Sweet, Southern Christmas memories

[This originally appeared in “Home for the Holidays,” a special section of The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]


Looking back at the Christmases of my youth, I’m starting to realize my family may be a little bit redneck.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to come to this conclusion, but in writing this column I’ve all of a sudden become vastly aware that bleeding out a deer and sledding downhill in the top of a wheelbarrow may not be normal Christmastime practices for everyone. Did anyone else have to dodge barbed-wire fencing while sliding in the snow?

column_Cat CAH pic 1

I’m much better at remembering Christmastime in the last decade or so, but memories from 1990-2003 are probably my favorite, as foggy as they may be.

My mom’s family rotated who hosted Christmas so every third year we went to Mississippi. Those were the years we’d cram 40 people — all of whom I’m allegedly related to — into a tiny cabin and eat and try not to be intimidated by the number of dead animals hanging on the wall. To be fair, the Santa hats and bows made them much less threatening to a young girl who didn’t grow up hunting. What was still fairly disconcerting was the deer that was being gutted outside.

In a typical Hallmark movie, everyone would stay inside because there was snow falling and it was chilly outside so we’d huddle around a fire. Y’all this was Mississippi and it was hot with 40 people in a tiny cabin so we were known to walk around outside in our short-sleeve shirts. You never forget your first deer gutting. At least the colors were appropriate for the holiday as the red splashed down onto the still-green grass.

That has to earn us at least 10 redneck points.

My mom’s sister lived on a farm in Western Kentucky. We shucked corn in the summer and went sledding behind four-wheelers in the winter. I feel certain child welfare would be called if we did the same thing today — yet I secretly hope my second cousins enjoy the same privileges this winter.

Do you need a license to drive a four-wheeler? How fast do those things go? 10-year-old me was positive it was 60 miles per hour and had the frostbite on my nose to prove it. Current me knows that’s not possible, especially when it was hardly freezing outside, but I refuse to let it taint the memories with my cousins. We were flying on those inner tubes and you can never convince me differently.

As fun and mentally scarring as those memories are, I don’t think anything will ever top wintertime sledding at the Hayes’ farm.

Their humble abode sits atop the steepest, longest, most daunting hill in all of middle Tennessee. I know you think I’m exaggerating but I would never in a million years use hyperbole to describe my childhood.

I think it was an unwritten rule: If it snowed, the entire congregation was invited to Mr. Mark and Mrs. Cindy’s house on the hill to enjoy some good, clean family fun of sledding to our potential deaths.

column_Cat CAH pic 2

To this day I’m not sure if any of the families who attended owned real sleds. It doesn’t snow much in southern Tennessee, so why would we? But what we did have were pool floats, trashcan lids and wheelbarrows. And buddy, we would fly down those hills dodging hidden cow patties, each other, small boulders, the creekbed at the bottom and bits of barbed wire as we went. I have a very vivid memory of my sister and the preacher’s daughter throwing themselves off a “sled” to avoid such fencing. I wasn’t sure if they’d make it, but I reckon the parents standing at the top were saying some special prayers because they are alive and well today.

These memories seem even sweeter now that I have nieces and a nephew whom I’ll get to watch experience the same things. The youngest will be 8-months-old at Christmas, which is probably the perfect time for a redneck family like mine to take her sledding.

Anybody have any ideas on how to fit a wheelbarrow in a sedan?

Caitlin Herrington was born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky. She would, in fact, use hyperbole to describe her childhood. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.


Roosevelt and Raegan

Photos of foster puppies doing foster puppy stuff. 

  It’s hard to tell, but all three babies were on the couch at the same time!!  

New York, New York

Because I super suck at blogging. 

 FFriday was lunch with Norm and his wife at Billy’s pizza, meeting up with Tessa and Demetrius and the most expensive Mexican restaurant outing OF MY LIFE. Tessa and I played an escape game in Chinatown and got a liiiittle bit lost before deciding to go up the Empire State Building. I didn’t know cold until I went on the windy side of that observation deck, but I think I could have stared at those lights all night if Tessa hadn’t asked to go in. 

