Aspic and Audacity

by Aug 20, 2017

In 1977, my father purchased, at auction, a two-story office building in the midtown area of Nashville. One entrance faced Broadway and the other, Division Street. It had been built as a residence, but through the years and several additions, had become a commercial space. Until the auction, it had housed the Nashville Blood Bank. Eventually, the Broadway side became my dad’s offices for his insurance agency and financial planning business. I converted the upstairs back to residential and moved in – but one half of the first floor, facing Division Street, remained empty.

A woman contacted my dad regarding the vacant space on the Division Street side of the building. She had an idea for a bookstore and curious to know if he had any interest in leasing a portion of the space. She stopped by and spoke with me about the theme of her store and presented it as focused on religion and Christian beliefs. I told her that my mother would be interested in that, which led her to invite both of us for lunch at her home.

ron-york-blog-aspicThe home was not large, but sat on Jackson Boulevard, a prime Belle Meade Proper street. We arrived and were led into the drawing room. When lunch was ready, we moved into the formal dining room where her maid, in full uniform, served cucumber sandwiches, with the crust cut off and tomato aspic. That was my first, and hopefully, last encounter with the gelatin salad.

Our hostess began to explain her thoughts on religion, that had very little to do with Christianity, and I could sense my mother doing her best to restrain her opinion. It was not the most productive of meetings but still, my dad agreed to finish off the space and rent it to her. We had already given an unused office, in the back half of the building, to a friend, that was a professor, writer and basically, artistic type. Our future tenant would turn up her nose and say “artist” as if she smelled manure. The relationship was already beginning to sour when she requested a separate bath be added so that she did not have to share with the “artist.” My dad, did go along with that, more for the sake of our friend, than the arrogant, soon to be, new tenant.

Her next request began her demise. The overly wide exterior door, opened into the space, instead of opening out, as codes would require in new construction. Because of the age of the building, the door was grandfathered in and did not have to be changed. She did not like that answer and went directly to codes. When she realized she was not going to win, she wrote my dad a letter and called him every unsavory name she could think of, and accused him of having “illegal” business practices. My dad simply called her husband, who happened to be an attorney. He told him that someone had sent him a letter and after reading it to him, asked if he would have a good case for defamation of character. The attorney said most definitely and appeared chomping at the bit to go after the writer of this letter. My dad then told him that it was his wife that had sent the letter. To which, the attorney/husband asked: “How much would it take to get out of the lease?”

The Belle Meade matron opened her bookstore elsewhere and we never had to deal with her, or her tomato aspic, again.

J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.

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