Isn't it the way it always happens. You on your way to one place when you find yourself in another. That is me. Today. July 19, 2016. Len and I are heading to Maryville, Tennessee, to report on a Rock City barn being painted. On our way, I see signs. The signs begin to jog my memory. No, it can't be. It is.
Crazy thing is, I never knew where in the world it was until today.
The 10 Commandments scripted on the side of a mountain in mammoth white letters was a yearly visual. Big enough that anyone could see and understand. Of course, we'd have to climb the mountain and read each commandment for the billionth time. I am not one to keep my feelings to myself. I whined and complained just like every other ten year old around me. After all, they hadn't changed since last summer when we visited. I knew what they said and it was hot. The crowds were huge (just like the letters). Finally, we would finish reading and stroll to the gift shop - which is always the last stop for any Southern attraction.
Then, after a day of hopping in and out of the car, we'd find a little motel. By little, I mean one room, two beds. I was the odd man out. I got the sofa, but worse than sleeping on the sofa was sleeping on the sofa while listening to a freight train barreling through the room. That would be my Uncle Ivet. All 250 pounds jiggling to his own beat. It didn't take long to figure out how to fix this. I put my 10-year-old brain to work and solved my problem.
The only place that would separate me from the rattling, the bathroom.After everyone was asleep, I'd grab a pillow, a blanket and hop in the tub. It seemed like the perfect idea except for the half-dozen bathroom visits Ivet made during the night. I kept my eyes closed, but even the pillow couldn't suffocate the sound.
And today, on my journey to somewhere else, I remembered those trips with the four people I loved most in the world. I climbed up the white wash staircase and thought of mama and daddy. "Don't go too far away," she would say. "Stop whining, Judy. Be respectful." I couldn't believe this is where I stood almost 45 years ago. I cried as I do often these days.
"Look at me, mama. I'm here on my own and I'm not whining one bit."
The case took wings as though it was as light as a feather. Flying through the air, daddy swerved the car to dodge the light blue bullet. It landed with a thump, rolling a couple of times before landing in the grass. "Stop," I screamed at daddy. "Let's get it." Knowing that you never pass by anything of worth, daddy pulled over onto the shoulder as we watched the car that once carried the case snug on its roof disappear into the horizon. It never slowed down; never paused. In my little girl mind, it was fate; the case was meant to be mine.
I bolted from the car as mama and daddy followed. I picked it up as if it were glass, taking care not to disturb what was inside. I held it tightly to my chest. I couldn't wait to open the latches to see what treasure was inside. For a split second, I felt sympathy for the lady who, around sunset, would discover she no longer had a traveling case and what was inside would be forever gone. That second passed, for now, whatever it was, was mine.
Mama grabbed it from me. "Get back in the car," she said.
I was devastated. I not only wanted, but I needed to see what was inside.
I sulked all the way to our cabin in Hiawassee. I pouted the entire night. Not once did mama open the case, or even offer to let me open it. It was a weekend of ignoring the case. I was mortified.
Sunday night, we loaded the car and traveled back home. The little blue case was shoved into the trunk, right beside my suitcase. "Open me. Open me." I couldn't stand it.
Before we went to bed that night, mama called me into her room and there it sat. On her bed. Top open. "Come look."
Inside was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Pastel pink. Chiffon. Ruffles. A long-flowing nightgown which I immediately held to my chest; it even had a little jacket. It whispered of a lady. In a pouch, lipsticks and powder, and even a mirror. I touched everything. I felt the softness between my fingers. All I had ever know was cotton; chiffon only lived in the movies.
That was the last time I saw its contents. The case was emptied and placed in the garage among things that were no longer needed. There it sat - on top of the pile - for the rest of my days.
Today, the case rests on top of other oddly shaped, nostalgic suitcases in my hallway. Every time I pass by, I remember the day it came into my life. The excitement that was born. The beauty and mystery it brought. I keep it as a reminder to keep that same childlike wonder inside me every single day. Granted, that's a stretch some days; but others, just seeing those silver latches makes me smile. I call it my "ten year old Grace Kelly moment." It was then I realized that suitcases + travel = chiffon. Who can deny that rationalization?
Five years ago, I hugged my daughter and said good-bye in the middle of Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta and truly believed that would be the last time I would see her; that is, until I grabbed her in the darkness in the parking area in Donegal Town, Ireland, on a cold and windy night in February.
