It’s been a few days since I’ve written because it’s been a full few days. Actually, as I look back at the posts, it’s been damn near a week. I should probably split up the posts, but we’ll see as it goes along.
I left Johnson City, TN on Friday, May 27th and took the back roads south. When I headed out, I was reminded of Led Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and I was humming it all along as I watched the Smokey’s do their morning dance. There’s no better way to start a day than feeling you are right where you belong. It just forces a smile to your lips and a skip in your heart, and I was no exception. I drove along Highway 321 with a bit of a snap on the gas pedal.
Just north of Gatlinburg, TN, I was urged to pull over for the rolling white water beneath the bridge I was crossing. People had a small stand on the side of the road just selling stuff—something I could probably make a lot of money doing once I unload from my move down. I wanted to just sit beside Little Pigeon River, just sit and listen to the gurgles, the splashes, the voices of the water spirits as they skipped easily on their journey. No concern of how they get there or where it is they are going, just flowing. I wanted to sink my feet in the clear, coolness; close my eyes and drift along, however the only parking was for the roadside stand, and I didn’t want to take away from any potential customers. I couldn’t leave without the pictures though.
As I drove into Gatlinburg, I couldn’t resist taking the shot of tiny little specks amongst the trees in the mountains. Million, and half million dollar homes breaking the wooded skyline of the Smokey’s, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening inside those wide-open-floor-planned glass facades since the local newspapers and Craigs List is littered with “elegant mountain home” foreclosures. Of course I’m not happy that anyone is struggling, yet it is tangible evidence of our living-beyond-your-means lifestyles that created the financial crisis currently strangling the world. Scars of capitalism seared into the mountainsides.
Once inside Gatlinburg, one would never guess that there was such a thing as a financial crisis. Traffic began to back up three miles out, so I parked at City Hall and took the trolley in for $.50. Every shop was full, there was a good hour-length line for the Aquarium—which I’m sure had nothing on Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, so I didn’t even bother. No, I wasn’t there to spend, just look. It always amazes me that people will shop in stores that have absolutely nothing to do with the area they are visiting. I think there is an Aunt Mahalia’s Candies in every tourist “square” in the country. I know there’s one in Wisconsin Dells and one in Gatlinburg, and what does it have to do with either place? To get out of the heat, I wandered around an incense shop with tie-died wrap-around skirts and silver wizards. Souvenir from the Smoky Mountains anyone?
I ended that road trip in Cleveland, TN at the house of the sister-in-law of my Rogers Park next-door neighbor, Toni Westfield. Toni was one of the best neighbors I’ve ever had and I already miss him. A week after he moved in, he rang my doorbell and asked me if I liked to cook. For the next three years, Toni would drop off multiple packages of meat, and I cooked. We rarely dined together; I’d just bring him plates of food. And huge bowls of potato salad. Toni loved potato salad, steaks, pork chops, bbq’d chicken, and pies—apple and cherry—and strawberry shortcake. He did share Thanksgiving dinner with us when he wasn’t on the road for Amtrak, and my last Labor Day bbq before this countryside journey of mine. My grandkids called him Uncle Toni, and one even tried to fix me up with him—but we’re not each others’ type.
I don’t think there’s one solitary place in Cleveland, TN where there isn’t a Westfield or a relation to a Westfield, or someone who knows a Westfield. His sister-in-law Sharon was a terrific host, saying, “You can stay as long as you do here what you would do at home,” and I did. That night she made hamburgers and I made homemade French fries. The next night I made spaghetti. Then Toni’s niece came down from Clarksville, and it was a whirlwind Memorial Day weekend.
Uncles, aunties, daddy’s, cousins—2nd, 3rd, distant—all treated me like family. The Westfield’s and their relations range from 10-93. Everyone cooked at every house on big ole’ fifty-five gallon drum bbq grills. We ate ribs, chicken, steaks, venison burgers and hot cheese bratwursts with mac and cheese, potato salad (of course), baked beans, cob corn, and watermelon, all washed down with cold beer. There was cold ‘shine’ too, but I passed. Kids ran around climbing trees, parents ran around cuttin’ switches, and uncles pretended to take off their belts. Laughter could be heard a mile away. I will definitely return to couch #3 in “Westfield” TN.
|Me & Toni's oldest brother, Zeke|
|Toni's niece Zatonda w/her daddy|
|Niece Zatonda & nephew Zamus|
|1/4 of the party|