We three Chapman brothers—Ernie, Dave, and Gary—and our wives—Pauline, Sherry, and Jan–escaped to a favorite haunt, the Smokies, during the last week in October 2015. We celebrated our birthdays—Ernie’s 80th, Dave’s 75th, Gary’s 70th, Pauline’s 75th, Sherry’s 70th, and Jan’s 70th—all of which have or will occur in the 11 months that began October 3. It was an enjoyable and beautifully-decorated party. We did eat too much, but we did not overindulge in the spirits, befitting our advancing years.
Is there a more lovely place to enjoy autumn and its flamboyant colors than the Smokies at the height of the color season, which is when by pure accident we arrived? Even the drive between Iowa and Tennessee, all the way, took my breath away. (Not that taking my breath away takes much effort, but this was just about more pleasure to the eyes than even I could stand.)
One day we toured Cades Cove, remembering every previous trip, which would be more than four apiece. I could have run beside the car, considering the speed at which we drove in the procession with all of the other vehicles in the cove, but, you know, the cove is pretty high in altitude, and it was fun just to drive with our windows and sometimes our doors open. It was midday. We didn’t see much wildlife that day. I stopped counting wild turkeys at a dozen.
The next day we drove over Newfound Gap to Oconaluftee, and we decided to count—85 wild turkeys before we started back and knew we might be counting some of the same birds, 25 elk from the newly restored population, and one bear cub half-way up a tree. To be honest, some of the others saw his cute face as we passed by in the car, but I was too slow and all I saw was his butt. But his butt was enough to satisfy me.
The next day we drove a little farther and saw the Gray Fossil Beds and Natural History Museum, with its extraordinary collection of 4 ½ to 6 million year old alligators, tapirs, red pandas, prehistoric as-yet-unnamed elephants (with 10 foot tusks that stick out straight forward), giant tortoises, rhinoceroses, and so many other flora and fauna, known and unknown. Perhaps the greatest wonder is that politicians had the foresight to save and fund this place so that we could learn so much about an entirely unknown era in our past.
That same day we visited the oldest town in Tennessee, Jonesborough, where some of our ancestors hung out for a while on their way west; the birthplace of Davy Crockett; the home of Andrew Johnson; and perhaps the most sublime treat of all—the Bush Bean headquarters at Chestnut Hill. We all stocked up with some of the most exotic of their 71 varieties of canned beans. We didn’t see their dog Duke, though, only his picture, and no one revealed their secret family recipe.
We banqueted at The Alamo in Pigeon Forge, not wearing our coonskin hats, but the food was good. The girl who photobombed our family picture apologized later. She didn’t need to.
Thank you to Ernie and Pauline, who hosted us at their condo!