All the talk about the "new" Sounds stadium at different locations sent me mentally trekking back to a day spent in the old neighborhood beneath the Greer Stadium scoreboard. It is a neighborhood that should be revitalized, but Metro powers-that-be look instead always at downtown and the riverfront for their showpieces. Anyway, here's the chronicle of an afternoon spent with one of the now-vacant neighborhood residents when I was writing for the Tennessean, Nashville's morning daily.
Monica Bender's dad was only 32 when he collapsed and died while jogging. His daughter, on this day shooting hoops on a South Nashville hard court, is that exact age.
Her mom also died way too young. Breast cancer claimed her four years ago, at age 57.
The young woman's 85-year-old grandmother has diabetes and needs considerable attention. Grandma also worries that heavy winds will blow Greer Stadium's guitar-shaped scoreboard onto the family home, almost directly below it on Chestnut Street.
"She also is afraid the fireworks noise will hurt the house," says Monica, who lives with grandma Ellen Taylor and tends to her medications.
Heavy load? Perhaps. But Monica is happy.
"I don't have time to be sad." She stops dribbling her well-worn basketball.
"You can hardly read what it says." Monica rolls the ball forward in her hands to expose the almost invisible Rawlings logo. "It's so smooth now, sometimes it's hard to control."
I had been driving through the Greer Stadium neighborhood when I spotted her. It was midday, and here was a grown woman attempting a jump shot from the top of what would approximate the key, if there was such a marking on the asphalt parking lot. As the shot echoed off the rim, she snagged the rebound and delivered a tidy layup. It was time to park my car.
"Basketball's my hobby," Monica explains after I interrupt her solitary game outside the old SNAP Neighborhood Center at Martin and Humphreys.
"I like to come out here for an hour or so when I'm not working." Seldom are games - or even other people - involved.
"I just like to shoot," she says. "Do my own strategy."
This is Monica's serene oasis. Warehouses, office buildings, the Sounds ballpark and her grandmother's home pretty much fill her horizons.
"I like the scenery," she says, running her right hand over the almost cue-ball-smooth basketball's skin.
Monica grew up in Mt. Juliet, but her heart forever has been tied to the house behind the scoreboard.
"My mother was raised right down there," she says, looking toward the white house beneath the giant guitar. "It always was home. We came here every weekend when I was growing up. Never missed a weekend."
Monica physically moved here just three years ago. Her mother had died, and her grandmother's health woes became a concern for the whole family.
"Somebody needed to take care of her, make sure she got her shots," Monica says.
She has two brothers and three sisters, but she volunteered for this role.
"I've never been married. Got no children, not that there's anything wrong with being married and having children. I just never thought about it. I just have been busy being my own self."
Monica never thought twice about moving here to help her grandmother.
"It was home anyway. It's been rough sometimes, but, hey, Jesus is going to help me out. That's my source. I do what he says to do."
Besides that, she enjoys living with her grandmother. She can't say the same for Blackie, the poodle.
"Old, black poodle. Little dog. Little ornery, too," she says, the sunshine catching her bright smile. "Blackie's my grandmother's dog. If it was up to me, I'd do fine without him. But it's her entertainment."
Tending to medical needs of her dying mother, and now her feisty grandmother has sparked her to change her career focus.
A Donelson Kroger cashier by day, she's taking night classes to become a medical assistant. "I want to help people," she says.
Regardless of her career path, her nights will be spent on Chestnut Street.
"I'm staying here with my grandmother until God calls her home. That's the plan.
"Taking care of your family is just what you do."
The 5-foot-5 woman fingers the basketball logo again. "I made the high school team, but since I just had one parent, I couldn't get to practice.
"I love all sports, except golf. I don't understand it. And car racing. Who wants to watch cars go around and around all day? But I like the rest of them. Hockey's pretty good, got those fights."
And baseball? After all, her life's home is beneath the Greer Stadium outfield wall.
"I like it. I like the lights and the fireworks. I guess I've only been to two games in my life. We just sit on the porch and look at the people going in, and we listen."
Her preference is obvious as she dribbles the ball twice, stops and sends it toward the hoop.
"God's given me life," she says. "You should be sad when you don't have it."