The Old Folks at Home


Memories and gratitude would top the list in a visit with mom and dad

I wonder how the old folks are at home,
I wonder if they miss me when I’m gone...
You could almost hear them cry,
As they kissed their boy goodbye,
I wonder how the old folks are at home.

“Homestead on the Farm,” 
The Carter Family
 | 1929

My family has always enjoyed spending time with senior relatives and especially parents. I can remember my father regularly driving across town with me in tow to visit his parents living in North Knoxville. I grew up learning to visit with parents and continue to absorb their comfort and wisdom.

I married and left the family home when I was college age, and, during my engagement, would sing “Homestead on the Farm” to my mother as she prepared supper. She would cry at the part about “. . . I wonder if they pray for the boy who went away and left his dear old parents all alone.” Actually, I didn’t go very far. After marriage, I just lived two miles from my parents and visited them often.

Our three children are now grown and continue the tradition of coming to see “Mom.” Why is it they never say they are coming to see Dad? We are lucky that two of our children and three of our grandchildren live in Knoxville, and one branch with one grandchild lives as close as Middle Tennessee. Two granddaughters got away and ventured out of state, and we see them as often as possible.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of being in a close family and how great it would be to drive to my old family “homestead” to visit again with my mother and father and talk about our lives together and apart and what’s going on in the world. My mother, LaVerne Pryor, was Knoxville’s first lady real estate broker, and my father, Jim Pryor, was president of Tennessee Trailways Bus Company. My father passed away 53 years ago, and my mother passed 38 years ago.

Mom was opinionated and outspoken with a great sense of fairness and a remarkable storehouse of empathy. She was very extroverted and social. My father, on the other hand, was a bit quieter, fiscally conservative, and quite conscientious with a great work ethic. We talked a lot during my youth about politics, the news of the day, their professional lives, and the importance of friendships. What would we discuss today if I could just once again visit them to share some time and love?

My mother would want to talk about Donald Trump. I think she would like him for his antagonistic and uninhibited nature. Like most of his followers, she would be drawn to his combative personality and celebrity and perfectly willing to overlook his obvious character flaws. She would laugh at his speeches and his constant attack mode. My father would be less impressed and would want to talk about Estes Kefauver and Cas Walker. My mother knew Mr. Walker and for years had her real estate office next to his Kingston Pike store in front of old Bearden High School. He would sit in her office for long hours and tell her jokes and stories about his adventures as a coal miner and the owner of a chain of grocery stores. He once told about a woman who applied for a job at one of his stores and on her application answered the request for her “sex” by stating, “Yes, one time in Nashville, Tennessee.” In the old days, my parents would double team me about current events and politics around the dinner table. They encouraged me to think about issues of the day and develop my personal beliefs about public matters.

Of course, both of my parents would be amazed by the computer, but, unfortunately, I would not be able to explain it to them. My computer still has me designated as a robot. My father would be happy to see that the wheels on the stagecoaches still appear to roll backward in the movies and on television. He would always bring that to my attention. As a bus man, he would be dismayed that there are few intercity buses and no bus station in Knoxville. People have to stand in front of a closed service station in the dark of night to catch a bus to Atlanta. He oversaw the construction of the Trailways terminal on Main Street where the federal courthouse now stands. I would have a hard time explaining the Kardashians, the popularity of tattoos, and the Vol football team’s record from 2008 – 2022. Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and Jeremy Pruitt would upset him to the point I would dare not disclose that Pruitt had to cheat to lose more games than he won.

If I took my parents to a restaurant, how would I explain vegan, meat-free burgers, kimchi, craft beer, lattes, couscous, and quinoa (whatever that is)?

Both of my parents loved music. My father played trumpet in the Knoxville High School band, and was a big fan of Big Band music, which has difficulty finding a voice in today’s world of hip hop, heavy metal, and techno music. In case you haven’t noticed, country no longer sounds country, but sounds like pop and that might be confusing to him. He loved to play and sing “In the Garden” and “Your Cheating Heart” on a small electric organ in our living room. My mother sang in the church choir and told me she was a contralto. I agreed, thinking she meant she liked to be contrary. My mother enjoyed
a party and was a good dancer. She taught me and my 

friends how to slow and fast dance with a girl on a date. My longtime friend, Jim McMichael, reminds me from time to time that the only dance steps he knows he learned from LaVerne. We jitterbugged a lot around my house.

If I took my parents to a restaurant, how would I explain vegan, meat-free burgers, kimchi, craft beer, lattes, couscous, and quinoa (whatever that is)? My father would be outraged with the concept of buying bottled water from a grocery store. Imagine explaining how my smartphone works and exactly what is a Labradoodle.

After we catch up on family and my career in law, my father would want to know why everything costs so much and what’s happened to the middle class. Why are all these people living under the bridge or sleeping in doorways? They probably would agree that people don’t seem very happy. Is there a depression going on? The streets need paving and there’s so much crime.

My mother would likely comment she wishes houses sold for these kind of prices when she was in the real estate business. Where’s Sears, Kodak, the record store, Wright’s Cafeteria, and what happened to all the Oldsmobiles (my mother’s favorite car – she had a purple one)? What’s a Starbucks, a Google, a Netflix, an Amazon, an Uber, a Snapchat, and an Airbnb? Is Aunt Susie dead? Whatever happened to New Coke, that cute young Michael Jackson, and Bill Cosby?

With a chance to sit and talk with my parents, I would be excited to explain to them that last year I, with the help of Ancestry and the Mormon records vault, researched our family roots. I must tell them my DNA revealed that I am 10 percent Norwegian and 90 percent butter. I could explain my discovery that my grandfather, Papa Pryor, was the only child of Sophronia Florence Murphy, who died when he was four years old causing him to be raised by his grandmother in that area of Blount, Sevier, and Knox counties now known as Seymour. His mother was a direct descendant of the Murphy clan that immigrated from Northern Ireland to Marion County, South Carolina, and fought as patriots in the Carolina militia during the Revolutionary War. I bet they didn’t know that. I could also explain why my mother’s father left the Clift farm in Strawberry Plains in 1905 and walked to Knoxville as a young boy to make his way alone in the world. People used to say that you could tie him to a power pole on Magnolia Avenue and come back a week later and he’d have a café up and running. Mother always loved to talk about her father as a great cook, a train engineer, and a brawler.

The best part of my dream reunion with my parents would be the opportunity to reassure them how successful they were in raising a family and providing their children with an education and a solid value system that served them well over the years. Parents need to know that they did a good job. They need all the love and attention their children can give them. Most parents and many grandparents have paid a high price to make sure their children and grandchildren have a fair shot at a good life, and the least we can do as their babies is to go visit them.

I heard a man sing a song one time about “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.” Well, I know someone who cares, and if you’re lucky enough to have parents or grandparents who are still living and who were important in your life, you might want to give them a call. I wish I could, and once again go check and see how my old folks are at home. In the event my grandchildren do not read this article, tell them to please come home to see us soon.   

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