Ashley Pitts

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This was a vacation that even Alzheimer’s couldn’t erase from my memory. Aunt Nell, Aunt Betty, Mama, and I had a “roaring good time”, as Aunt Nell would say. I think that I speak for all of us when I say that it was the best vacation ever! “Thank you Lord for the wonderful times we spent together.” I don’t think that I deserved to have so much fun. The trip was all the way around great! Even now, I’m still having fun. What I mean by this is, I’ve had the best summer of my life anticipating the trip, looking forward to it, calling Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty and talking and planning. That’s not to mention the fun I had while we were actually on the trip.

You know how sometimes you will build up a vacation in your mind and look forward to it, and then, it is one big disappointment. You don’t have nearly as much fun as you thought you would have. You realize that you had more fun just in the excitement of getting ready for the trip than the trip itself. Well, I can honestly say that this vacation was far from being a let down. I had just as much fun, actually much more, as I hoped I would. As a matter of fact, I’m still having a ball just reliving and reminiscing. I also love to tell others about our fun time.(which is one reason that I’m writing this)

We (Mama and I) met Aunt Nell and Aunt Betty at Hardee’s in Laurel Monday morning around 1:00 a.m. We were finally on the way! None of us could believe that the day that we had anticipated had finally arrived! We traveled in Aunt Nell’s car, since it had the most room. She took such good care of us. She had her car all cleaned up, of course, and she had plenty of pillows and blankets for everyone to make the ride more comfortable. She is so accommodating. She had Kleenexes and other little essentials that are good to have while traveling right at our fingertips in a compartment near each of us. She also had a goody bag packed with candy, gum, and other treats. She really goes out of her way to make you comfortable. She won’t allow anyone to go hungry in her presence. She made up some fresh chicken salad and pimento cheese salad to take with us. Of course, she didn’t forget the fresh light bread, chips, crackers, and drinks. In case anyone had a sweet tooth, Aunt Betty brought along some of her freshly baked cream cheese pound cake. We were well taken care of.

You would think that by leaving at 1:00 a.m. we would be tired and tempted to nap on the ride up there. This was definitely not the case though. We were all bright eyed and bushy tailed. We talked nonstop the whole way to the Smoky Mountains. I’ve never talked so hard and so fast in my life. I loved every minute of it! By the time the trip was over, we must have talked about every member of the family. Ha! Ha!

We arrived in Chattanooga, TN at approximately 7:15 a.m., where we stopped and ate breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. Like any well-raised Southern girl would know, you can’t visit the Smoky Mountains without eating breakfast at the Cracker Barrel.
By 9:00 a.m.., we were near Knoxville, TN. I remember that I was still full from a delicious breakfast of buttermilk pancakes, blueberry syrup, and country sausage.

Upon arriving in the Smokies, we purchased our tickets to two music shows called “Classic Country” and “Country Tonight”. After that, Aunt Nell took us to some of her favorite shopping spots. We saw some neat arts and crafts and very beautiful accents for the home. There was fresh, homemade fudge in every shop! Yummy! Aunt Betty couldn’t resist tasting to see if it was as good as her own.

69596de0After shopping, Aunt Nell took us on a beautiful scenic route near Gatlinburg. We couldn’t have paid money and gotten a better tour guide. Aunt Nell knows every stream, waterfall, and nature trail in those mountains. She’s visited the Smoky Mountains so many times, the shopkeepers know her by name!
You know, after you get through stuffing you face, you will be so full that you will think “surely I’ll never get hungry again.” But even after our huge breakfast, we were ready for more viddles by 2:30 that afternoon. So we stopped in at the Golden Corral for some authentic Southern Cuisine. This was just one of the many good restaurants that we enjoyed. The food was so good in fact, that none of us could stop eating! After we were finished eating, we went back shopping in hopes to walk and get some much needed exercise.

