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VOL. 39 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 10, 2015

Big leap from Hollywood hustle to Nolensville ‘Barn’

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The step-grandmother of Clark Gable’s granddaughter leans back in her chair inside the Mennonite furniture store and holds up a foot.

“Look. I’m wearing orange socks. I must be eccentric,” says Linda Roberts as a gray, misty day chases me from Nolensville Road into the worn building tucked against Mill Creek.

“I just call this ‘The Barn,’” Linda says of the furniture store building that served as the hay barn when The Feed Mill next door was a destination for farmers in a large swath of Williamson County.

The main mill building, just feet away from the barn is subtitled “An Amish Country Market” on signage. Jams jellies, relish and the like are peddled there, as is Amish produce when in season. That’s not to mention the baked goods, deli meats and cheeses and other delights made by the Amish in several states.

The compound itself – the old-fashioned country grocery and the former hay barn – are among the properties owned by Linda’s son, Darin Scheff, 52, who bought this country paradise fresh off the plane from LAX to BNA after he and wife, Cindy, decided “L.A. was no place to raise our kids.”

Darin, who also writes songs – including one for a little band his brother Jason Scheff fronts: Chicago – owns homes and condos in the Nashville area after cashing in his Los Angeles holdings and building a new life in Middle Tennessee.

“I was sitting around and had invested in real estate in California. Around 2004, things were peaking out there, and I got the feeling things were going to crash,” Darin explains.

“All I needed was to find a spot. I had a friend who lived in Antioch who suggested I visit this area. My chin just hit the ground, like most people’s does, when I first saw this.

“I was driving around these hills, and I was mesmerized by the country. I was looking at all these beautiful cows. I grew up in Hollywood and San Diego, near the beach, and I knew this was the place to bring my family.”

That was 2004. His mother followed a year or so later. He says it was because she wanted to be near his three kids. She jokes that after her history of eight marriages and divorces, her son just wanted her nearby “so he could keep an eye on his mother.”

Darin is off minding some of his ventures on the day of this visit. But his self-labeled “eccentric” 78-year-old mother welcomes me into The Barn, where she spends her days selling the furniture Mennonites bring in from Missouri and by looking out the windows at the rest of the antique paradise that is Historic Nolensville.

After eight marriages and a career as a Hollywood agent, Linda Roberts has found a slower pace in Nolensville.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

I had driven my 30-year-old Saab down Nolensville Road and into this downtown because I hadn’t been in awhile. My search for column topics generally takes me to worn parts of my beloved Nashville. But on this day I decided to see how old Nolensville was weathering the storm and the swarm of residential development.

There is plenty of middle class housing in dandy little subdivisions with pastoral names. Monster machinery also scrapes other plots north and south of the historic downtown to make way for more homes for folks fleeing Nashville housing prices and big-city crime.

The giant machines of destruction and construction are silent on this moist day, but a dirt trail has been carved through one piece of property where a sign reads future homes “will start in the 500s.”

Stories about Nashville’s sprawl, the widening girth of our “It” city and the thought process that inspires portable floodwalls and multi-million-dollar baseball stadiums without sufficient parking can be found everywhere you look. There are countless more tales to tell.

On this day, I traveled away from Nashville to Nolensville Road’s namesake city, because I figured I’d hang out at the feed mill and seek opinions from locals, from antique shoppers and from big city music and insurance executives – the folks filling the subdivisions of the bedroom community – and chat about change. Hell, I might even chew on a piece of straw and whistle “The Andy Griffith Show” theme song while walking the mostly deserted streets.

I didn’t know I’d end up in The Barn with Linda for the afternoon until I clambered up the steps into the Amish grocery in The Feed Mill building and asked if anyone had time to talk about the area’s evolution. I was told “you need to talk to Linda Roberts,” and was led to The Barn next-door, where Linda was enjoying a quiet day.

“On a sunny day, this place is swarmed,” she says. “But in Nashville, if it’s gray outside, no one goes out and looks at things or buys anything.” Being from L.A., most gray days she’d experienced before moving here were caused by choking smog. After all, as they say, it never rains in California.

On busy days she often stands at the counter, with the display case that includes an autographed picture of a juggling Steve Martin, and meets with people about their furniture desires, much of it made-to-order.

Linda Roberts during the days she represented Troy Donahue, Andrew Dice Clay and others.

“I stand here and draw the furniture up for them, so we can get an estimate from the Mennonites,” she says. “Or they can look through the catalogue and order something.”

She looks over her shoulder, through a window into the back of The Barn, where a few Mennonite pieces await owners.

“It’s sturdy furniture,” says Linda, who has to think before admitting she doesn’t have any of it in her own home, within walking distance of her workplace.

Not much walking is ever done in her old haunts beneath the Hollywood sign where she spent a good chunk of her life (when she wasn’t marrying or divorcing musicians, lawmen, whatever the spousal flavor of the day) and living in places like North Hollywood and, yes, Beverly Hills. Swimming pools. Movie stars.

