October 11, 2006

I figured I’d better start introducing Jonathan around, plus I wanted him to see a bit of where I grew up, so on October 7th we flew to Atlanta. From there, we rented a car and headed up towards South Carolina (after stopping at my favorite consignment store for a bit of shopping!). We stopped off in Easley to visit my friend Jared and meet his wife, Gina, and I expected it would be a relatively quick dinner. We ended up spending hours there, having an absolutely wonderful time, just talking and laughing, enjoying their wonderful cooking, swapping wedding stories, looking at their wedding photos. We were out on their back deck for a while, and I remember Jonathan being amazed by the sheer height of the trees in the yard (they don’t grow that tall at our elevation) as well as by how noisy the crickets and frogs were. I explained that this was what I was used to – this was what nights were supposed to sound like! The silence of the nights in Colorado seems almost eerie to me. My Mom was starting to get anxious for us to get to her house (almost another hour’s drive), so we finally had to thank them for a wonderful evening and head on up the road. We arrived at Mom’s pretty late that night.

The next morning, we went to the meeting at my old congregation, Greenville Northwest. It seemed familiar, yet at the same time so strangely different! In just two years, I had moved, changed my name, and gotten married; in just two years many of the adolescents were now young adults, some people were engaged, some were newly married, many had moved away, others had moved in. Even the chairs in the Kingdom Hall looked strange to me, but I’m positive that they were the same chairs that had been there before. I was just no longer used to seeing them.

We spent Sunday and Monday in South Carolina, I showed Jonathan the different places I’d lived, and we visited with Ina O’Dell and later with the Snellings. Jonathan was going to meet Ginger at the Book Study on Monday night, but there was a car accident involving the daughter of one of the elders, so Ginger had me take her down to the hospital to be with them instead. Jonathan enjoyed talking with Ginger on the phone the next morning, but we were headed out of town that day. We met Frank and Lynn Polo for lunch at Swad (a fabulous little Indian restaurant) and enjoyed visiting with them, then walked around the park downtown for a bit (I’d hoped to meet another friend there, but she couldn’t make it) and enjoyed some of downtown Greenville’s beauty. We stopped briefly to visit a former co-worker of mine at the high school where he was now teaching, and then headed on up to Asheville, where we were going to have dinner at one of my all time favorite restaurants anywhere, The Laughing Seed Cafe. I kept telling Jonathan how wonderful it was, we struggled to find parking in downtown Asheville, and walked to the cafe, only to discover that they are closed on Tuesdays! Well, I suppose that if that’s the big disappointment for the trip, we really did quite well. We drove on, taking I-40 through the Smokies, which I think is one of the most beautiful stretches of Interstate anywhere. Our destination was Cosby, where we were renting a cabin for the next three nights, so that we could explore the Smokies and I could show them to Jonathan for the first time. We stayed in one of the Cosby Creek Cabins, in the “By the Brook” unit. The cabin was wonderfully cozy, even if it was decorated in a slightly tacky (kitschy?) black and white western “cow” theme, and it had a great little hot tub on the small deck out back, just overlooking the creek. It was perfect for our romantic little getaway.

The next morning, we went into Gatlinburg briefly. I wanted Jonathan to see Beneath the Smoke (my favorite nature photography gallery in Gatlinburg) and the Arrowmont Craft School. I’d deliberately arranged to be in the Smokies mid-week, because I knew that peak leaf-season would be a traffic nightmare, particularly on the weekends. Cades Cove (as usual) was especially packed. It took forever to drive down to it, but was completely worth it. We took our time driving around the loop, stopping and exploring many of the old buildings. It was really cool to watch Jonathan seeing these old pioneer homesteads for the first time – and many of them I didn’t remember, either. If we’d had more time, we might have done the hike to Abram’s Falls or Gregory Bald. But as it was, we pretty much spent the morning and early afternoon doing the loop and then moved on. (Oh, and the first wildlife that we spotted in the Park were a couple of wild turkeys by the road on the way to Cades Cove!)

We stopped at The Sinks, and climbed around for a while there, and then headed up over Newfound Gap. The Fall colors hadn’t quite peaked at the lower elevations, but as we moved up, the scenery became quite spectacular. Jonathan couldn’t understand why everyone thought he wouldn’t be impressed! (The general reaction was, “You’ll love the Smoki– Oh, wait… you’re from the Rockies… never mind.”) But the Rockies don’t have the variety of trees that the Smokies do, and certainly don’t have the variety of Fall colors that the Smokies do. We wanted to stop at Clingman’s Dome to take in the view from there, but it was closed for renovations. (Next time!) Another thing that the Rockies don’t have is the abundance of water! We came down on the North Carolina side, were surprised to see a herd of elk by the side of the road (made it seem like home – there’s tons of elk in the Rockies, but I’d never seen them in the Smokies before!), and drove to the trailhead for Mingo Falls. It’s a short little hike; just about all we were going to have time for before nightfall. I would have liked to have had more time to explore Cherokee, maybe watch the new version of “Unto These Hills,” which is supposed to be much more historically accurate than the version I saw as a child (I’ve always liked the real history better than the souped-up version in the play, so I’m looking forward to seeing it sometime!). Since it’s in an outdoor amphitheater, though, it only runs from mid-June to the end of August, and anyway, we simply didn’t have enough time to see and do everything. We thoroughly enjoyed our hike to Mingo Falls, and then headed back across Newfound Gap for the night.

