Category: Family

Journey to Freedom

By Serretta Malaikham

Manichanh Sonexayarath feeds her husband Khampoon Sonexayarath. Manichanh became her husband’s sole caretaker after he suffered a stroke years prior. (Photo by Serretta Malaikham)

During the Cold War, my parents Manichanh and Khampoon Sonexayarath had chosen to flee their home in Laos, a country that was being treated as collateral damage. The country was neutral until it became a battleground between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, Laos remains the most heavily bombed nation in history, with more bombs dropped there during the Cold War than all of World War II combined. 


Laos is a small landlocked country that is bordered by China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, with the Mekong River flowing on the Western side. The larger countries that sought after Laos found interest in taking control due to the valuable trade route through Southeast Asia that the river provided. By 1975, about a tenth of the country’s population was dead, which equates to 200,000 people. Miraculously, my parents were amongst the few who managed to escape, leaving behind their friends, family, and the life they were beginning to build together. 

“I thought I was going to die,” said my mother, Manichanh Sonexayarath. “I didn’t think I was going to become a person. They were killing everyone from left to right.” 

Khampoon Sonexarath, 19, after graduating from the Royal Lao Airforce academy around 1975 as an airplane mechanic. (Courtesy of the Royal Lao Airforce)

Their journey began in the south of Laos, starting in a city called Pakxè. My father moved to the city after graduating from the Royal Lao Airforce academy as an airplane mechanic. There he met my mother and they got married after a few months of knowing each other. Shortly after, foreign invaders began to infiltrate the country, prompting their escape. 

They headed north towards Savannakhet through the countryside, traveling only at night to lower the risk of being seen. If the invaders were to catch them fleeing the country, they would be shot on sight.

The two traveled by either car or on foot, hiding in several different safe houses along the way until they got to Savannakhet. Once there, my parents met with a man who helped refugees get to Thailand on the other side of the Mekong River on his houseboat. 

Khampoon Sonexayarath, 64, sits in his home. Sonexayarath suffered from a stroke years prior which caused kidney damage. (Photo by Serretta Malaikham)

“I was crying and shaking so hard because the current was so bad,” said Manichanh Sonexayarath. “The water rose up and flowed so hard which caused tree branches to stick out from everywhere. I thought our boat was going to flood and sink.”

Fortunately they made it to the other side of the river where they were greeted by landscape workers, who gave them shelter for the night before taking them to the Thai Embassy. American soldiers were stationed at the embassy to help relocate refugees to the country of their choice. My parents were both infatuated with the idea of the “American Dream” and decided that was where they would go. 

They were sent to a refugee camp in Nashville, Tennessee where they were given housing and whatever support they needed in order to start their new lives. My parents spent about 10 years in refugee housing before they were able to save enough money to buy their own home. 

They are fearful of returning to Laos due to the possibility of my father being arrested for treason since he was a former soldier who chose to flee for the safety of his family. 

Khampoon Sonexayarath, Serretta Malaikham, and Manichanh Sonexayarath inside of the Wat Lao Buddharam temple located in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Courtesy of Tommy Sonexayarath)

When asked, they both said they are extremely thankful to be in the United States. “Of course I think about Laos but I can’t go home,” said Manichanh Sonexayarath. “Now they are Communists. Everybody. I love it here in America so much.” `


Serretta Malaikham is a Senior Communications major at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is passionate about photography and has worked as Assistant Photo Editor of the University Echo. She has a love of photography for its ability to capture life in its raw and pure essence, which is why she aspires to become a photojournalist after graduation. You can reach her at Serretta0930@yahoo.com.

Mama’s Llamas

Written by Madison Van Horn

Maryann Marsh, owner of TMMA Farms located in Trion, Georgia enjoys a moment with her llama, Shaggy. September 14, 2021. (Photo by Maggie Weaver)

What do 75 abandoned chihuahuas and a blind alpaca have in common? They have each been rescued and cared for by Maryann Marsh, owner of TMMA Farms and Sanctuary.

Continue reading “Mama’s Llamas”

Legacy of Grief

Written by Mark Drinkard

Video by Mark Drinkard

Boxes of medical equipment fill Mandy McAllister’s small, quaintly decorated home in Brainerd. There was no preparation for her mother’s diagnosis of metastatic cancer or for her eventual stay in hospice care. 

As the machines, slings, and medicine become more necessary the answers become all the more grim. Ushering a loved one through their final days is a task no one is truly ready for, but through family and communication, the McAllister’s stayed together.

“In a matter of two or three days, she went from being pretty healthy—going to garden club, going to church, hanging out with family—to having conversations about going into hospice care,” says Mandy McAllister.

McAllister, an administrative specialist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was the primary caretaker for her mother, Susan Reggin, while in hospice care. She was flooded with guilt, grief, and unfamiliar medical responsibilities all at the same time, so she greatly appreciated the support and validation of her family.

Her son, Jacob Paige, speaks on the family’s close connection that only grew stronger through these hardships. 

“We communicated as frequently and as in-depth as normal,” says Jacob. “Knowing that it doesn’t matter what’s going to happen, and it doesn’t matter if the cancer is going to get better or worse, we’re still the same people. If she’s got eight months to live or two weeks to live, we are still on the same level all the way through, and that just creates a smooth transition.”

Mandy McAllister listens to the audio story about her mother and reflects on the wonderful times they shared. Photo by Mark Drinkard.