Years and distance make a difference; they toughen the heart. Never would I recommend it to anyone, but as the young ones tell you, "the world has changed" and living next door to granny just isn't the norm. I think about all the moments she took away from me; not intentionally I'm sure, but simply to follow her dreams and her life's road. That is what me as a mama should want, but that's so damn hard to accept. Mamas and daddy's should want that butterfly effect; grow up, spread your wings, fly away.
Be careful what you wish for. For when they do exactly what you have preached for them to do during those years of childhood and adolescence, don't whimper about the outcome (my loud whimper). Accept that those wings are carrying them exactly where they should be and trust they will carry them back home.
It's easy to say now; a few months ago, not at all. I credit my change of heart to one thing: proximity. I get it why mama and daddy insisted on family reunions, getting together with aunts and uncles Sunday's after church, making a visit during Christmas, even popping up at Uncle Ivet's for no reason at all. Southern family's understand that if you can see faces, hear jokes, eat food, hug necks, distance just evaporates. I got to squeeze cheeks and hug necks; I am renewed and that has made all the difference. All that complaining I did as a child, well, mama, I'm sorry.
After our visit with Mary, Phelim and our grandchildren, we hope for more visits. We pray for more visits. After all, Caitlin needs a gramps and granny around when mama and daddy just won't give in. Next time, I - or you for that matter - whimper about visiting family, going to that annual family reunion, gathering at the lake in the summer, remember that that family, that reunion, that lake might not always be there. That absence will change you the course of your life. You will miss it.
It's the day we give thanks. In all honestly, we should do this everyday. Not just one day a year. We're hundreds of miles from those we hug on, but no matter what, we know how lucky we are. So, in honor of those organizational fools like myself, here's a list:
1. (Len) I'm thankful that we get to travel together.
2. (Judy) Totally agree. I'm glad you're the other half of Two Coots.
3. (Len) I'm thankful for communication with my sons, that I'm able to build a relationship again.
4. (Judy) There's nothing better than a do-over, a second chance. I'm so thankful that you are my second chance at love.
5. (Len) I'm thankful for our good health, which makes us able to enjoy all this.
6. (Judy) I'm thankful that you're the one with the good eyes, good body, good mind, good feet, good pipes. At least one of us should have clear sailing in order to help the other. Leaning is a good thing.
7. (Len) I'm thankful for you because you bring out the good parts in me cause Lord knows they are hard to find.
8. (Judy) Love makes that possible.
9. (Len) I'm thankful for the stories we get to share and the images we are privileged to capture. They will live forever for these people and that's an honor. Long after we're gone, our photos will be hanging on someone's wall. What an honor to have someone look at them and smile.
10. (Judy) What a privilege to share stories and moments. Not everyone gets to look in like we get to.
11. (Len) I'm thankful for Bear, our kitty. When we come home, he yells at us, but I'm thankful he's there to yell at us. He doesn't like us to leave.
12. (Judy) He's a pill, that cat. My shadow. Not many cats get a book dedication.
13. (Len) I'm thankful for Thanksgiving lasagna. Cooking is a great way to remember people and traditions. When you stand in the kitchen and cook what your parents did, what your mom made, what better way to have them with you forever.
14. (Judy) I'm a coverted Thanksgiving lasagna lover. Brings out the wanna-be Italian in me. Food is one of those ultimate connections. My mama made me tomato soup when I was sick or sad. It's been 8 years since I've tasted her comfort.
15. (Len) I think that's all the highlights, dear.
16. (Judy) A good list that is sure to grow.
17. (Len) One more, I'm thankful for family and friends that we have re-connected with. It's great to be welcomed home. And the people we've met along the way, so amazing.
18. (Judy) It's staggering to think of the experiences we have shared and the people we have met simply because three years ago we decided not to sit still. Take that, old age!
They say that gratitude produces happiness. We are happy UP TO HERE! With gratitude . . .
Thank you for supporting and following and sharing Seeing Southern and Two Coots Travel.
I must say, those eleven days on the road were some of the best days of my life. And all the planning before we left made most of it possible. But when diversions and options were presented, we took them. We learned to bend our schedule, even our expectations and be open to the unexpected.