I did not have to be rocked to sleep Monday night. I slept like a spanked baby. But I definitely did not oversleep. We didn’t return to the motel from “Classic Country until around 10:30 p.m., so we were probably 11:30 or 12:00 getting to bed, and we were back up by 5:00 a.m. Aunt Nell said that we could sleep when we got back to Mississippi. There was lots to see and do. We didn’t want to waste one minute of our precious time. We wanted to cram as much as we could into what little time we had.
Tuesday morning, we left the motel around 6:00 a.m. in order to be at Cade’s Cove when they opened at 7:00 a.m. Aunt Nell said that in order to see all the wildlife, you need to get to Cade’s Cove before the bicyclists and hikers because they scare off all the critters. It was a beautiful drive to Cade’s Cove early that morning. All through the little nooks, coves, and valleys of the mountains are topped with smoke (fog). Aunt Nell says that the smoke is from the rabbits cooking breakfast up there in the mountains.

Cade’s Cove was a perfect example of some of the beauty God created like the mountains, valleys, hills, fields, streams, flowers, and animals. Deer, turkey, cows, goats, and bear are some of the wildlife that we saw. Mama got up close and personal with Mr. Bear. You see, a black bear cub was up a cherry tree having breakfast. Mama strolled right up to him and took his picture. He didn’t seem to mind. He was very photogenic. Mama was probably in danger getting so close to a wild animal, but this was the first time Aunt Betty had ever seen a bear. It was only my second bear encounter. It is a rarity to see a bear. A person may visit Cade’s Cove several times without seeing a bear, so Mama wasn’t about to miss this opportunity. Can you believe that after taking so many up close shots, and staring danger in the face, you can hardly identify this little black blob in the picture as being a bear! Mama doesn’t seem to think she was in any real danger. Maybe she wasn’t. Mr. Bear was very preoccupied with eating his cherries to care what Mama was doing. He’s probably used to posing for pictures anyway.

693dc930I love all the quaint little churches, houses, and old homeplaces nestled through the cove. Some of the old homeplaces we visited still stood in immaculate condition. People used to live in well-built log homes. Nearby the log house was the barn, corn crib, smokehouse, outhouse, and springhouse. Aunt Nell educated me on what each of these little buildings were used for. Each one served an important purpose. There are many points of interest, like the ones I am speaking of, throughout the cove. In some places, all that remains of the old log house is the chimney.

While I was at Cade’s Cove, I felt like I was in the heart of the Smokies. The air was crisp and cool, the morning dew glistened in the sunlight, the birds sang happily, and the wind blew softly through the trees. There was something invigorating about being outdoors amongst all this. I could have stayed at this place all day long and picnicked in fields of wildflowers, napped in the meadows, and ran barefoot through cool mountain streams.
The little country churches and houses were so inviting. Each one welcomed me inside. They contained so many artifacts from days gone by. Everything seemed to tell the story of the mountain folk that once inhabited this place. It’s fun to learn about “the old way of life”.

I think I would have enjoyed growing up in the Smoky Mountains during the “good ole days”. Life seemed so much more simple. Families were close knit and people in the community helped each other to get the jobs done.  While at Cade’s Cove I enjoyed Aunt Nell’s homemade pimento cheese salad and chicken Salad. We sealed our brunch with a slice of Aunt Betty’s Pound Cake, which was to die for. I enjoy just a mouthful of something sweet.

69796c30There are so many places to shop in the Smokies. The shopping centers, outlets, antique stores, flea markets, novelty stores, and curiosity shops are endless. It is truly a window-shopping wonderland. Regardless of what we had planned to do, we always end up doing some shopping on our vacations. This vacation was no exception. However, our space in the car was limited, so unless we wanted to leave our clothes behind, we had to refrain from shopping too much.

There are many great dining experiences in the Smoky Mountains. I enjoyed the Cracker Barrel, the Golden Corral, the Texas Roadhouse Bar and Grill, the Great American Steak and Buffet, and Peter’s Restaurant in Cherokee, North Carolina. I guess you can’t eat up all the good food in one trip, but I certainly tried!

I had never been to a country music show, so Aunt Nell made arrangements for us to see “Classic Country” and “Country Tonight”. “Classic Country” was my favorite. Old classics like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” were performed. “Country Tonight” was a more modern, upbeat show. They performed more current songs and danced more. They were very entertaining.

We drove over the mountain to Cherokee, North Carolina very early Wednesday morning. At this hour, it was not quite light enough to see all the pretty scenery on this drive. Oh, but I caught it on the way back!