Although death is never an easy confrontation, the McAllisters have felt eternally grateful for their limited, but cherished time with Susan. Mandy’s mother and family were forced to face mortality in a slowed and intimate state.

“This could be the last time I really hug her. Is this going to be the last time she remembers who we are? Is this the last birthday? Is this the last ‘X’—whatever it is,” Mandy said. 

Susan Reggin served as a clergywoman for over 30 years. Her philosopher’s brain and her dedication to others was passed down to her family. 

“I adored my mom, so everything about me that’s good, I would attribute to my mom,”  says Mandy, “I think she gave me tools and a model for how to work with other people. We all carry her around in our hearts.”

Mandy reminisced on those quiet moments, sitting at her mother’s bedside reading old poems and laughing through fading memories. 

She smiled thinking about her niece and mother playing with stuffed animals, forgetting about the future. It’s those moments that stay with family till the end. It’s the seconds of quiet, vital peace in the midst of the storm, that they look back on and wish to relive.

Mark Drinkard and Mandy McAllister discuss her mother’s life and final months in hospice care.

Meet The Storyteller

Mark Drinkard has 3 years of experience in student media. From those experiences, he has gained skills as a videographer and video editor. He has used his knowledge of creative tools such as Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, and Audition to make and produce videos and audio projects. He is also adept in his knowledge of lighting, audio recording, and audio editing. Mark Drinkard currently lives in Chattanooga TN as he attends college. Photography is a passion of his and the rural landscapes offer a great backdrop to find and make photos. His goal is to provide a voice to everyone and use his skills to tell the stories of the voiceless. For questions, collaboration or to hire Mark Drinakard, contact him at markdrinkard2@gmail or (865)407-3317

Heroes of Oddstory

Story by Kelley Kindle

Bryan Boyd, owner of Oddstory Brewing Company, stands in what has become his creation. Boyd and his son, Jay Boyd, created Oddstory as a brewery meant to be a place of comfort. (Photo by Kelley Kindle)

On the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Foster St. is a brewery that feels like a home-away-from-home to many Chattanooga locals. Oddstory Brewing Company opened its door to the city of Chattanooga after a son sparked up an idea to his father while drinking a beer.

Photo by Kelley Kindle.

Jay Boyd, co-owner of Oddstory, graduated from Covenant college and was determined on opening up a brewery.  He then went on to work for four different breweries, and also went to a brewing school up in Vermont.  After three years, his father Bryan Boyd, owner of Oddstory, felt like they were in a good place to open Oddstory Brewing Company.

“We started with six taps when we opened, and we now have 18 taps,” says Bryan. Oddstory is growing more and more with their variety of beers as the years progress. 

Along with having an array of different brews, Bryan mentions that they intentionally made the brewery an environment for people to feel comfortable in. “We wanted to create an atmosphere where people talk,” says Bryan. “We kind of always felt like beer and talking went together, opposed to beer and isolation.”

In a place that encourages the comfort of having conversations with your friends and family, along with enjoying a beer that is unique, Oddstory has become a place that many have grown fond of. 

“What Oddstory means to me is the ability to create this environment where family—my actual family is real important—but also I think we created an environment where at least our employees, and some of our customers, they feel like family,” says Bryan.

Oddstory not only started with family but grew the family with the Chattanooga community.

An interview with Bryan Boyd, owner of Oddstory Brewing Company, and Kelley Kindle. (Audio by Kelley Kindle)
Photo by Kelley Kindle

A New Normal by Amanda Brooks

Journal Entry #4

Zach McNease, Anna Brooks Wilcox, and Spencer Brooks laugh while dyeing Easter eggs. Dyeing Easter eggs is a tradition that many families partake in. April 12, 2020. (Photo by Amanda Brooks)

April 20, 2020

“Mom, do you still have our Nintendo DS?” Looking for new forms of entertainment, my 24-year-old sister turned to the old ways we used to occupy our time before life started moving so fast.

Continue reading “A New Normal by Amanda Brooks”

A New Normal: A Quarantine Commentary

Two to fourteen days. That is all the virus is supposed to live for, but the inability to stop our fast pace capitalist society from going keeps the COVID-19 going. Small businesses hurting, stock market crashing, unemployment rate increasing, people social-distancing, colleges closing. Not just the nation, but the world is having to learn new ways to live their day to day lives. The digital age has taken a whole new level of meaning. Every person is affected by the coronavirus in different ways. Rising Rock, a group of students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga seek to tell their stories on how this pandemic shapes their experience, and what this extraordinary moment in history looks like from their perspectives. A New Normal: A Quarantine Commentary is a creative and documentative project by the students of Rising Rock. Step foot into the perspective of college students as they share what their world now looks like in this rapidly changing society because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Scroll to the bottom of this page to click on individual stories.
By clicking one of the names below, you’ll see a glimpse of how this global pandemic has now shaped each of our lives.

This week’s featured story:  A New Normal by Elian Richter

Waverly Hunter poses for a photo from her back yard in Hendersonville, Tenn. on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Photo by Elian Richter)
“As the days blur together and the heavy weight of isolation builds, it’s easy to dwell on the negative emotions brought out by the current situation: boredom, loneliness, depression. These emotions are certainly overwhelming at times but there’s also a brighter side to this too. … I’ve recently realized that the pandemic has also brought at least one positive outcome during this strange time; the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people in the world, my little sister Waverly.” To continue viewing more of this post, visit A New Normal by Elian Richter.
Produced By Rising Rock Media