My Smoky Mountains Memories
In 1976, my mom, dad, grandmother and myself packed into a 1965 Ford Fairlane. I had no idea where or why we were going. We ended up in a place called Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. A small strip of pottery shops, breakfast dives and cheap motels, we were on what I learned was called a vacation. We rode around and looked at scenery, looking for bears and deer, everywhere I turned I saw a creek that seemed to be wherever I was. We ventured into a town called Gatlinburg, I don't remember much about it except all you did was walk and go into ( or want to go into ) a lot of cool shops.
Thinking back, I can't remember if my grandfather came along on this first trip or not, but somewhere in the first few years he joined us as well. I remember all I wanted was to go to this wax museum that was located where Cooter's Place is now. Mom and Dad took me and the first wax figure I saw, I wanted to get out of there. I wanted out so bad, I cried. Those wax figures scared me. I remember we would take both sets of grandparents, with each alternating a year. There's the memory of my Nanny Muir standing in front of a stuffed bear smiling for the camera in Cherokee, NC. Maw Maw Gann hiking to Clingman's Dome and Laurel Falls, there were the trips where Mom's cousins would all go together and camp, we'd be in a hotel, but we all made it together to Silver Dollar City and its indoor roller coaster I loved to ride. The year my friend Robby Hawkins went with us and we camped where Ripley's Golf is at the entrance of Gatlinburg, Maw Maw was with us that year. Marv driving, mom in the passenger seat, Maw Maw and my sister Amanda in the back seat and me and Robby in those fold down seats in the back of a Ford panel station wagon. Robby and I would walk to Gatlinburg every night rapping the entire RUN DMC "Raisin' Hell" Album. Man what a walk, but we were a lot younger then. We took Dad's sister Cindy, my uncle Ronny and my cousins Stacey and Wesley one year. Almost got ate by a bear and we almost put Wes out of the truck to become some kind of wilderness child. Later that year we camped with about 30 other family members in Cherokee, all of mom's cousins and more were there. We awoke one morning, went over the mountain to Gatlinburg with it about 65 degrees, we started back and it was snowing like mad. We got to the campground and rounded up the others and went back to Newfound Gap for a huge snowball fight. That was one of the best trips I can remember. The next year I made my first trip without my parents, calling hotels on the phone and asking for prices ( man how times have changed) spent $19.99 a night. In 1993 I sat at a red light in Cherokee while it changed three time because it was the only place I could pick up the ending of the Alabama vs Tennessee game. From 1994 to 2000 I made several trips a year there, include one of the prettiest times I've been, there was a huge snowfall and we seemed to have the whole area of Cades Cove to ourselves. We explored every cabin and pull off in the cove. In 2003 I took my now wife for the first time, a spring trip that included her mother. Since that time, we've probably been 20 more times, each one an adventure all its own. From a winter trip with Mom and Dad and Amanda with Marv eating the biggest ice cream cone imaginable in 20 degree weather to an October trip with Julie's mom, that almost put me in the Tennessee Department of Corrections system. From a tornado that ripped through the cove, to an October 2009 wedding. I have stayed in hotels, cabins, campers and tents ( in the winter at 9 degrees) and have visited just about every attraction in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area. I've seen bears, skunks, deer, elk, snakes, coyotes and any other kind of animal that might roam those woods. There are so many more memories that I know I could write, but I'd need a publisher. I have so many stories to tell and just as many lost to age and time. The Smokies aren't just a vacation retreat, they are like home. Here's hoping for 40 more years of memories.