My Friend, Eileen McCay
During all the years I worked in an office in Livingston, I got to know a lot of people, but one lady in particular I felt the need to write down what I can recall about her. Most folks in the neighborhood of Taylors Crossroads in Overton County didn’t know her personally, but did know when she would be staying at the property she owned near that community. When I got to know her, she called Memphis her home base, but since she had grown to love Overton County many years prior to our getting to know one another, I always believed she would one day move back here. But that never happened, and she would make the long journey two or three times a year from Memphis to her little spot at the top the hill near Eagle Creek which was a couple of miles from Taylors Crossroads.
Our friendship began when she stopped by the office where I worked to say hello to my boss, someone she knew from her days when she worked at the tuberculosis center at Alpine. I happened to be there that particular day by myself, and since Eileen could make conversation with most anyone, she introduced herself and told me how she had known the Turnbull family during the time all the children were growing up. I guess I should stop here and include her name, Eileen J. McCay. McCay was her maiden name, but at one time in her adult life, she had been married. Her husband’s name was Elmer Swartley, and that’s the last name she went by during the time she and Elmer worked at the TB center in Alpine. They eventually divorced and it was then she had her maiden name restored. Now, where was I? Oh yes, how Eileen and I began our friendship. That day when she stopped in to say hello to my boss, he happened not to be there, and as fate would have it, she took the time to tell me how she knew all the Turnbull family, and she also explained that she lived in Memphis, but came back to Overton County two or three times a year. The love of wildflowers that grow in Overton County was one of the reasons to drive from Memphis in the spring, and to see the fall colors in late September or early October was another reason to make the trip in the fall. Because my drive from our home into Livingston brought me right by her property, and even though I didn’t know Eileen to begin with, I, like most folks in Taylors Crossroads, always knew when she was there. A strange car with a license plate that indicated the person who owned the car was from Shelby County could be seen parked near her travel trailer that sat near the road. I learned pretty quickly after I married and began living in the country that folks made it their business to know what was going on in that neighborhood, and that included knowing exactly when Eileen was there from Memphis, and how long she stayed. When she explained to me where she stayed when she drove up from Memphis, I told her that I lived not too far away and always observed her car at her trailer when she came for her visits. As we continued to talk, she happen to mention that she was there at that particular time to go looking for wildflowers, and immediately I responded by saying, “Oh, I would love to go with you sometime.” And I was ever surprised when she said to me “Well, be at my trailer in the morning at 7:00 am.” That day happened to be on a Saturday, so I did as Eileen sort of commanded, and thus began a long friendship that lasted until she departed this life.
At the time I got to know Eileen, I was already interested in several different types of wildflowers Kelly and I had observed when we were out for drives. So I knew a few places I could suggest Eileen and I drive to on that morning expedition. That day was the first of many outings we shared each time Eileen came back to Overton County. Trips to Keisling Bottom to swim were also enjoyed in the summer months that she sometimes added in her yearly visits. Eileen never went on any of these wildflower jaunts without her trusty wildflower books. Over the years, she had made notations where she saw a particular flower and the location where it grew as well. As our friendship grew, she sent or brought to me a couple of these type books that I still have today. And while I’m thinking about it, I might add that she also carried in her heavily laden purse, a small pistol that was kept each night by her bedside just in case. Because my sister-in-law, Betty (Key) McCormick, knew Eileen during the years the Key family lived at Alpine, she and my brother stopped by Eileen’s trailer to say hello after dark one night. That turned out to be a night Betty has never forgotten due to the fact that Eileen threatened to shoot them. It had been years since Eileen had seen Betty who was probably very young at the time, so Eileen wasn’t going to take any chances in case someone had come there to rod or harm her. I don’t think their paths ever crossed again after that one scary night.