As all of us plan our travel for the fall, winter and spring months in the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains, we have many destinations calling our names. We remember this, too: make the journey getting there and back as awe-inspiring as the destination itself. Take time to get to know the innkeepers at the out-of-the way B & B: you might just discover that this is where Cheryl Tiegs filmed one of her famous ads. Engage in conversation with someone sitting beside you at the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough; you might share a laugh (and a childhood memory) together. Find out where the locals eat and take a seat; you'll never go wrong experiencing homegrown; pull over at Perdeaux's Fruit Farm and ask about his unique invention for fruit; go see just what kind of people and places lay between Point A and Point B.
And if you happen to be in North Georgia in October, Dawsonville specifically, we'd love to meet you. We've got a booth at the Moonshine Festival promoting my new book North Georgia Moonshine (more about that later). Come by and say, "hello," and we'll talk moonshine and mountains!
Places (and People) to discover this fall
Georgia Mountain Fall Festival | Hiawassee | October 9-17
Sorghum Festival | Blairsville | October 10-11, 17-18
Apple Festival | Ellijay | October 10-11, 17-18
Japenese Arts & Cultural Festival | Ballground | October 17-18, 24-25
Gold Rush Days | Dahlonega October 16 - 18
Unicoi Wine Trail | White CountyMoonshine Festival | Dawsonville October 24-25
Santa Express Train Ride | Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad | November 17- December 24
EAT + STAY = Mountain Laurel Farm
Country Music Highway | US 23 | Ashland to Whitesburg
Wherever you chose to travel this fall, remember this: make getting there as exciting as arriving. There's much to do, much to explore in these Blue Ridge Mountains, so get away this weekend. We'd love to hear your tales from the road! Happy travels.
It's that time of year again. If you squeeze your brain hard enough, you'll be able to smell a wood fire, taste fresh apples, feel the steam of a mug of hot chocolate. Oh, but unfortunately, there's more living (and southern sweating) to be done before we get to indulge in these beauties that fall offers.
Len and I are gearing up for another season at Blue Ridge Country Magazine. You didn't know? Well, you should and you have to come along. Not only does Blue Ridge Country provide amazing photography and stories about this mountain stretch, but our bi-monthly column has become a travel go-to for many who are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway (hence our many trips north to, ourselves, discover gems in the woods). Just click this BUTTON and you'll see where we've been. More importantly, you'll know where we going and how to find us come September.
This photo was taken when an adventure took us to Gatlinburg - not for the snow, not for the mountains but for the history. Gatlinburg Inn is now in the hands of family, and they plan on keeping it that way. You'll hear all about the grandparents and their legacy within this mountain city. We'll also carry you to the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee; meet Nik Wallenda in Clayon, Georgia; and even uncover all that feuding of the Hatfields and McCoys in the Tug River Valley in West Virginia. Plus, we're planning a very personal love letter to Carlos Lovell as a "thank you" for allowing me to tell his story in North Georgia Moonshine.
So, needless to say, I'm a word factory, pumping out words and phrases of detail and description - working at full speed, brewing numerous daily pots of coffee, researching on travel sites, editing photographs and weaving stories. I'm exhausted! Exhausted, but so enriched and blessed to have met such wonderful people along the way and have the opportunity to be their storyteller.
We all need a storyteller. Someone who looks into our life with an unfiltered lens and shares authentically, the life we have lived. No judgement; just a clear picture (much like that of my camera) of who we are, where we came from and what we will leave behind.
Gotta go. . . .the factory (and another story) calls.
I love what I do. I travel. I discover stories. I weave tales that allow lives of complete strangers to become an active part of our lives, to change us, to inspire us. Sometimes for the bad, most of the time for the good. Last weekend, we visited the Smoky Mountains. They aren't my North Georgia Mountains, but darn sure close. The temperature drop in the air awakens a dreamer inside me, releasing excitement, evoking memories and charting courses.
We were scheduled to experience a first: synchronous fireflies. After one bump, there came another which shocked me more than the first. Let me set the scene: a curvy, muddy mountain trail after dark when even the sight of your hand is impossible. It's a touch thing. At the beginning, it's a flashlight thing.
