In her latest post, Marcia over at http://wellagedwithsomemarbling.blogspot.com/ describes an adventurous bucket-list trip to the highest point in Georgia. Her trip reminded me of the time my kids and I visited my Dad in Tennessee, and ended up stuck in Pigeon Forge, near Gatlinburg Tennessee.
Now if you don’t know how to read roadmaps, you might ask what do Helen Georgia and Pigeon Forge have in common. Look at a map and you will see that North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee abut each other in the middle of mountains that led Union Generals to curse the South and contributed to Sherman’s murderous raid on Atlanta.
Where Indian trails once wove through vast hardwood forests, today WPA and CCC built scenic roads insinuate themselves through the mountains. Furthermore, the hills are full of caves where a number of Southern boys, like David’s ancestors, successfully hid from military recruitment officials at various times during the nation’s history.
In the 1950s, Republican Dwight David Eisenhower, looking for the commercial and military access he had seen on the Germany autobahn signed a bill that created “super” or Interstate highways that today slice through the ancient hillsides of the Appalachian chain reducing long stretches of forested land to blurred scenery.
Drivers in a hurry, including half-a-football field long trucks, follow the roads laid down by rational Republicans to get from A to B. However some folks (tourists and locals) follow the scenic Democrat-built roads which are narrow, steep, filled with hairpin curves and devoid of trucks.
In 1978, my kids and I drove from Virginia to Tennessee by way of North Carolina as we had done many times before. On the way, I retrieved my oldest son from his father’s house in Rocky Mount. We were on our way back from visiting my Dad when everything went haywire and the kids and I ended up in Pigeon Forge Tennessee, a place we had passed through many times but never visited, a backwater pit stop.
However, my Volvo, built for cooler climes and broad straight routes, did not like the Smokey Mountains on hot summer days. It gave out just as we entered Pigeon Forge. That may seem absurd as Volvo has a wonderful reputation, but my car threw a hissy fit and blew a gasket.
Thus, we limped into Pigeon Forge where I, being completely befuddled by engines of any kind, looked for a mechanic. I quickly discovered the only foreign car mechanic within a hundred miles lived up a steep dirt mountain road. With the help of a tow truck, I coaxed the car to climb the last remaining hill, where I found the “garage” which consisted of an old unpainted barn, a few clapped out bangers, and a couple of dirty lads, one of whom swore he knew all about foreign cars.
I figured the kid knew more than me, so leaving the car, we called the only taxi in Pigeon Forge and made our way to the bottom of the mountain to await repairs in a sleazy motel with a peeling pool. For many days afterward, we took our meals across the four-lane highway, at a pool hall and beer joint, housing the only local greasy spoon.
The second day at the motel, the mechanic called to say he had “fixed” the car, but five miles out of Pigeon Forge, it broke down again. I limped back to Pigeon Forge and he took the car for 3 more days. This sequence of events happened once more before I was able to drive as far as Knoxville stopping multiple times to let the engine cool itself.
I left the car in a parking lot in Knoxville, put the kids on a bus to Roanoke where their dad met them, and caught a plane back to Virgina to return to work.
Later Ex#2 flew to Knoxville to retrieve his car…which performed perfectly for him. Being an retired Army Colonel and an ardent Republican, he drove it up Interstate 81 to Washington, avoiding the scenic route and any rest stops in between.
My story grows more complicated after this episode, but a visit with my Dad and his new wife, the bitch from hell, plus a week stranded in Pigeon Forge with 3 teenagers and a broken down over-priced vehicle I never liked, were life changing events.
I divorced Ex#2 who was too much like my money-grasping autocratic step mother, and who I had married in a panic after my first divorce. I moved out of suburbia never to return, got an apartment in the city on a bus line, and went to work for a large corporation making twice as much money as I had ever made before.
Dad and me, East Tennessee, 1978