The floodwaters that devastated Middle Tennessee in early May left their mark in more ways than one. The physical destruction was sudden and overwhelming: Lives were lost, and many homes and businesses were in ruins once the muddy water subsided. The psychological impact, however, didn’t recede quite so easily. For weeks afterward the unseen effects of the disaster—the shock, worry and fatigue—continued seeping into the lives of everyone in this area.
Fortunately my family and I were spared during the flood, but I’m still haunted by pictures from those days. One in particular that has stayed with me is that of the Grand Ole Opry stage door half-submerged in murky water. The photo, which appeared in various media outlets, is what you’d expect from a snapshot taken in difficult conditions; the lighting is poor, the image a little shaky. Yet it resonates with me nonetheless because of a personal connection I feel toward it.
During the late ’70s and early ’80s, I had the privilege of spending many hours backstage at the Opry House just steps from that very door. At the time my father sold advertising for WSM, the AM radio station that broadcasts the show, and I’d often tag along when he entertained clients. Some of my earliest memories are of standing offstage watching Roy Acuff and other stars of that era perform.
These memories are what first came to mind when I saw the photo of the door. My heart sank as I thought of all the history washed away and of the monumental rebuilding task that lay ahead—a task incidentally that David Kloeppel, BS’91, MBA’96, President and Chief Operating Officer at Gaylord Entertainment, writes about here. Gaylord has worked doggedly to restore the Opry House to its former glory, and remarkably it is now open for business once again.
While I never really doubted that the Opry would someday return, I did wonder if it, and Nashville for that matter, would ever be the same. Now that time has afforded some perspective, I realize how shortsighted that was of me. The question wasn’t so much if but rather how our community would change, and I’m happy to say that in many ways it has been for the better. A page of history may have been lost in the flood, but in its place a new one is being written—one that reflects our compassion and resolve.
There’s no better symbol of this than the stage door itself. In salvaging the door, Gaylord decided to preserve the mark left by the flood and display it for all to see. Aside from being a historic curiosity, I’d like to think that the mark serves another purpose altogether—to signal a high point of sorts. It commemorates not the depths to which we Nashvillians sank as a community but rather the heights to which we rose, buoyed by neighborly love, perseverance and the promise of new beginnings.