Saturday morning we played another escape game, grabbed brunch at a fancy crepe place/witnessed a 7-year-old have a complete meltdown and walked around Central Park and The Met before riding the Staten Island Ferry. We ate at some hipster meatball restaurant — that’s right, an entire restaurant dedicated to balls of meat — preceded by macaroons from another hipster bakery. 

Macaroons were not exactly what I expected in a bad way, and the same for the meat balls (I had veggie meatballs with a pesto sauce because ain’t no restaurant name gonna tell me what to order) but in a great way. Then we went home and slept because we walked NINE MILES. 

We hit the Grattitude Cafe in Brooklyn on Sunday morning and walked around Prospect Park just long enough to climb a tree (me), juggle snowballs (Demetrius) and be told the skating rink was too full for us to get in after waiting 30 minutes. 

So then we went and got ice cream instead. Basically the same thing, right?

D and I sent Tessa packing, hit the grocery store long enough to give me sticker shock and then I had to grab the next train to Baltimore. 

New York is overwhelming in every sense of the word to every sense in the body, but it was such a fun weekend. There’s so much to see and do that there’s no way we could cover it all, but I still feel like we stayed busy. 

But boy, was I glad to see the stars shining over my yard when I got out of the car Monday night. The city lights are nice, but they’ll never come close to the way the stars shine at home. 

Caffeine co-dependency 

As much as I’m getting used to my new job, I am so so SO not used to the hours. 

Would you believe me if I told you I’m the first one to the office every morning? Cause I am. And it’s weird. Real weird. 

I’m still figuring out the flow of things at the office and attempting to manage my time at home. Last night I went on a crockpot meal spree and had potato soup in the crock (pot?) in the fridge to cook today and there are 5 meals bagged in the freezer. And then today I did two loads of laundry, paid bills and organized some cabinets. Who am I and where is procrastinator me?

Another challenge has been bedtime. The local news station was promoting a kid’s book that’s supposed to help children fall asleep. Totally thinking about buying it for myself. Or maybe just adding a glass of red wine to my nighttime routine. 

But seriously. Some days last week I popped right up at 7:45 and was fine. One day I woke up at 6:17 and couldn’t make myself go back to sleep or get out of bed — the worst. The only standard to my morning is to make coffee the minute I walk in the door. I don’t even turn the lights on first because it isn’t safe to talk to me that early. 

And, because I regained with a cake, I felt it appropriate to start my new job with these. 

I’ve been so overwhelmed with God’s goodness the last two weeks. The people and opportunities He has placed in my life are so much more than I deserve. That’s the beauty of grace — when I’m questioning His plan for my life (and believe me, I meltdown-ugly-cried-called-my-mom-in-the-fetal-position questioned), He reminds me it’s not about where I am and what steps I take. It’s about who I am and whose footsteps I’m following. 

The high dive

There was a water park not far from where I grew up called Point Mallard. We would occasionally go in the summer with friends, Girl Scout groups or with family. It had a wave pool, a couple of water slides and, or course, two tall diving boards and a towering platform. 

With my first day of a new career path less than 13 hours away, I feel a little bit like I’m on the edge of that middle concrete platform, daring to stick my toes over the edge of the concrete to peek at the water below.

The deep end of the pool is kinda like this big change in my life. I’ve been in the water before. I know what it feels like and I know how to float, swim and enjoy everything it has to offer. 

But from 30 feet above, it’s more than a little intimidating. The first jump is the hardest. 

What if I forget to stay straight and my arms slap the water? Should I hold my nose? How do you know when to take your last big breath and hold it?

I’m on the edge of that platform as I set three alarms to make sure I wake up on time. I’m peering ever so slightly as I plan my new morning routine that involves LOTS of coffee. 

In the morning, I’ll jump. Falling is the easy part, so I guess I’ll figure everything else on the way down with a little help from gravity. 

I may flop and flail the first time, but I know I’ll be fine in the water. Afterall, I’ve been taught how to swim and I have a lifeguard who won’t let me drown. 