She had worked as a casting director for CBS and USA networks for a while and also as a talent agent.

“I managed five actors who were on series,” she says. Among her stars were Troy Donahue (1950s heartthrob in such films as “Live Fast, Die Young” and “A Summer Place,”) who she got on shows including “Fantasy Island” and “CHiPS”). Other clients included Arsenio Hall (when he still was learning how to bark), Andrew Dice Clay and Poison. It was a good living if not necessarily a good life.

“I made a lot of money, but I never learned how not to spend it all,” Linda says, tossing a shrug and a smile.

There aren’t many places to spend it – even if she had it – in Nolensville, where she finds life as a single woman, mother and grandmother satisfying.

“Darin comes in here every morning to check and see how I’m doing and then he goes off to take care of other business,” whether running the cash register in his Amish grocery or working on his rental properties all over Greater Nashville.

She shifts gears to talk about “my son, Jason, who is lead singer and bass guitar player for Chicago,” who also followed his brother to the area, dividing his time between residences in Utah and Brentwood.

“Another member of Chicago, (lead guitarist) Keith Howland, also lives out here in Nolensville. They are playing 200 nights a year. I asked Jase where he was the other day, and he said he wouldn’t know until they told passengers on the plane what city they were landing in.”

The Barn where Linda Roberts works and enjoys life in Middle Tennessee is part of the Hulaco General Store properties owned by Linda’s son, Darin Scheff, 52, who moved to Nolensville in 2004.

-- Tim Ghianni | The Ledger

A picture of Elvis hangs above Linda’s head as she talks about the Scheff boys’ pop, Jerry. “He was Elvis’ bass player. The boys went all over with him on tour with Elvis. One time Jason said he had to get on the stage (because) women were throwing bras and panties and room keys up at Elvis.

“I told him he would be a big star someday, too.” Now he’s been with Chicago 30 years (he took over for Peter Cetera) “and he has a huge following.”

[The boys’ father, by the way, toured with Elvis’ TCB Band right until the end. He also toured with Dylan and Elvis Costello. Perhaps his best-known bass notes drive The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” a classic from Jim Morrison’s masterful “L.A. Woman” LP swansong.]

She has two other sons who live in her hometown of San Diego. Todd McCracken, a tax assessor for that city, and Lauren Scheff, also a bass player.

She laughs for a moment when asked about her many marriages … she simply calls them ‘’No. 1, No. 2, No. 3,” etc.

“That’s so I can keep them straight.” For example, Jerry Scheff is “No. 2” on her roster.

“I have to admit I’m a lousy wife,” says this woman who still nurtures her Hollywood dreams and chases celebrity from the front room of a rural Mennonite furniture store.

“I’ve got a book coming out: ‘You Can’t Marry Them All, But I Tried, and other Hollywood Stories.’”

Her husbands included a sheriff in Orange County, the Republican enclave south of Los Angeles, as well as artist Bruce McCracken. “He was a protégé of Raymond Burr, who really loved art. He was either bisexual or gay, I think gay. But he never tried anything with Bruce.”

“I saw Mel Brooks at the Ralph’s (the popular grocery) in Malibu and told him ‘I have a new boyfriend,’” she says, with a laugh. “He said ‘does he drive yet?’ Most of my husbands have been younger than me.”

Linda won’t be marrying again, “because I don’t think I could put up with somebody my age. Besides that, most people my age are in a walker.”

She admits to personal contentment in Nolensville. No, she’s not likely to bump into a gay Perry Mason or a “Blazing Saddles” comic genius at the Amish grocery.

“I like it here. I’ve gotten to know people here. When I go to the post office, I get greeted by the postmaster himself. He says, ‘Miss Roberts, how are you today?’”

A columnist for the local “Nolensville Dispatch” – who has written about such things as the most-reasonably priced cremations in the Nashville area – she sometimes hankers for a return to the fast lane, but satisfies that urge by going back for a high school reunion or some such. “This is going to be our last reunion this year. Our 60th.

“My son (Todd) in San Diego says I talk slower now that I live here. And I know I don’t walk as fast as I used to. I take life easier here. And people are more friendly.

“I also like living in a community that is blossoming. There were 3,400 when I moved here and there are 7,800 now.”

She’s comfortable enough here to wear orange socks while talking about Gable’s granddaughter, Kayley, the daughter of Clark’s son, John Clark Gable, and his ex-wife Tracy Gable Scheff, who now is married to Chicago’s bass-playing singer.

“Kayley named me Gramma Goo,” she says. “Now all 10 of my grandchildren call me that.”

And, oh yeah, she also plans to go to law school after finishing undergrad studies at MTSU. “Every family needs a lawyer.”

The former L.A. woman looks out the window into Historic Nolensville. “This is my hometown now …. My pharmacist is here.”

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