Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

John and Louise Bryan in the Time of Corona: What is a Merry Man?

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Louise Bryan currently serves as Vice Mayor of the City of Belle Meade (BAM!) and makes a mean Shrimp and Grits. Her husband, John Bryan, is Hushpuppy King of Savannah Classics (CEO). Today, they share their Bacon Wisdom…

Hi Louise and John! It’s so great to spend some time with you today! John, the last time I saw you was a few months ago when I thought Louise was hosting book club and I showed up at your house. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction then – and thank you both for your thoughts today!! 

How are you doing? Scale of 1 to 10.

Louise: about a 7

John: 8

How are you doing? Short answer…

Louise: We are in graduation limbo with our oldest daughter, a senior in college, and our youngest son, a senior in high school. I feel sad for the Classes of 2020 and the loss of their well-deserved milestone celebrations. However, the larger community rightly deserves our attention for more serious concerns.

John: Well, I have to admit that every once in awhile I do get nervous about what the future holds, not only for us but especially for our children, their schools and jobs. Overall, I am very optimistic that while life will be a little different, it will get back to a new normal.

I guess there is not a right or wrong answer to any of these questions but Louise seems nervous that we may not be witty enough for this interview. (Bacon: I’m not worried.)

Before Corona

After

Have you gotten used to Life in the Time of Corona? What’s the best thing about it? The hardest?

Louise: More recently, I am accepting the limits of this pandemic pause and trying to finish a few of the ambitious projects that started when Stay at Home was announced. I am creating a photo scrapbook and video for my mother, who turns 90 in October.

The collection of loose film prints, old photos glued (!) to photo albums, faded newspaper clippings, and i-cloud storage of 20,000 images is daunting. I am happy to be without excuses to finish this gift for my mother. However, this project is solitary work – I miss seeing friends, and of course, Book Club!

John: The best thing now is having most of the family around every day, it has been really nice. We have meals together and truly enjoy lots of down time with puzzles, reading, and going to the park.

The worst part is just feeling bad for all three of our kids who are finishing up school – two senior years, and our middle daughter, as a sophomore in college, who had an active Spring with dance performances. However, the larger reality still looms as many are impacted by health and job issues.

How does it affect your work?

Louise: My new word for work is pivot. Working with two beloved not-for-profits that rely on annual fundraising events for the majority of their budget means: task force to do list. Focusing on local government means: opportunity for creative response.

The Friends of Warner Parks is helping to keep parks safe so that the magnificent 3,200 acres of Percy Warner and Edwin Warner parks remain open and citizens can enjoy the hills, meadows, streams, and hiking trails. At the same time we are fine tuning our marketing for future events which are the foundation for the organization – Full Moon Pickin Parties and Sunday in the Park will return but possibly in a different format. Fundraising for the historic Allee and woodlands restoration is ongoing and still on track with completion in mid-summer.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society hosts several campaigns throughout the year and many of these have turned virtual… we are redefining what it means to connect. Blood cancer patients are receiving additional support -financial, physical and emotional – during chemo and radiation. Can you imagine being a teenager and having compromised immunity in the Time of Corona? These kids were not attending their graduations even before Covid -19, but now many must go to chemo alone and are experiencing greater anxiety than ever. I think about this a great deal.

In the neighborhood, my work as Belle Meade Commissioner is a welcome reminder that local government can be nimble. Under the leadership of the Mayor and the Chief of Police, the City of Belle Meade has re-energized the Neighborhood Watch Program. Block Captains have identified residents who are elderly, living alone, or vulnerable and who may need special assistance during Covid 19. Termed Operation Blue Light, residents register with the City and the Police will deliver essential items, prescription medications or meals as well as provide transportation.

John: I have been working out of a home office for 20 years, splitting my time between Savannah, Tennessee and New Orleans, then Nashville. The set up and pace of WFH is not new to me but that acronym is absolutely new.

View from John’s home office

Typically, I alternate work in Nashville for one week and then to Savannah, TN, where the manufacturing plant is located, the following week. Currently, I am not traveling to the manufacturing plant every other week or seeing any customers. I am relying heavily on the management team to hold things together but I am confident in their ability.

From a business perspective, we are going through very challenging times as a large part of our product is sold to restaurants. Much of my time is spent trying to manage a smaller volume of revenue while keeping the employees working and paid. The larger issue is the long term implications of Covid 19 and to understand how the food business will change in the future. We must prepare for a different environment in shopping and anticipate that home delivery, take out, and pick up will be a larger part of the dining out experience. I am evaluating ways that our product can sustain these changes.

Who is living at home with you now? How is that working out?

Louise: Well, John is living at home with us full time, so that is a welcome change, truly!

John: We have two of our three children living at home now: Augusta (just turned 20!), a sophomore at Pitzer College and Malcolm (18), a senior at Ensworth High School. While both children would prefer to be on their normal paths, I know that Malcolm is relieved to have another sibling at home during #stayathome. He was enjoying a highly social and independent senior year before the Covid 19 crisis. Our oldest daughter, Camille, is a senior at Loyola Marymount University and is staying in Los Angeles to finish out her college experience through May.