Eileen had a little brown dog that always accompanied her on these trips, and try as I might, I can’t remember the dog’s name. I always felt sorry for that dog because I thought Eileen could have been a bit kinder to the dog. It seemed to be a substitute for the fact that she never had children. The dog was always left behind in her trailer when she went off to either visit friends she still had around Alpine, or when she went on wildflowers expeditions. That little dog had to just hate these trips back to Overton County! Eileen was also an avid bird watcher. Among the many books she owned was one that helped to identify various birds. She always carried binoculars around her neck, even on wildflower jaunts. That way, she was always prepared for either flowers or birds.
One of the places I introduced Eileen to in our wildflower trips was Mill Creek in Clay County. It was a place Kelly told me about when he was scouting around for signs that a type of fish called “Suckers” were making their way upstream. That area turned out to be a very special place simply because of the hundreds of different wildflowers that grew there. On one of the trips, Eileen and I took along our lunch and sat by the creek while we ate.
Other folks Eileen had made friends with sometimes were invited to stay with her in her travel trailer that really made me cringe to think about when trying to sleep in not so clean, much less comfortable, surrounding. I can’t remember what one particular couple’s last name is who came to visit her there, but I do remember their first names were Cliff and Ester. Cliff held a high ranking position with the Kodak company, and I knew, at one time, how Eileen became friends with them. At Eileen’s instructions, Cliff and Ester were told, prior to their arrival at her trailer, to bring along a tent to set up near the trailer, and that’s where Cliff got to sleep (or at least try to sleep), while Ester was assigned one of the small beds in Eileen’s trailer. I’m sure they each had a very hard time getting through the night after what had to be very uncomfortable arrangements. But Eileen thought these were perfectly fine arrangements. I might add here that Eileen had no running water in her trailer, so bathroom visits had to be made out in the woods nearby. That was just another of what I would consider very unpleasant circumstances to deal with on a visit there.
Cliff had some wonderful slides he had made on various trips he and Ester had gone on in the past, and during the time they visited Eileen that summer, various folks were invited to the Presbyterian church in Alpine to view the slides. Some of Kelly’s cousins and their spouses were among those who attended. It was a very enjoyable evening.
Another person who made a couple of trips to stay with Eileen was a long time friend of hers from the Memphis area. Again, I can’t remember what Carolyn’s last name is, but she came for at least two visits, and that’s how I got to know her. She and Eileen had known each other for a long time. Carolyn’s husband’s first name was Robbie, and he was definitely someone Eileen did not like. In fact, she had a real dislike for men in general, and that probably went back to her married life that, according to Eileen, should never have happened in the first place. She told me her marriage to Elmer had never been consummated, and that she never knew why. The TB center at Alpine was the reason they came to Overton County in the first place. They were both employed there during the time that center was in operation. Now, back to Carolyn. She had two sons, one Eileen really liked, and the other not so much. I believe she always hoped Carolyn would divorce Robbie, simply because she (Eileen) didn’t approve of him period.
On one of the trips Carolyn made with Eileen, she had the misfortune of running over Eileen’s little dog. The accident didn’t kill the dog, but the injuries required a trip to the local vet just outside of Livingston. Carolyn was devastated about the accident, but it was completely unavoidable. As time when on, and as Eileen got older, it was Carolyn she designated in her Will to take care of her affairs after her death. When that time came, Carolyn asked for my help in finding an attorney to help close out Eileen’s estate, and I did so. However, Carolyn decided after a couple of visits with this particular attorney, that she would just handle everything herself, and she dismissed the attorney. Eileen’s property in Overton County was eventually sold to Ronald Roberts who continues to live there. Ronald’s wife, Delberta, was someone Eileen knew from her days when she worked in Alpine, and Ronald was someone Eileen depended on who to mow the grass around her travel trailer prior to her arrival from Memphis. There were other odd jobs around the property she asked Ronald to do as well.