One of the highlights of the trip occurred early that Wednesday morning before daylight. We were almost in Cherokee when we spotted a herd of bull elk grazing in a field on the side of the road. I had no idea what a rarity this was to see elk. It was such a rarity in fact, that Aunt Nell hollered for Mama to stop the car ( in the middle of the highway!) She said, ” I have got to get a picture of those elk or no one back home will ever believe me. So she jumped right out there in the middle of the road and started snapping pictures! She was outta that car before we could hardly say anything. Her response was “It’s all right, people do this all the time.” I just laughed out loud. Cars were passing by, but Aunt Nell made sure she got a good picture before she got back in the car. Mama and I hung out the window and took pictures, but ours didn’t develop. I’m sure it was because it wasn’t daylight. This was around 6:30 a.m.

Sometimes it’s nice to be lazy and sleep late, but that was one morning that I am glad that I got on up, otherwise I would have missed seeing the elk. I’ve recently read that the best time to see the elk is either early in the morning, before sunrise, or late in the evening, just before dark. The elk were magnificent. Their horns are so much bigger than deer. It looked like they were covered in velvet. Animals do not usually impress me that way. I love animals, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never been one to get all excited about just watching animals. But let me tell you, those elk excited me! I could have sat and watched them all day. I love to watch them run. They throw their heads back and gallop. It was an amazing sight to see.

Cherokee, North Carolina is a beautiful place! First off, we got a good breakfast under our belts at Peter’s Restaurant. Their pancakes are great! We sat in the dining room overlooking a beautiful mountain stream. I loved eating breakfast while enjoying the view. There were even men out fly fishing in the stream.
We stopped at several different shops and stores. I don’t think we bought anything, but we enjoyed looking at the authentic Indian crafts.

If I didn’t get one bite of good food or hear one good country music song, I would still come to the Smokies just for the nature part of it all. I would have driven all the way to Cherokee, NC just to see Mingo Falls. It was so amazing! This was the first waterfall I had ever seen. What gets me is, I was informed that there are many more waterfalls even more breathtaking that Mingo Falls. If they’re much more beautiful, I don’t know if I will be able to stand it! I can’t wait to go back to the Smokies just to go exploring and see more sights just like this!

After I stood at Mingo Falls with my mouth dropped wide open for about thirty minutes, we left Cherokee. On the way out of town, we looked for the old Indian Chief in hopes to get a picture, but you see, it was still early, so we decided he must have still been in bed.

On the drive back to Pigeon Forge, it was now daylight. I could now see all the beautiful scenery. And let me tell you, I’ve never oohed and awed so much in my life! I was wanting to stop every few feet and get a picture. There were tourists pulled over all alongside the road taking pictures between Cherokee and Gatlinburg. Mama was driving. At one point she had to stop the car so she could get out and just take it all in. As beautiful as the scenery was, I know it’s even more beautiful in the fall when the leaves turn. They say that they are every shade of red, orange, crimson, and yellow. I bet it is beautiful. I would also like to see all the rhododendron and dogwood in bloom. This is a prime example of why anytime of year is a good time of year to visit the Smokies.

Dollywood is a great place to spend a morning or an afternoon. Everything we did there was loads of fun. I enjoyed riding the train and touring Dolly’s museum. It was full of her personal treasures. “Heart Song” was my favorite part of Dollywood. It was a fantastic twenty-minute film with Dolly as the narrator. The “Wilderness Adventure” was fun too. It was a virtual reality ride. I can’t believe Mama, Aunt Nell, and Aunt Betty actually got on that ride. I think they wished they hadn’t. But we are still among the living.

The aroma of the funnel cakes were too great of a temptation to resist, I guess. Mama and Aunt Betty split one , since Aunt Betty had never eaten a funnel cake. Aunt Nell and I decided not to ruin our supper.

I love all the homemade jams, jellies, and syrups you can purchase in the Great Smoky Mountains. I don’t think we’ve got anything that good in Mississippi. The food just tastes better here. But as beautiful as the countryside here is, I believe anything would taste good to me as long as I could set on the side of one of those mountains and eat it.

You know the old saying, “All good things must come to an end”, well, before we knew it, it was time to head back to Mississippi. I really hated to leave. But I knew, if the good Lord’s willing, we would be back. I was so thankful for the time I spent with my mother and my Aunts. So with our mountain treasures under the trunk, the same road that took us there, brought us back home.