We maneuvered our way towards the trailhead, Len with a headlamp and I with a flashlight. We quickly realized the headlamp was a no-no, so dark it went. My flashlight remained on, steadied on my feet, lighting the path until we move some 100 yards further, find a spot, plant our gear, and enjoy the show.
Holding on tightly to Len to avoid a face-plant, my eyes picked up on a woman darting toward me, reaching for my flashlight. "I know you can hear me," she said with such anger. "Turn that thing off." Len quickly pulled me back from her, and without saying what we wanted to say, made our way into the night.
We were excited, and at that moment, I allowed that woman to deflate my experience. Such anger and bossiness from a woman who was the self-appointed firefly queen. We knew the lights had to go off, but let me get to where I'm going without injury. It's not like there's only ONE firefly for ONE moment, and for sure, we're weren't the youngest whipper-snappers on the trail. Did she chastise everyone? Did she grab for other lights? She was rude, disrespectful, and I'm sure the fireflies thought so, too. She was a blemish (on the Park, on the community, on the experience) that needed to be popped!
I thought about her the next day as we toured the historic buildings along the Roaring Fork River Trail in Gatlinburg . . . seeing carvings, permanent marker script shouting "I've been here" . . . all you're leaving behind is proof of your ignorance.
Be polite. Be respectful. Especially when you're not on your home turf. You leave a scar with every word and mark you leave behind. In essence, when your hurt someone else - when you mouth off at someone - when you deface property - you hurt yourself. There doesn't have to be an ugly side. Forget about that . . . I know you heard me, firefly queen.
Who flipped on the wind machine?
I'm on the second floor of an early 1900s farm house. It's almost midnight and I swear, the house is going to fold around me. I tip-toe out of bed (like that will make a difference), peep out the window -- the barn is still standing even though winds are whipping at at least 50 mph (my conservative raging hormone-driven estimate). That's a good sign. Even though I'm in Northeast Georgia, I have visions of Kansas and flying houses and little people swirling through my head. The last peep I took was around 2 a.m. If I hear one more sharp swirling sound piercing through the rafters, I swear I'll put on my wool socks, grab a blanket and snuggle up on the downstairs sofa - B & B or not! I pull the covers up to my chin and pray. The next thing I know, it's sunrise; the barn is still there, and I can't wait to inhale coffee.
Now, I can't guarantee that much energy flowing through the mountains when you stay at Mountain Laurel Farm in Cleveland, but for sure, I can guarantee this: a majestic view, a tasty breakfast and a delightful innkeeper who has many stories to tell.
Melody is my new best friend. No, really. That's a perk of this job; you get to fall in love with everyone you meet (those you like anyway), tell their story through photographs and words, and always be able to call them friend. All of this you get instead of the big check at the end of the month. I like my form of payment, thank you very much.
It was merely by happenstance that I stumbled upon this farm. Looking for a place to rest and research, one that wouldn't break the bank (for I knew it would be the beginning of a multitude of stays until April), I found Mountain Laurel. Never mind I loved the name which conjured up a lifetime of memories at the Mountain Laurel festival in Clarkesville, but after seeing pictures, it looked surreal -- complete with the proverbial cherry to top - a red tin roof! A tin roof PLUS stories of Cheryl Tiegs, castles, contra dancing, jasmine, egg bowls, Vietnam, husbands and children. All that in the course of three days. My heart - and my idea notebook - are full.
There's more to come but on the Saturday morning after a week of squishing ideas into my head, I had to let a few out and share with you some jewels. I'm surrounded by my world this morning - Bear, my lovely husband, and my new Mark of the Potter mug - and life is good. When you least expect it, you are reminded just how rich you are.
Every place we visit leaves behind its mark. The tourist draws, the foodies havens, the pillows we rest upon, the ornate churches and once thriving bridges. We snap our photos and we jot down notes, revisiting and recollecting the moments when we upload photos and review the words upon arriving home. Most of the time we get what we seek, but every now and then we find a shocker of a photo that tells more narrative than our quick expected activity demands.
She sits along the banks of the Savannah River by the playground where children climb and squeal in the background. Across the river sits multi-million dollar homes like dominoes, one practically sitting on top of another, all with a history that might be just as unbelievable as hers. However, neither grabs her attention as she stares at her feet, covered on this 100- degree summer day with tattered striped socks and no shoes in sight. She could be any person, in any city, on any day, sitting on any peaceful riverbank.