Knowing how much Jonathan enjoys summiting mountains, we’d set aside all of Thursday to hike to the top of LeConte on the Alum Cave Bluffs trail. Wednesday we had done an overview of the Smokies; Thursday we would become intimately acquainted with at least one trail. We took so many pictures, it merits its own album on our site! (I have to admit, I was rather pleased that the Smokies pretty well kicked Jonathan’s butt that day! And since we were at a lower elevation, I did much better than I generally do when hiking in Colorado!)

After LeConte, we went down into Gatlinburg in search of food. I wanted to go to a favorite restaurant of mine, The Best Italian Cafe & Pizzeria, but they were absolutely packed and there was nowhere to park. We ended up parking semi-illegally (blocking a dumpster), I left Jonathan in the car and went inside and ordered some takeout. (I practically ate myself sick on their wonderful garlic rolls!). We drove to the middle of town and ate, and then got out to briefly explore Gatlinburg on our last night there. We went to the new Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, I was curious what they’d managed to do with it after the previous one had burned down. At one point, we came across a booth that maps your faces, combines them, and shows you what your child might look like. We printed a picture of an adorable little daughter, but we lost it before we got to Oak Ridge. We figure that if we can’t even keep track of a picture of our kid, that doesn’t bode well for ever actually having kids! If we’d had more time in Gatlinburg, I would have loved to play the Hillbilly Golf course with Jonathan… guess that’ll wait until next time, too!

The next morning (Friday), we drove towards Oak Ridge. The timing of the trip had been planned around this: I wanted to show Jonathan the Tennessee Fall Homecoming festival that happens in Norris every year on the second weekend of October. I told him all about the great things we’d see – the old character who came every year as a medicine man, selling snake oil remedies and telling you how “long-livered” you’d be if you used them, the preacher type who would berate you (all in good fun), the wonderful music, the food vendor who still had pine-resin potatoes – the potatoes are dropped into a vat of hot pine resin and baked in it; when they’re done, they just float to the top. None of them were there. Well, the wonderful music was, but apparently, as I asked around, all of these wonderful older folk had passed away in recent years – the pine resin potato guy was gone, the medicine man was gone, the preacher… The festival seemed so much smaller than I remembered! Well, we enjoyed looking at the old homesteads at the museum, and Norma Davis was there with mandolins that Ted had made (Ted Davis made my violin), so Jonathan got to meet her. We had fresh apple cider and sourwood honey and I bought a handmade inlaid wooden bucket that we keep our fatwood sticks in now. Afterwards, we headed on towards Oak Ridge.

It becomes more and more strange to go back to a place that you’ve left behind! It’s a part of your past, but the community has naturally continued to develop and evolve and morph over the years. It’s surprising both ways: The things that are still the same surprise you, and the things that are different surprise you. It was wonderful to see everyone again, and it was shocking to see how the kids that had been in their early teens had suddenly become young adults. The rock that I used to slide down as a kid was still in the park behind the Civic Center, but the picnic shelter where we’d held a going-away picnic when I moved out to Colorado was gone. I drove Jonathan around to all the places of my life: the house I’d lived in until I was 9 years old, the house Peter and I had lived in, the Kingdom Hall, the park where my elementary school had been. Mary Anne had organized a dinner in one of the rooms at the Civic Center so that we could see everyone, since we were only going to be there Friday evening. Jonathan set up his laptop at one end of the room and had our wedding pictures displaying on it. I wondered what everyone thought – I felt like such a different person, with a different name, a different husband, a different life – I wondered how I looked to their eyes, whether I looked the same, different, or some of both. Gene McNabb asked about the name, whether I it felt strange for people to be calling me “Linda”, but I said that it seemed almost normal to be called “Linda” here and “Lynae” in Colorado. He agreed, and said that he was “Gene” here but he was always “Bennie” when he went back to where he’d grown up. Attie Brooks was caring for an older gentleman whom she brought along to the dinner, and she persuaded him to stand up and serenade us – so beautiful!

We spent the night at Mary Anne’s house, and Mary Anne and I stayed up talking quite late. She invited us to join them for the Saturday morning book study, which was a bit tempting, but we had an afternoon flight in Atlanta to catch. So the next morning we packed up and headed out. We stopped briefly at Fiesta Farm, where I used to work, and I showed Jonathan around and introduced him to the horses. I’d brought a bag of small carrots and gave a couple to each of them. I was glad to see Berry still there (and she was glad to see the carrots!) as well as Montana – I went into his stall and petted him for a bit, but Jonathan declined to come in with me. We headed on towards Atlanta, but there had been a bad accident on I-40 and it took over an hour just to get past Knoxville. Fortunately, we’d allowed plenty of time. We’d been planning to have lunch at a great vegetarian restaurant, the Cafe Sunflower, and although time was tight by the time we got to Atlanta, we still had enough. We had a fabulous lunch on their outdoor patio, drove across town and turned in our rental car, and caught our flight home after a great week of visiting my old home.