rolling hills of the neighborhood. And remember how my first gardening experiment taught me that thick gloves were a must – not to protect my nails, but to prevent me from getting stabbed by the hypodermic needles I dug up from time to time in the yard?
But oh, East Nashville, you grew on us like a weed. Our neighbors were quirky, and artistic, and also business people and lawyers and doctors and a little bit of everyone else. They’d bought in East Nashville because they loved the old houses, or a good real estate deal, or because that was what they could afford, or because they’d been there forever and couldn’t think of leaving. The sidewalks and the trees made us feel like we lived in Norman Rockwell’s America, even when we were picking up 40 bottles out of the gutter in front of our house every Sunday morning. Our neighbors were yuppies and on welfare and everything in between. We looked like America.
The tornado that hit in 1998 was, in my mind, your defining moment. I’ll never forget how my husband and I picked our way home through police blockades, over downed power lines, around trees and houses and God knows what else in the streets. We both knew we were damn lucky a second time, discovering our house, with two humongous trees in the front, still standing, and our two dogs sitting just inside the blown-apart gate, waiting patiently for us to return.
But all around us – devastation. The friend who’d originally convinced us to move to East Nashville was in the midst of moving out of state the week of the tornado, and her empty-but-not-yet-closed-on house was half turned to rubble. My husband skipped the last two weeks of school to lead volunteer relief efforts out of the historic church we loved.
In the midst of all the devastation though, East Nashville, your soul and your identity remained. And relief came from all over, but most of all from within, from those living in your houses and on your streets – everyone who called East Nashville home.
It had to make you so happy to see that as the neighborhood recovered from the tornado, a revived community emerged very quickly.
The national attention the tornado brought also seemed to refresh our spirit as a community. Looking back now, it feels almost instantaneous, but the rebirth took several years. The version of you that everyone sees today – with the best restaurants in town, unique shopping, cool art galleries on every corner, fabulous bakeries and bars and coffee – is the spirit of what was there all the time. That is what I love about you, East Nashville: the resilient, unapologetic, tough, quirky heart of you that holds historic homes, diverse viewpoints, cranks, and do-gooders.
And now, it’s time for a confession. I’m writing tonight from 37221, not the East Nashville ZIP code of 37206. That’s right, Bellevue. My first husband and I divorced several years ago, and in 2008 when I remarried, I explained that you and I were a package deal — if Ashby wanted to marry me, he would live in East Nashville. (You grew on him, too.)
We outgrew our 3 bedroom, 2 bath ranch on Eastland the day we got married, and though we tried to wait out the economy to find a new home in our beloved ‘hood, it was not to be. So, after 17 years, my family reluctantly moved away from East Nashville.
We found a real steal in Bellevue, and I have to admit, the new house is what my family needs right now. Everyone here has been quite welcoming. They’ve brought us chocolate cake and watermelon and are everything you’d want from new neighbors. And though I do enjoy being 5 minutes from Publix, I miss my wine stores – one gritty and cheap, one urban and sleek. And eating out solely in my neighborhood is a thing of the past.
I count myself lucky that I will still get to visit a few times each week, since my older daughter’s dad still lives across the river. I’ll get my fix from the Sweet 16th Bakery and Bagel Face (you know I won’t eat anyone else’s). All that to say, my heart will remain with you, East Nashville. My husband and I have promised ourselves that we’ll get a nice house near 5 Points when the kids leave home. Here’s hoping you’ll still be speaking to us.
Thank you, Laura! You can find out more about Laura and her content strategy company, Creek Content, click here.