Another person Eileen always tried to stay in touch with was Ellen Turnbull, the wife of Frank Turnbull who was once a minister at the Alpine Presbyterian church. Eileen and husband, Elmer, were members there and would often take the youth of that church on outings to Dale Hollow lake at the bridge in Byrdstown. She told me she taught many of the Turnbull children (there were 8 of them) to swim, and that the whole group would often swim across the lake to an nearby island. No one wore life jackets because they didn’t have them, so Elmer and Eileen’s canoe would be brought along on these swim trips. Someone pulled the canoe along as they swam just in case one of the swimmers got tired and needed to rest for a bit. Eileen and Elmer often made trips in the canoe at various rivers and lakes during the time they were married. After Eileen bought the property on top of Eagle Creek hill, she would sometimes plan her summer visit in conjunction with the Turnbull Family Reunion that was held each June at Standing Stone Park. On one of the trips, she picked up Ellen Turnbull at the park and brought her out to see her place and have lunch with her there. I don’t think it was a particularly enjoyable time for Mrs. Turnbull as she related to me later that they sat out on a very warm day in front of Eileen’s little trailer with not the slightest breeze stirring. It just wasn’t something Mrs. Turnbull found to be as interesting as Eileen had made it sound. I think that was the only time Mrs. Turnbull visited Eileen’s place on Eagle Creek hill.
Eileen’s love of flowers was very evident in her yard in Memphis. She had lots of hybrid type iris as well as lots of daylillies. She invited me to come to visit her there in Memphis, and in looking back at that visit now, heaven only knows why I agree to do so. However, I did go by boarding a Trailways bus in Cookeville. The trip was planned so that on the return trip to Livingston, Eileen would be driving back for one of her annual trips. While on this visit, we went to a botanical garden center where lots of beautiful flowers were in bloom. A plant sale was underway as well, and lots of iris and daylillies, along with other plants, could be purchased. Eileen loved the flowers in her yard and took what she considered to be the very best of care of them. My trip there also included church services on Sunday. Eileen was a member of an Episcopal church, and their service was totally foreign to me. It included kneeling for prayer on a kneeling bench that was situated behind each pew, and communion given by the priest. Those who participated came forward and stood in a line awaiting their turn for a wafer of bread and a sip of wine from a cup everyone in front of you had drank from. That was my one and only trip to visit Eileen in Memphis.
Eileen was an extremely well educated person, and one of the things I most enjoyed about her visits here were the times I persuaded her to play the piano for me. She had been trained beginning in her early youth to play the piano, and could very easily have been a concert pianist. On her visits here, she attended church services at the Alpine Presbyterian church where she would be called on to play during the service. I always asked her to bring along her music when I knew she would be coming for a visit, and most of the time, she remembered to do so. We went several times to First Christian Church during one of her visits so she could play the piano for me. I really enjoyed these sessions, and one of the reasons was that not only because I loved music, but that was one of the few times when Eileen didn’t talk!! She could really get on your nerves sometimes simply because she talked so much. Kelly wouldn’t hang around too long when she came to our house simply because he thought she was a very opinionated woman and he had a real dislike for those he put in that category.
One of Eileen’s close friends in Alpine was Myrtie Franklin whose nickname everyone knew her by was Turk. I don’t have any idea where that nickname came from, but that’s the name most folks knew her by. Myrtie accompanied Eileen and myself on several wildflower trips, and I really enjoyed getting to know her. One of her daughters was a high school classmate of mine by the name of Mary Price Franklin. She also went by a nickname, and that was Tootie. Myrtie’s home was right in the middle of Alpine, and was a sweet little cottage that was always spotless. She did her own mowing and her yard was always well maintained with a lot of beautiful flowers. I remember one story she and Eileen often laughed about. Eileen had given Myrtie a tree by the name of a golden ring tree, but after having it for a few years, Myrtie complained to Eileen that it never bloomed like it was supposed to. Eileen got Myrtie by the arm and told her to come with her. They went out in the yard and following Eileen’s very stern instructions, Myrtie was told to take hold of a limb on the tree. Myrtie did as she was told (no one had any choice once Eileen had spoken), and these were her instructions to Myrtie. “Now shake this limb and tell the tree ‘you have to bloom or else I’m going to cut you down.’” Myrtie followed these instructions, but evidently she didn’t speak in a stern enough voice to suit Eileen. Eileen then told her, “Talk to this tree like you really mean it!” Myrtie did what she was told, and shook the limb while practically yelling … “You better bloom or I’m going to cut you down!” The next year the tree was loaded with blooms.
