Smoky Mountain Memories Pt 2

(another letter from the same “family vacation” as the last post).

Aug 2, 1997,

Dear Husband:

So yesterday Dad drove us out to Newfound Gap, a big tourist spot because — I kid you not — of a border sign in the parking lot that says “Tennessee” on one side and “North Carolina” on the other. Dad has old pictures of us as kids on each side of that sign; I think he thought we’d be willing to re-do it. However, Middle-Sister & Brother & the assorted spouses didn’t come with us, so Dad was stuck griping about not being able to do that — and griped even more when Younger-Sister & myself refused to do the photo thing, too. Seriously, there’s lots of trails up there & tons of gorgeous scenic views, hazy blue mountains in the distance rippling from air distortions like huge waves of land, lines of pine & fir poking up from the masses of deciduous hardwood forest & looking like barren toothpicks jutting up from green cotton balls. Clear turquoise sky with only the occasional puffy cloud floating by below us — and all Dad can do is gripe about not getting a picture of a freakin’ border sign.

On top of that, Mom’s knee started acting up, so she couldn’t hike, and she & Dad got into a constant nit-picky fight for the rest of the day because Dad would stay back with her while me & YoungerSister went on the trails. But me & YoungerSister went for about a mile up the Appalachian Trail to see more of the hazy distant mountains & lots of dead pine trees — a blight’s going through the whole region & killing off the firs, and it’s working its way down the range ( more on that in a bit).

From Newfound Gap, Dad drove us up to Clingman’s Dome, a fun, nerve-wracking drive on a narrow, twisty road with no guardrails through thick clouds to a half-mile steep hike in bright sunlight that turned me bright red. The Dome is a space-needleish observation tower on top of one of the higher peaks & the view goes for miles on a clear day. However, the last time I was up here as a kid, it was a very shady, breezy walk. That blight I mentioned? It’s killed all the fir trees around Clingman’s, and at that height, evergreens are the only trees that grow. Those firs gave a ton of shade, but now they’re all dead, and the sun was killer. Mom & Dad, who’ve been up here quite a bit, didn’t think to mention that to us, so both YoungerSister & I were both without sunblock. Still, I’d worn long sleeves and jeans — I’d remembered how cold it got up there, even in the summer — so the sunburn was limited to my nose & cheeks.

It was sad, though, all those dead trees. Clingman’s was one of the gorgeous areas of the park, and now it’s nothing but barren, rotten toothpicks.

But then the family bitching really started.

I’ve now learned that my family keeps talking, and talking, and talking, and talking, and TALKING, even when there’s nothing to say and no reason to say anything. (Good gods, have I changed that much? I don’t remember getting this irritated by their chatter.) Do you have any idea how hard it is to enjoy a view or meditate on the silence and birdsong or just simply run energy when someone is next to you jabbering away & expecting you to talk back, even though you’re not listening & not responding & there’s a gorgeous view of the mountains right there?

The Appalachian Trail was profound, awesome silence, with only the calls of birds and whispery rushes of leaves and wind, no traffic, no other people except YoungerSister. I stood there, just wanting to listen to that wonderful silence…and YoungerSister promptly started jabbering away at me. Any attempt on my part to simply tell her to shut up would’ve been taken as rude & caused a ton of trouble and bitch-outs from Mom & Dad, so all I could do was suffer in silence and hope she’d get the hint, eventually.

Same at all the pull-offs, up to Newfound Gap, up to Clingman’s and back. The Smokies’ main road has pull-off areas every half-mile or so for scenic overlooks, and — wonder of wonders — Dad actually stopped at most of them. I’d stand there, staring out at the mountains, listening to the wind and feeling the breeze and smelling that deep scent of trees and earth and sun-warmed grass…and then Mom would start bitching about her camera not working right. Every. Damn. Stop. She spent the entire day fiddling with this stupid camera and complaining about it, when she wasn’t fighting with Dad over whether or not Dad would hike with us. I don’t think she ever saw the actual mountains.

On top of that, Dad started up, complaining about his !@$#!@ video camera batteries running down.

Every. Damn. Stop.

Every. Damn. Minute.

I’m not exaggerating, Husband Mine. Mom and Dad did not shut up the entire trip from Newfound Gap to the Dome and back to Gatlinburg, and all of it was complaining & fighting about their cameras.

Like Jesus, GOD, people, put the cameras DOWN if you hate them that much and enjoy the view. They come down to the Smokies almost every year: summer vacation, Christmas, fall, you name it, Mom & Dad find an excuse to go to the Smokies for a weekend. They’ve got boxes full of pics & movies of every tourist area here, every trail, every pull-off…and they’re complaining because this one day, their toys aren’t acting right?


So with Parents & YoungerSister jabbering & complaining all the way, we finally made it to the outskirts of Gatlinburg just as the sun went down…and then we hit the nightly incoming traffic jam. All the tourists returning to roost like pigeons, and all along the same stretch of road from the Sugarlands to Gatlinburg. After 15 minutes of our car being stuck at the same spot & the jabbering & complaining still hadn’t stopped, I couldn’t take it any more.