Winds of change (or other cliché titles)

When I was 15, I attended a youth leadership conference in Louisville as part of the media team.

And that was it — I was hooked on telling stories and covering events not everyone could attend or understand.

My parents gave me a DSLR for my 16th birthday, I joined the high school newspaper as a photographer my junior year and was editor my senior year. I took the broadcast class, worked hand-in-hand with the yearbook editor and settled on studying photojournalism at Western Kentucky University in 2009. A quick switch to news and editorial journalism in 2011 was followed by a design internship in Nashville and then a move to Seneca, S.C., where I happily started my official journalism career.

I say all that to say this — I’m jumping ship.

The thought is completely terrifying and simultaneously so exciting.

Wednesday will be my last day in the news production world, and Monday I begin my career in the world of real estate and marketing. It’s an opportunity that honestly kinda landed at my feet — leaving The Journal hadn’t really crossed my mind until this position was presented to me earlier this summer. An accidental networking event lead to me being asked to take this position before it was truly even open. I’m so glad I decided to branch out and try out for a play back in January — it meant my meeting my future employer.

Taking on the role of what is initially “listing coordinator” for the Les Walden Real Estate Team — whose office is literally four minutes from my house — means normal hours (read, I have to become a morning person. Insert tears here) and regular holidays, which translates to more time with my family. It also means I get to take pictures of houses, write about them and pretend my life is one giant episode of House Hunters. I’ll get to help people find the home where they’ll first live as a married couple, bring home their new baby or spend their retirement living out their golden years, and that plus HGTV is right up my alley.

In debating whether or not it was worth it to leave journalism — essentially what I’d focused on for the last eight years — my focus remained on my family. Unless God is hiding the man of my dreams somewhere in Seneca and I’m supposed to start a family of my own here … my family is too dad gum far away.

I don’t think I’m walking away from journalism forever. I’ve made two trips to DC specifically to visit Newseum, for crying out loud. But I feel God placed this opportunity in my lap and it’d be crazy not to take it. It puts another career field in my path and ultimately makes me a bigger asset for any job I want to apply for on down the line — and those jobs will be closer to my family.

I think I’m trying to convey what a difficult decision this was for me, and I also think I’m not doing a great. It doesn’t really feel like it’s truly happening yet, and I’m worried when I get home Wednesday I’ll have the biggest meltdown yet.

But that’s ok, because when I wake up (at the butt crack of dawn) Monday, I’ll be ready to tackle a new office, a new adventure and a new career.

And, of course, the task of choosing which pictures of Cooper and Millie will decorate my desk.

In true stress-baker fashion, I turned in a resignation cake. That’s right. Not a letter … a cake.

Girls beach trip 2015

Apparently we’re making this an annual adventure. I don’t hate it. 

   I met the girls in Birmingham Thursday night, got sunburned and made guacamole Friday and we chowed down at The Steamer in Gulf Shores on Saturday. 

Sunday brought a few showers, which we enjoyed on the beach, then a beautiful rainbow. We went to Cosmos that night and left just as the power started flickering. We watched a storm roll in and tried to take lightning photos on our phones — not an easy task. 

Of course we stayed up too late and abandoned our plans of cooking dinner, but it was a great escape from work and responsibilities and real pants.

Telling a storyteller’s story

Today was a long day at work. This week, though it’s only Wednesday, has been a long week. When I got home around 10 tonight, I crawled straight into bed after a rare 12-hour day. 

I was reading the Humans of New York page on Facebook and getting really excited about my next story series on agriculture. Monday morning I was on a small cattle farm with a man who runs the place himself and knows the cows personally. Though it’s not the point of the story, it’s such a fun part that I wanted to start transcribing while I had the storytelling bug and could remember details — how he wears shorts in waist-high grass, keeps his socks folded just above his boots and puts his hands on his hips when he’s thinking about the next task. 