How is your extended family doing?

Louise: My mother has moved from New Orleans to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, our childhood summer house – don’t picture Rosemary Beach – it’s on the Bay and well removed from crowds. She enjoys many walks on the beach and recognizes how fortunate she is to have a happy place to be. My sisters drive from New Orleans to shop and visit.

John: For the most part, everyone is doing well. My brother’s family is sheltering in Mexico on the beach, my mother is going about her routine in the garden, largely unaffected, but missing the grocery store, my other sister and brother-in-law have successfully set up WFH operations.

What’s keeping you sane in the Time of Corona?

Louise: In the beginning I was aiming for sanity through routine. More recently, I am accepting the down time by deleting my calendar of senior year and graduation events and enjoying greater flexibility with a Corona calendar. As a family, we are enjoying the longer spring days and are eating dinner later in the evening – in my mind we are living in Europe. We linger at the dinner table and the conversations with our children are joyful. John is the constant gardener and I am experimenting with a new salad garden. Getting outside is always a priority.

John: Staying really busy, focusing on how to run a small business in a different environment and continuing to work on my hobbies. I go to the park almost every day.

What are you reading/watching/listening to?

John: Other than my two newspapers a day, pretty much art and antique books. I love to read auction catalogues. This weekend I had planned to attend a tour of houses and decorative arts collections in the Philadelphia area with a group of like minded men – collectors and curators. This is a book of my friend Richard Dietrich’s family collection and one book I have enjoyed immensely. I learned a great deal about colonial American art and artifacts.

Ready for a surprise: I am actually overseeing the editing of a few books which are primarily about scholarship and collecting antiques. I am spending most of my time on a book titled Marking Time, which is about a collection of British antiques that each include a date – the date tells a story about the object, primarily life transitions: birth, marriage, death.

One of my favorite objects is a series of Delftware Merryman plates (1742), inscribed as follows and appropriate advice for everything we are going through now…

What is a Merry Man
Let Him do What He can
To Entertain his Guests
With Wine and Merry Jest
But If His Wife Doth Frown
All Merriment Goes Down

We watch movies that the kids pick out or catch the end of one of Louise’s series. She is very adamant about not watching commercials and has learned how to use the Xbox remote to find Prime Video and Hulu on the big screen.

Louise: The children pick out the movies – even then, it takes a long time to agree on one. Life with an 18 and 20-year-old looks like this: “Frozen,” “Shawshank Redemption”, and “My Best Friend’s Wedding”.

I decided to let John start a new series with me – “Deadwater Fell” – because I am a huge fan of David Tennant.

However, the opening episode was terrifying and I may have lost John until the final episode. John is optimistic and he does not value dark drama. I would never invite him to watch “Ozark”.

But let me get this straight: John is discussing books and I am discussing TV? It is true that my focus is off and I have too many unfinished projects, so books are challenging. When I realized the Audible app was still on my phone I decided to try a few books on tape. Daisy Jones and the Six is a must! Read by a cast including Jennifer Beals and Benjamin Bratt, the story is based on Stevie Nicks and Fleetwod Mac in the wild days of 1970s rock and roll.

Conversations with Kennedy by Benjamin Bradlee is fascinating to understand what happens when your good friend becomes President and you are a career journalist.

Dear Edward is based on a true story of the 2010 Africa Air Flight crash which resulted in the death of 105 passengers and crew with one surviving 9 year old boy. What does a child really need? How can a child recover from tragedy?

My new podcast is “A Second Opinion” with Senator Bill Frist, M.D. Amidst the noise of a 24 hour news cycle and the circus of White House Covid 19 briefings, the podcast offers an intersection of medicine, policy and innovation (SCIENCE!). I also follow Lisa Damour who is interviewed often and writes the a column on Adolescence for the NYT.

What have you learned about yourself in the Time of Corona? Do you think that you have been changed by this experience?

Louise: I have learned that empathy must be foreground and that I must be ready to adapt at any age or stage.

John: I have always felt like I need to get outside and I feel fortunate we can still do that.

What have you learned about our community, our city?

Louise: The neighborhoods are vibrant! Families are walking together, siblings are riding bikes and figuring out their gears for the first time, kids are creating chalk art in driveways and runners are waving. Residents are sharing a universal experience and enjoying the slower pace of the evening.

John: In general I often disagree with politics in Tennessee but I really think both Nashville and the state have managed their communication and direction pretty well. As difficult as it has been, I feel confident in the message both those groups have provided.

What’s your advice to friends who are feeling listless or anxious or down?

Louise: Get outside every day.

John: If listless or anxious: get outside. If down: future is as bright as you make it.

“Pear tree espalier – John’s patient 3 year project” (Louise)

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