I don’t remember the date Eileen passed away or how old she was either, but I do remember her request was that her body be donated for research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. As far as I know, that request was honored. Carolyn, the person in charge of her estate, would call me on many occasions after Eileen had passed away. It’s been many years now since we talked, and I often wonder about Carolyn, but have no way now to get in touch with her.
Eileen had no close relatives other than a cousin she mentioned occasionally. I don’t remember where that relative lived, but his name would sometimes come up in our conversations. She did occasionally mention Elmer and the fact that she knew he was living in Bolivar, TN. Other than where he was living, she didn’t seem to know anything else about him. Another person she did talk about a lot was someone she referred to as “Mamma Mullins.” She and her husband lived in a pretty little cottage there in Alpine Jessie Linder ended up owning after the Mullins couple had both passed away. Jessie was someone Eileen was well acquainted with from the time she worked at the TB center in Alpine. Jessie went on a wildflower excursion to Mill Creek during the time Cliff and his wife were visiting. We all brought our lunch along, and sat on a hillside where a certain type of lilly grew while we ate our lunch. Something Jessie did that Eileen didn’t approve of was to dig flowers that were on the endangered species list that, according the government restrictions, should never be dug up to try and transplant. However, that didn’t stop Jessie at all, and she had a beautiful wildflower garden in her back yard during the time she lived in Alpine.
During the Christmas holidays, I could always count on getting in the mail a detailed type calendar from Eileen that looked back on the year’s activities she had been involved in. I would probably enjoy seeing just one of them once again, but I didn’t see the need to save any of them back then. My habit of throwing things away still gets me in big trouble today with my husband. But I’ve always believed that if something doesn’t have a purpose, out it goes!
On one of Eileen’s trip back to Overton County, she told me about seeing an unidentified flying object as she sat outside her trailer on top of Eagle Creek hill. She said she was setting out enjoying her view out over the hillside when all of a sudden there appeared this strange object hoovering over the tree tops. She said it made no sound at all, but hoovered there for several minutes, and then silently flew away. She was so convinced that she had seen something from outer space, she spent the rest of the afternoon on her phone trying to find someone in a government agency who would listen to her story and hopefully send out someone to investigate her experience. She also made a drawing of the object she had seen. Needless to say, her request fell on deaf ears and nothing ever came of that other than her excitement and need to share the story with anyone who would take the time to listen.
I’m not sure how to conclude this story, but maybe just to say we don’t often realize the importance of friendships and don’t appreciate what it means to have a good friend. I’ll have to admit that many times, I’ve been really aggravated at Eileen mainly because it seemed to me that she often tried to force an opinion on a person, and that her way was always the only way. But as I’ve grown past the age that she was before she passed away, I know I would enjoy having her along once again on a trip to Mill Creek. Every time we driven through there in the years since Eileen was no longer on earth, I recall the trips she and I made together, the place where we had lunch by the creek, and the time we all sat on a hillside when Cliff and Ester were along. I have often imagined how upset Eileen would have been when a new highway was constructed just on the fringes of Mill Creek. She was always so hopeful that particular area would be spared of any type of development, but she didn’t live long enough to know what most would consider improvement came very close to an area we both very much appreciated just as it was. I think I’ll end this story with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that says: “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” I give Eileen all the credit for introducing me to the love of wildflowers, but most of all, for being a true friend.