I shoved open the car door, told Mom & Dad I’d meet them at the hotel, and took off walking into Gatlinburg. I heard Dad yell my full name like I was a child & order me to GET BACK HERE, but I ignored him & kept walking. I’m a freakin’ adult, thank you. Besides, I was perfectly safe — we were less than half-a-mile from the border of Gatlinburg, a well-lit road with tons of tourist cars at a standstill. I had to get away from all that chatter and bitching. I even stopped at a Ben & Jerry’s along the way & got a double-scoop of Funky Monkey on one of their fresh-made waffle cones, and I STILL beat them back to the hotel.

but oh, it didn’t stop there.

I say it again: this is the last time I vacation with my family. Or spend longer than 24 hours with them. EVER. PERIOD.

So, today.

Today all of breakfast was spent listening to my family argue about where to go, and finally, finally, they made plans to go into Cherokee, NC, then to Cades Cove (Entire family this time included Middle-Sis & husband and Brother & Wife, who led the Cherokee charge.) I did not want to go to Cherokee. It’s an over-priced tourist trap. So I said (calmly, politely, quietly) that I was going to go hike the Laurel Falls trail (Laurel Falls has a trolley running to it, just past the visitor center. Extremely popular spot), and I’d meet them for dinner when they got back, you folks have fun, get me a tomahawk hahaha. After yesterday’s day-long complaining, I wanted — needed– a quiet hike by myself.

Since Brother & MiddleSister & their spouses had gone off on their own yesterday, you’d think it’d be okay for me to do the same thing, right?

Yeah. Right. Suddenly, one at a time, Mom, my sisters, Brother, & Dad all changed their mind & decided to go out to Laurel Falls with me because “Oh, we can save Cherokee for another time”. But I can see that my sister-in-law & brother-in-law are not happy — SIL isn’t an outdoors-type & BIL had been really looking forward to seeing Cherokee — and on top of that, Dad sounded decidedly ticked-off. (note from the present: I found out later that there was some new casino in Cherokee; I’m betting he wanted to go gamble under the excuse of “checking it out” for their tour business. He has problems with gambling).

Fuck it. I was getting ticked off, too. I wanted some time alone, for peace & quiet, but evidently I wasn’t allowed to be by myself. I finally grabbed my notebook, told them all to go do whatever, I wanted to be alone today & was going to do some research on my ghost, have fun, see ya, bye. I all-but-fled to the local library, which, luckily, was right across the parking lot from our hotel. I thought I was safe — I’m the only one who loves libraries.

So I get inside, spend a moment breathing and calming down, talk with the librarian a bit, and find the history section, select a book on Tennessee Confederate history, and sit down in that nice, comfortable, cool space to read.

And Dad came storming in.

He followed me. He fuckin’ followed me. Before it completely sunk in that yeah, he’d fuckin’ followed me into a public library, Dad was laying into me like I was some two-year-old child, demanding I stop this “nonsense”, stop acting like a bitch, and go to Laurel Falls with everyone since it was all “my idea” and how dare I ruin everyone’s vacation by acting like this!!

He was bitching me out in front of the fuckin’ librarian and everyone there!!!

God. Right now I’m so mad I can barely write straight. Just writing this out gets me enraged again. But I’m still here, in the library, by myself. I flat-out told Dad no & refused to budge. So he got loud…and then the librarian — who was sitting right at the desk, just a few feet away — spoke up with “Honey, do you need me to call the police?”

That’s when it evidently sunk in to Dad that he was making a scene in public, in front of an audience, and that the librarian was talking to me. He shut up and stormed out.

God, god, GOD. Thank gods for librarians. Especially librarians who show you the restroom and then ask if you need help when you come back out. I reassured her it was just family bs & I’d be okay, and she showed me to a study room so I could get my calm back…and pointed out the free coffee machine behind her desk, if I wanted some.

I’ll head out to Laurel Falls later. I want only a quiet hike by myself, away from the constant chatter and fighting and complaining, and if the price of that is making these crazy people mad at me, so be it.

I am NOT doing this again with them, ever.

I’ll catch hell tonight. I don’t care. Love you.


(note from the present: god. That got me angry all over again. Some context: I was freakin’ 31 years old at that time. I’d been married for three years & living on my own for ten. I hadn’t taken my own car, since Husband needed it to get to work, so I’d ridden down with Mom & Dad and YoungestSister. Dad had rented a van for us, using his & Mom’s “tour business” to demand free upgrades to the rental. So I was stuck.

This isn’t a case of “oh, you’re always a child to your parents”. No. Normal parents don’t treat adult children like that. Dad had no problem respecting my Brother’s & Middle-Sister’s autonomy — but the moment I wanted just some time alone, the entire vacation was “ruined” because of it.

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. It’s just part of an entire shit-pile of a lifetime of emotional abuse. But that’s for another post.

Oh, and my Confederate ghost story is told here.

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