But she finds herself here. I assume she is homeless and this is a stop before the next stop before the next . . . She slumps in thought as she surrounds herself with natural and man-made beauty. She is attracted to the very opposite of her life. She isn't caught up in the buildings or the slides, but she takes comfort in knowing they are close. Helping her to belong. To cope. It helps her breathe.
And for a brief moment, everything flows, just as the river, to a more beautiful ending. She is me. More than likely, she is you. If we surround ourselves with beauty, we tend to forget the unlovely. Even for an afternoon . . . .
Peace is always beautiful.”
"You're a travel writer?" she said with an elevated voice. "What an amazing job."
Yes, Nessa, it is.
When we get really lucky, we get to lay our heads at B & Bs. We dine at the breakfast table with strangers from who knows where and talk about mostly unknown things and more than likely, we'll never ever see them again. We have one moment to uncover a lifetime.
Nessa Pettyjohn and Nihshanka Debroy from Gwinnett County celebrated their one year anniversary, and at breakfast, we celebrated, complete with candle-topped banana bread. After an amazing casserole, intense coffee and our own slice of banana bread later, we discovered they were IT people. I could tell. It was like looking in a three way reflective mirror - Nessa, Nihshanka and Len. Triplets. I, on the other hand, was the elephant in the room, but that's alright. We learned about Nihshanka's love for rare books and Nessa's skill at preparing Indian food; we wanted to go home with them.
Hosts, or innkeepers, are rare breeds we are told. There are ones that are nice and do their job well. Then, there are those who could be your Aunt Sally or Uncle Frankie. Family, in other words. You hear it in their voice, see it in their eyes, in the little touches - like complimentary this-and-that, fresh baked cakes always available tempting and calling your name, exquisite "I never want to get out of bed" sheets, binoculars for bird watching, or smiles no matter the time of day. And if they accidentally lock you out of the Lodge at bedtime, you know deep down they really didn't mean to. And when they say, "Come back," they expect you to.
Janet and Ric came to Blue Ridge by way of Key Largo and Colorado. "This [Aska] makes us happy," Janet says with a visible sense of contentment radiating from her face. Calling them adventurists would be an understatement - climbing Mount Rainier and Mt. Hood, caving, scuba diving - and this little piece of heaven, satisfies their longing to be close to nature. They have even changed roles; Janet who once handled all the cooking now serves as sous chef for Ric and his morning masterpieces.
when len bought his trans am back in the stone ages of 2004, the salesman told him an added bonus of the car - in addition to its speed - was that it was a chick magnet. finally, after 10 years, the car cashed-in on its promise.
i preface my chick story with this: i've always told len that when he his beard gets scruffy on vacation (i encourage this behavior and he gives in only when we're away), that's he's a doll. women love it. add that salt and pepper hair, and well, that's one of those george clooney traits that send women over the edge.
departing key west, we made a last minute run to glazed donuts (amazing, but that's another story) for a necessary sugar blast for the 13 hour drive. i had run into the store, a mere two doors down from where len waited in the parked car. i exited in less than 5 minutes with a box stocked with glazed delights. i rounded the corner and i saw a couple eagerly snapping pictures of len. was something wrong? or had that scruffiness finally caught someone's eye, and the paparazzi was going wild. wild, i tell you. knowing that attention is not len's friend, i feared the weird. i creeped closer and the couple continued snapping, and then, i saw her. mounted on the top of the hood, majestically controlling the trans am as if it were her rooster, a hen with as vibrant an attitude as her red feathers. i learned that in escaping a querulous rooster, she flew towards the trans am for a safe haven. taking no notice of len, she strolled on the hood, then coasted downward, finally landing on the ground, ambling away in-between shrubs and bushes.
you see, chickens/roosters/hens/pests - whatever you might call them - are protected by law in key west. they are in the trees, restaurants, in the alleys, scooting down duval, challenging red lights and traffic. if you don't see them, you hear them. when cock-fighting became illegal in the 70s, the chickens lost their job but not their home. consider them a symbol of this southernmost city - irreverent, untamed, spirited, wild, and free.
len's key west chick left her mark on his hood. now, he will always have proof that, if only for a mere moment, he (and his car) was cock of this roost.
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.