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Ever since our trip to Illinois last week, I’ve been thinking of three men who made an indelible mark on our country: Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. While traveling, we visited sites that filled our minds with facts and an increased sense of appreciation for their gifts and perseverance.
We arrived in Tupelo, MS just minutes after the museum chronicling events in Elvis’ life closed. No problem. The grounds were lovely, and we were able to take as much time as we wanted to see the small two-room house where he was born, the church where he spent many Sundays as a child, a huge statue of Elvis as a teenager, and a brick inlaid time line of major life events. It was all fascinating, but I think what captured my attention and awe was just how humble Elvis’ beginnings were.
Elvis’ music touched people all over the world. From the Graceland tour in Memphis, I learned that his Hawaii concert was viewed by one and a half billion people in forty countries. So no, he didn’t fight for human rights or lead a country divided by war, but his impact on others remains. I’ll always remember, “Another little baby boy was born in the ghetto, and his mother cried.” Powerful song.
While I got a real sense of Elvis’s personality and heart while in Graceland, I felt more sad than glad there. He worked hard, played hard, loved hard, and died far too young—right there in Graceland.
While in Memphis, we visited the Civil Rights Museum, an awe-inspiring collection of photographs, artifacts, movies, news clips, and dioramas that teach and inspire at the same time. The main part of the collection takes part in the Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was felled by a single bullet. There’s a wreath on the railing where he was shot. Inside, the rooms where he and some companions stayed are preserved as they were on that day in April 1968. He was an extraordinary man on a mission to improve life for African Americans and all people who were marginalized.
I know he was no saint. But still, when I ponder his role in the Civil Rights Movement and remember King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I can think of no one who did more to move equal rights for all forward.
And finally, there’s Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. As all school children know, Honest Abe, also known as the Great Emancipator, spent much of his young life in a log cabin in Kentucky. He mother died when he was nine years old, and his father remarried about a year later. He was basically a self-taught man whose education is estimated to be a total of eighteen months. He worked at a variety of occupations, including rail-splitter and shopkeeper, before entering political life when he was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1834.
In Springfield, the facts from history books came to life as we toured Lincoln’s home, ambled through his community, visited the Lincoln Museum, and walked through the old Capitol. In the museum, I learned more of his angst about the war, the slavery issue, and the nation’s economy. I began to see him as a “real” figure, one who loved his country, his wife, and his four boys. Three of the four sons died before reaching adulthood.
Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln also died too young. He rose above all manner of issues to become one of the most popular and respected leaders of the 19th century.
Elvis and Abe came from lowly beginnings; one became a performer who charmed and entertained people all over the globe, and the other became grew up to hold the highest office in the land. Although his family wasn’t poor, MLK had his challenges and struggles too. Regardless of their inauspicious beginnings, all three men seemed destined for greatness.
Seeing evidences of their lives up close and personal makes me ponder for the hundredth time (or more): What makes some people rise above obstacles to fulfill their potential and become instruments of progress, fairness, civility, and yes, entertainment while others do not?
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.
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.
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.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a week since my sister and our daughters pulled out of Camden and headed for the hills on a girls’ trip. Gatlnburg was our ultimate destination, but we enjoyed the some sights along the way too. This morning I’m remembering our daughters’ disappointment that the bears in downtown Hendersonville weren’t as”lively” as they imagined they would be. In raving about this delightful mountain community, my sister and I had both mentioned bears being up and down Main Street. Little did we know that our daughters thought they were real, so real in fact that they wondered how we’d possibly be able to dine outside.
I should have told the younger set about Bearfootin’, a project created to raise money for local charities by displaying colorful artwork along the downtown sidewalks. The hand painted fiberglass bears are created and painted by local artists, and every spring there are new bears. I love them! Evidently, so do a lot of other folks because everywhere I turned, people were posing for pictures with their favorite bear.
Recalling their surprise and relief about the bears still brings a smile to my face. So does thinking about our delicious lunch at the Mountain Deli, a place where tourists and locals alike gather for good food and friendly service. Housed in what appears to be an old drug store, the atmosphere is charming, especially with that great view right overlooking Main Street.
Appetites satisfied, we sauntered down to Mast General Store, a favorite shopping site in mountain towns. After browsing at Mast, we strolled in and out of various shops including Kilwin’s Chocolates. Yum. What a sweet array of tempting candy! We stopped to take several pictures of bears, all attired in different types of clothing, and then jumped in the car to continue our trip to Tennessee.
We came into Gatlinburg on the scenic route, complete with a tunnel and some fabulous overlooks. At first we were frustrated by the long and seemingly interminable winding road, but within a few minutes we all succumbed to its beauty. As my daughter Elizabeth said, “If we’d come another way, we wouldn’t have seen these beautiful sights.” And she was right. With several gorgeous vistas, this road afforded the first glimpses of breathtakingly beautiful mountain scenery. The above picture was taken by a friendly stranger at one of the overlooks.
We finally arrived at our destination, Oak Leaf at Gatlinburg Chateaus, and checked in. The check in process went smoothly, and the staff was helpful and accommodating. We were pleasantly surprised to see that our condo looked just like the photographs. With two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen, and a living room, the set-up was perfect for the four of us. There was even a balcony for early morning reading, journal writing, and conversing. I found this fabulous deal on flipkey.com in case anyone is considering a mountain getaway.
We freshened up, and within 20 minutes we were heading towards downtown Gatlinburg (two blocks away). What a feast for our eyes. People of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, appearance, and dress were thronging the streets, and I could readily understand why. There were attractions and restaurants galore, and we gleefully made plans for the next two days. That evening, however, we sailed right through and headed to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Since some of our bucket list items were in these areas, we wanted to check out the lay of the land.
We soon spotted the Tanger Outlets and the Titanic Museum, and satisfied that we could find our way back the next day, the tired but happy foursome dined at the Texas Roadhouse in Sevierville. Eating at a locally owned and operated restaurant would have been nice, but at this point, we decided to settle for something familiar to all of us. The service and food were great, but the show going on outside of the window was even more enjoyable. We got the giggles watching a woman pick her nose, a little boy killing flies, and a man who kept putting his hands down the back of his britches. Word to the wise: People inside restaurants can see you!
Stay tuned for more details!