A Day with Robert Hicks in Tornado Country


So I was given the tour of Franklin, TN. yesterday by none other than the Gentleman of the South, Robert Hicks, author of  the New York Times bestseller, The Widow of the South.  And if you haven not yet read The Widow of the South, let me just tell you that you are missing out big time. Get you that book and read it. You can send me a thank you note later.

First stop on our tour was the inviting Landmark Booksellers where Robert introduced me to the congenial Joel and his love wife Carol. They were busy preparing for an author signing but they took time out to welcome me real friendly like. I look forward to going back and chatting with them more one day soon.

The next stop on our tour was the Carnton Plantation. Walking up the pathway to the restored home, Robert told me how he was in the music publishing business when he got a notion to raise the funds to restore the house. He told himself the way to do that was to write a New York Times bestseller, and by golly if he didn’t just go off and do just that. Don’t you love it when dreamers do the work to make their dreams come true?

Of course, Robert might tell you that sometimes a person’s best dream can be their worst nightmare, too. But even if he told you that, you’d know without a doubt that Robert does what he does because he loves it. His daddy had a great saying about getting people to love you or doing what you love but dadgum if I can remember it now.  Hold on. I’ll ask Robert.

Carnton Plantation was turned into a Confederate army hospital while the Battle of Franklin raged. Bodies of the dead pile up on the porch of Carrie McGavock’s home. An upstairs bedroom is turned into a surgery room. That room there in the photo? That’s the room where the wounded and dying lay next to one another, tended to by Carrie. That clock? It is the very same one the boys listened to as they prayed to God and their mommas for a healing. It ticks like an eternal heartbeat.

Robert was showing me the blood that still stains the wooden floors when we realized that the siren we had been hearing for some ten minutes was more than just a tornado warning. It was telling us there was a tornado coming.

So what would you expect writers to do when they realize a storm is blowing in on them except to step outside on the tallest porch available. In truth, we’d gone out there because Robert wanted me to see the gardens that I found so breathtaking at first glance. But it was hard to see them given the deluge of rain.

Robert reassured me by telling me that the house had been hit by a tornado once before. “Tornadoes never strike the same place twice,” he said. I didn’t bother telling him that was lightening. Instead I said, “It’s been a long time since I was in a tornado with anyone but if I have to be in one, I can’t think of anybody I’d rather be in one with than you.”  I knew being the Gentleman of the South would ensure that I would only be harmed over his dead body.

There was a wet crowd on the porch when we got downstairs. Several of us got emergency messages on our iPhones telling us to take cover, but by then the storm had blown south of us. Some of the looky-sees saw it go past but they said they thought it had dissipated without doing too much damage.

 The gardens didn’t seem too much worse for the wear, but as I would soon learn that wasn’t true for everybody.

Robert’s tour of Franklin included a stop in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which had been over-run, and pretty near destroyed by damn Yankees during the Battle of Franklin. They chopped up the pews and used them for firewood.

The church was used as a hospital, first by Union soldiers, then by Confederates.

But as with all healings, there is beauty in the terror. Restoration included eight Tiffany windows that are simply jaw-dropping.

Robert and his friends at the Franklin Trust are in the process of raising funds to put a museum in Franklin. They are buying back the land that once was battlefield and restoring the history. You can learn more or donate to the cause by clicking here.

After I left Robert and Franklin, I ran into the storm, via a downed telephone pole in the middle of Highway 96. The police rerouted me. I had no idea how to get back to Murfreesboro.

People were out with their chain saws clearing debris all up and down the roadways.

Trees took out fences and power lines.

There was a lot of property damage. I saw one car overturned but I didn’t see any homes destroyed.

Of course all this damage is nothing compared to the Battle of Franklin. Pick up a copy of Widow of the South and see for yourself. Or if you prefer a lighter read, try Robert’s new book.

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