I’ve written before about uniquely urban gatherings – small or large celebrations that just wouldn’t happen outside an urban setting – such as a farewell to a pear tree a couple of years ago. I also told you about Patty Smith or “P” as her friends call her: a downtown icon I somehow had to live downtown for nearly five years to meet. When I stumbled upon her and fell under her charms, she informed me that she was behind one of those urban gatherings I’d always heard about: the Blessing of the Pansies.
The Blessing of the Pansies pre-dates most downtown citizen’s tenure in the city. This was the fifteenth annual ceremony and it’s hard to find any event with that long a history downtown, though there are a few. It seems whimsical and something likely to die out after a first semi-drunken night, sparked maybe as a lark. Not so, it turns out.
Stephen Dupree, a local bon vivant, has presided over the event, giving the official blessing. Known around town by his last name, I first met him, as did many others, as the door-man outside Ella Guru’s. You can find him now at Suttree’s or at any number of downtown events. His booming voice and larger-than-life presence, unfortunately, were missed this year due to his illness.
The crowd gathered in P’s apartment overlooking the 100 block of South Gay. Circles downtown are so overlapping that it’s hard not to know people at various gatherings and such was the case for me at this one. Neighbors, acquaintances from the blog, people I’ve met in restaurants, at other parties all mingled quietly while awaiting the blessing.
One contingency that’s always in place is that if the gathering occurs after the pansies in P’s window box die, it transforms to a wake as opposed to a blessing, as a blessing would appear to be too little, too late. I attempted to photograph P’s window box, but through the window in the dark, it was difficult to determine their state of health, so I chose to use photographs of some of our pansies along the downtown streets for this article. They’ve really been beautiful this fall.
A second contingency came in to play with the Dupree situation. Jack O’ Hanlon, who with his wife Marlene, own a very cool semi-hidden downtown home, was asked to do the honors and he spent hours in preparation finding just the right words – or at least must have had something race through his brain the few seconds between being asked to do the blessing and beginning his oration.
And what exactly comprises a Blessing of the Pansies? I didn’t take notes, but I remember a reference to “deities represented here, both spiritual and secular.” It was sometime around the words “beseech thee,” that the giggles erupted into laughter. P said a few words, glasses were raised and all were encouraged to to enjoy the specialty cocktails conjured and re-named just for the event as well as the crock-pots full of petros. Food, drink, music and merriment ensued and a quiet, good time was had by all.
Later, I asked P just how such an unusual event got started back in the year 2000. She said, “The supreme court was trying to decide who would be President and I was just over the whole thing . . . I thought surely there was joy somewhere and I had just planted the pansies. So I put out the word that there would be a blessing. Steve Dupree has done all of the blessings except for this year.”
So, there you have it: a fine urban tradition started in downtown Knoxville. A woman just wanting a little joy in the midst of a political mess. While the rest of the country got a Bush, P and downtown got Pansies. I think we came out pretty good on that deal. The next time you are on the 100 block – shopping today or tomorrow, hopefully – look up to the second stories of the buildings on the eastern side of the block. When you see the window box with the pansies allow yourself to feel a little downtown joy, thanks to P and the Supreme Court of the United States of America.