Out of no where, Claws jumped straight up on my laptop. To be fair, I haven’t used my laptop as much in the last year, but I don’t think he’s pulled this stunt since our time on the Hill. But he decided he’d had enough of this working business and needed some cuddles. 

At that point, while frantically trying to hit command+S through layers of fur and fat, it occurred to me that nobody really tells the stories of the storytellers. I doubt anyone who knows my cat would question his behavior … but even I question why it brought my thoughts here. 

I love telling the stories of the people in our area, and finding a good one here and there makes it so worth the extra hours. I can’t wait to try to convey what it’s like to run a cattle farm to people who’ve never walked in the same field as livestock. But man, some days at work are such struggles.

We need breaking news, we need a human interest piece, we need good art, we need to be in three places at once, we need more space, we need to follow up on a meeting and we need to do it all right now. It’s hard.

We’re a small staff with a large coverage area and the slow days speed up at the drop of a hat. Nothing is expected, but nothing is unexpected. So when I want to find out what it’s like to be a cattle farmer and find a guy who will happily spend his retirement counting cows and looking for calves hidden in the grass, it’s an unexpected happy. 

When someone remembers a story I wrote last year about a bone marrow drive for a toddler who passed away last week from a rare leukemia, it’s unexpected. It was also probably unexpected when I started crying in the middle of the phone call. 

It’s expected that we’ll take pictures of a wreck that happens right outside the office. But taking a phone —  with a freshly busted screen — from a man who is shaking, whose first language is not English, so I can talk to a frantic stranger on the other end of the line? Probably not. 

Today was just so unexpected in so many ways. An ambulance happened to be driving by stoped and the EMTs examined the patients. A woman from our office broke out her old policing skills and directed traffic. Someone scrambled to find umbrellas to provide shade for the EMTs and drivers.

People are amazing. I get so caught up in finding the right way to word things so the important nuances don’t go unnoticed. What pulled me into journalism in the first place was the opportunity to tell other people’s stories. 

But, as Claws reminded me tonight, it’s best to put down the notepad and occasionally write your own. 


3 days and 7 states

Remember that one time I visited my brother but really just went to Harper’s Ferry, D.C. and NYC in three days?

Yeah, me either.

Except I kinda do.

The weekend was honestly kind of a blur — I can’t believe I did so much in so little time!

I took a half day off work Friday and headed to the Greenville airport, and Clark picked me up in Baltimore around 8. Amy was basically immobile (thanks to Ben and Jerry … and being eight months pregnant) so we didn’t do much. I watched some weird nature shows with Clark until he went to bed, and then watched more weird nature shows after he went to bed. Night owl probs, man.

on the way to Baltimore

When I finally crawled out of bed, they had already eaten breakfast and we set our adventure time for 11ish.

We spent the day walking around Harper’s Ferry and visiting the shops and museums in the town, which has been preserved pretty well despite some serious floods from the Shenandoah. We ate at Private Quinn’s Pub, which was a little bit of a letdown, but the people next to us had a cute dog so it was alright :)

Most of the buildings have been turned into exhibits to show how they might have looked in the 1860s.

The back of this building is missing?

Model of the land when battle broke out

When we got home, we played Ticket to Ride. I lost terribly and Amy basically wiped the floor with our faces. That’s all you need to know about it.

After church Sunday, C&A dropped me off at the train station and I took a bus to the next stop (they were working on the tracks, so free shuttles were provided) and headed to D.C.

My main reason for going was the Newseum. It’s a news museum and covers the coverage of history’s greatest events and how the media impacts lives. Basically it was awesome and I needed more than four hours — good thing the tickets are actually 2-day passes!

Newspapers around the world submit a pdf of their front page to Newseum every night. Newseum picks a top 10 online and posts one from every state and a few countries outside for passersby to read. Charleston had the SC box occupied :(

Berlin wall display, complete with a 300-foot guard tower on the east side. You’re looking at the west. The east side was painted white to make it easier to spot those trying to escape.

A glass elevator at Newseum will take you to the top to enjoy this view of Pennsylvania Street (Avenue?). The Capitol is on the far left.

