One Last Hurrah

While walking yesterday morning, I listened to a podcast in which J.R. Havlan, a former writer for The Daily Show, shared some advice for storytellers. Whether writing comedy, a short story, a journal entry, or a blog about traveling, the writer would do well to take Havlan’s advice seriously.  If I hadn’t heard that podcast, I too might be wondering, “Why  am I writing about our Girls’ Trip to TN?”

Havlan says that a writer should always look beyond the facts. What’s important are the emotions and the feelings beneath the facts and not the facts themselves. ASK: What does this piece of writing mean? What does the story mean to you? What’s the reason you’re writing about it? Make it about something. Otherwise, why bring it up?

I’ve been writing a chronicle of our three days in the mountains that happened a couple of weeks ago but why? Do I have aspirations of becoming a travel writer? Not at all. Then why?

  • Time is fleeting and we need to just do it. It’s a big beautiful world out there and yet too often we stay securely in our own narrow little worlds.
  • Also, traveling is a huge memory-making thing. I’ve known my fellow travelers all of their lives, and now we have some extra special memories outside of our regular environment. When’s the last time you rode with someone on a chair lift up and down the side of a mountain, sang in a diner at 10:30 at night, or laughed so much that your stomach hurt?

Back to my story. Since this was our third and final day of our mountain Girls’ Trip, we wanted to make hay while the sun shone. Up early, we packed the car, checked out, and headed towards the downtown area.

After locating the sky lift, we parked the car, and my sis and I plunked down our $15 and headed up the side of the mountain oohing and ahing over the majestic beauty of it all. While we steadily rose up, up, up for a better view of the surrounding mountains, including Clingman’s Dome, our daughters explored some shops along the “Tourist Strip.”

By now everyone had done something on her bucket list except for my niece, and Katherine really wanted to visit the Apple Barn in Sevierville. I’m so glad we stopped there. There are a number of enticing shops where one could buy food, wine, and all manner of apple-related products. Lunch was nice, and although the meal itself was tasty, I have to admit that I most enjoyed the fruit julep and the soup.

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I can’t recount all of the fun things we did and saw, but here are a few:

  • We took turns taking pictures with fellow travelers. Cars careened off of the road onto the overlooks and people sprang out of the car for a quick look and photo op before heading off to continue their mountain adventure. Most of the time, they volunteered to take our picture if we would agree to reciprocate, but sometimes one of us approached them first. Our favorite group was a couple with a young child who stopped for the sole purpose of taking our picture. From about an hour away, they said they made the trip every month or two and gave us some tips for our next visit.
  • We survived the parking nightmare at Tanger, a shopping mecca so crowded that traffic cops were there to direct traffic, both automobile and pedestrian.
  • We found a Bible that had been left at a church in Cades Cove; the owner had written a special passage about his fervent desire to marry someone and his concern over whether she would say yes.
  • We tasted fried pickles, ate the most decadent chocolate brownies ever, and shared a huge banana split to honor my other daughter’s 39th birthday.
  • I watched an adorable Chinese child crumble her saltines in a small plate and eat them with a spoon.
  • I learned that my sister wants to change the spelling of her name to Ayan and that my niece has developed an interesting accent. According to her mom, Katherine now adds an “a” to the end of many of her words, and soon we were all doing it.

The story beneath these facts is that road trips are worth every dime and every minute of time that you spend. I know without a doubt that there are three other South Carolina gals who are still singing Mickey’s “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggidy dog” and remembering one last hurrah before heading back to school.

 

 

 

From Muffins to Banana Splits

 

On the second day of our mountain excursion, the girls and I ate a deliciously sweet and ridiculously fattening breakfast on the condo balcony. Huge muffins! Fortified with sugar and a good night’s sleep, we headed to Smoky Mountain National Park a few miles away.

Before watching an excellent educational 10-minute film, we spent some time in the gift shop and fell in love with the stuffed bears. We marveled at the variety of books, hats, shirts, magnets, and coffee mugs and somehow managed to restrain ourselves from buying a souvenir. While taking a picture of the girls posing with Smokey, I sensed that someone was watching me, and when I turned around, I saw a spry, smiling woman looking at me.

“You from around here?” she asked.

“No. South Carolina.”

“I’m from Ohio,” she said. “I’m here with my family.” And then, after appraising me and finding me a suitable recipient, she gave me an angel pin created from tiny pearls and safety pins.” I LOVED it!

“It takes me about six minutes to make one of these, and every day I find someone to give one to, someone who would understand that angels are looking over us.”

“Thank you so much. Am I pinning it on right?” I asked as I struggled with the pin.

“That looks fine,” she replied, checking out the angel now affixed to my denim shirt.

Before we went our separate ways, she told me she was 74 years old and walked five miles every day. Her generosity and spunkiness impressed me so much that I hugged her as we parted company. Ah, the kindness of strangers.

The South Carolina Foursome later motored along the 24 miles to Cades Cove. What a pleasure it was to ride down this mountainous, tree-lined road. A babbling brook was on our right for much of the journey, and we enjoyed watching the swimmers and tubers having fun. Just when we were about to get frustrated with the lloonnnggnng road, there it was: Cades Cove.To me, there’s a reverence about this quiet, restful area. I’ve only been twice, but both times, I got caught up in the beauty of the place as I pondered the lives of the people who once lived there.

On a schedule, we had time to stop at only two buildings, the John Oliver home and the Primitive Baptist Church. We wondered how John and his wife raised a family in that small but lovely log home, we who have inside plumbing, electricity, and wifi. My sister, niece, and I sang “Amazing Grace” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the church, and as I sat in one of the pews, I tried to imagine how it would have felt to sit there 150 years ago, surrounded by believers and neighbors. After our worship service, I took a quick walk around the cemetery out back, holy ground with lots of history.

Since our agreement was that each of the four of us got to do something special of her choosing, we decided to leave so that the others could do their thing. However, almost right away traffic came to a dead stop. We inched along going from 5 – 10 miles per hour for perhaps 40 minutes, halting completely several times. During one of those stops, I got out of the car and started walking along beside the barely moving cars. What was going on? I knew there couldn’t have been a wreck on this beautiful one-way road.

After 30—35 minutes of walking, I came across what was probably the problem: a bear sighting in the woods. Rangers, photographers, and rubberneckers were all looking towards the woods and talking animatedly about his (her?) size, location, and behavior. At that point I realized my vulnerability. If the bear saw me and if he were hungry and if I couldn’t get in anyone’s car….Fortunately, my rescue party of three arrived about that time, and I jumped back in the car with them. All was well.

We left the park for the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and although my sister and I opted for a visit to the Tanger Outlets instead, the younger set thoroughly enjoyed the museum. The exhibits were authentic and educational, and the girls spent two hours learning and exploring. Afterwards, we took advantage of a photo op outside.

Hungry as bears (couldn’t resist that), we went to Mel’s Diner for a late dinner/supper. My older daughter’s birthday was that day, and we had promised to enjoy a fun meal topped off with a decadent dessert—all in her honor. We didn’t see Flo or Alice, but we did encounter some friendly servers and a fun but loud atmosphere. The food was fine, and the banana split was marvelous. Mel even serves double layer banana splits for those with extra hardy appetites.

 

Back at the condo, we soon settled in for a long summer’s nap. We knew some good restorative sleep was needed for the next and last day’s activities.