150-year-old New York Herald reporting details of Lincoln’s death. It put out seven issues in less than 24 hours — unheard of then.

The names of all journalists who have died reporting, dating back to the 1800s

My phone died while I was using it as a GPS to walk to the train station, so I missed the train I wanted — luckily they come through often. Thanks to my handy travel charger thing, I got back on the right track and was only tailed by one hobo! I was pretty prepared though, my boots could have handed it to anybody ;)

I will admit I was ill-prepared for this trip. When I looked at the forecast while packing, it said mid 60s, so I thought jeans and shorts would work. But then Monday I found out that New York City is basically always cold. Seriously. Does it ever warm up there?

I took a Bolt Bus ($23 for the trip) from Baltimore to NYC, took the (wrong) subway to Rockefeller Plaza and met my friend Demetrius just in time to use my Jimmy Fallon tickets. We stood in line forever and caught up on life and discussed our plans for the evening.

We were in the third row!

The guests on Monday were Robert Downey, Jr., Fran Lebovitz and the Zac Brown Band. The show didn’t even seem like a full hour, which is weird … because it is.
Demetrius MADE me go to Times Square since we were so close by. I was a bit hangry because I hadn’t eaten anything except string cheese and crackers since breakfast. But “you have to do it while you’re here,” so I did.

Look. Times Square. I did it.

Side note: When your tour guide was recruited to be a photographer for the mayor’s office, all the pictures look infinitely better. Even the dorky ones of you begging to leave Times Square because you smell food.

See what I mean? (📷: Demetrius Freeman)

A quick train ride brought us to Union Square, where we ate at The Coffee Shop. D said it wasn’t touristy, but the food was average at best, so I’m not sold on it. Honestly, it may have been that everything wasn’t deep fried and covered in butter…

Anyway, after food I was in a MUCH better mood, so we headed to the southern end of the peninsula, grabbed Starbucks because I was cold, went to see City Hall (where D works … and had an extra jacket) and then the 9/11 memorial.

Inside City Hall. 📷: Demetrius Freeman … again

Having just been to the exhibit at Newseum with its 9/11 exhibit, it was super surreal. Newseum houses part of the antenna from one of the World Trade Center towers, I can’t remember which one. It also has dozens of front pages displayed from Sept. 12, 2001 when America was still reeling from the attack.

The eeriest part of the exhibit were the photos from a photographer who ran to cover the plane hitting the first tower and died when the second collapsed. The family was able to salvage his film and shared the last moments of his life with everyone. There were no words for that.

The new World Trade Center tower

There were also no words for the two fountains that stand in the footprints of the two former towers with names of the deceased circling the seemingly never-ending water feature.

We went around 8 p.m., so the fountains were lit and the skyscrapers all around were just starting to shine. I can’t say for certain that’s the best time to go, but I think it gives the display an extra layer of beauty.

9/11 Memorial

After the memorial, we walked across Brooklyn Bridge — again, just to say I’ve done it. Y’all, that’s a long walk. In fact, New York City is lots of walking.

Pro tip: Don’t wear your $12 Target sandals. And bring a jacket.

Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge. Not in the picture are Lady Liberty to the left and Times Square to the right.

By the time we FINALLY crossed the bridge, we had to head to Penn Station so I could catch a train back to Baltimore. All in all, I was there 7 hours. The weekend was almost like an out-of-body experience, especially looking back at Manhattan all lit up with the Statue of Liberty to my left and a friend I hadn’t seen since 2013 on my right.

I hopped on the train back to Baltimore — and had a police escort me out of the station thanks to all the riots going on — went to sleep, woke up and got on a plane back to SC. After a nap I went back to work and tried to pretend my feet weren’t throbbing.

So that’s that. I figured I should write everything down before I forget it all. May is full of adventures! I’m heading to Jacksonville, Florida this weekend to see Tessa and attend her second annual Derby party. The first one was in Texas, so I couldn’t quite make it. Anyway, I guess I’ll unpack my suitcase with jeans and long sleeves and throw in some shorts and swimsuits!