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Vacations bring unintendent consequences, memories
francis bond
Francis Bond lives in Richmond Hill, where he occasionally writes columns about things that interest him. - photo by File photo

A vacation can be a disaster for some of us — that is, if we are not careful.  

We all know this. But then, who’s going to be careful? If we did, it would not be a vacation … would it? We wouldn’t be vacating from anything. I guess it is a time to be carefree, relaxed, reflective, playing games, letting our shirttails hang out, wearing  flip-flops and laughing at every corny joke we hear when, otherwise, we’d scorn them.

Let’s face it: Things happen when least expected, especially on a vacation we had reserved for months.

On July 25, late in the evening, we found  ourselves suddenly facing a disaster.

We were looking forward to the happy times ahead of us as we walked out of a restaurant and climbed into the SUV. Then, of all places and with darkness approaching, it had to happen. Stopped in heavy, bumper-to-bumper traffic and waiting for our turn to move forward, steam and smoke began to belch from under the hood. Irritating horns started blowing. We had to find a place to get out of the traffic and call for help.

Of course, we didn’t know the town. There had been so many changes. But we managed to find a wrecking service that hauled our vehicle off to a garage for repair. The cost of that repair was $500.

Two of us went in the wrecker with our vehicle, and the rest chose to ride the city trolley back to the  motel. The motel was no more than 10 minutes away, but the trip back to the motel in that trolley took at least an hour and was a thrill in itself. The driver  accepted only the exact fare of 50 cents. He gave no change, and all I had was a $20 bill. I quickly managed to collect 50 cents from the waiting, gracious crowd. The trolley passengers were packed like sardines, and the driver stopped at every nook and cranny in the city. People got on and then got off at the next stop. We went at unbelievable speeds up and down mountains, down roads too narrow and crooked, even for cars, slinging us from side to side.  

Someone  shouted, “It’s like being on a ride at the fair!”   

We arrived at our motel near midnight. Nevertheless, we were not discouraged. We proceeded with our mission of having a good time.

The next day, we formed up again and headed out to another area of entertainment. Having two vehicles with us was a blessing. We drove one while the other one was at (we didn’t know where) being repaired.

Being separated from the others in my party, I walked to one of the amusement areas, just looking around. On a makeshift stage was a group of ragtag guys, five of them with holes in their jeans and shirttails hanging out, as if they had just dropped out of the mountains. They all had musical instruments and were talking to each other when I walked up. For a moment, I just stood there staring.  One had a banjo, one had a mandolin, two had guitars, and the other had a bass fiddle. All of the musical instruments looked like they were worn just from being played through the years, making beautiful notes. Then, suddenly, the musicians struck up a mountain tune, and I was petrified with pleasant surprise. I had never heard such charming, foot-stomping mountain music.

Still separated from my party and walking down the street, I noticed one of the most unusual exhibits (you won’t believe this) that I thought I would never see in public.

There wasn’t much space inside the exhibit to stand, and I immediately learned why. Only about 10 people could stand at the bar after they showed their IDs. There were two bartenders with garters on their shirt sleeves barking about trying that taste of what the people had heard all their lives. One bartender passed out thimble-sized cups to each person standing at the bar. The other bartender had a bottle in his hand, pouring something in each of the thimbles.

What do you think he was pouring?  Raw corn whiskey.

Mind you, this exhibit was in public! I thought, “How can this be?” The people would drink from the thimbles and ask for another. Of course, I was one of them. I lost count of the thimbles I emptied.

There were many other places to visit. I rejoined my party, and we walked down the street. It was hardly believable when we walked into a place where corn whiskey was being distilled. A whiskey distillery was in operation right in the middle of town! Now and then, the public was allowed to tour the operation, which was a replica of what one would see hidden out in the rural areas and up in the mountains. The tour guide allowed us to watch raw whiskey drip into a huge vat. He let me taste it. The whiskey was crystal clear and so strong that it numbed my tastebuds.

Did I say unbelievable? It was an adventure and a shocking experience — and all legal.

Another unexpected event was the spoiler of the day. As we walked along the street, my wife stumbled, fell on the sidewalk and injured her knee.
It was so serious that we had to take her to the  hospital.

We spent most of the day at the hospital and had had no lunch that day. We looked forward to a late-night snack at a well-known fast-food restaurant. It was late in the evening, but the bright outside lights were still on as we walked in. However, the doors were locked behind us, and the brooms were out.

A waiter quietly said, “We’re closing early tonight, but we’ll take your order.”

They didn’t exactly fill our order, but they did serve us an assortment of fried chicken. I believe it might have been the “days’ leavings.” That ended a day to remember.

It has been many years since we visited Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee. Have these cities changed since then? I should say so. They have been french-fried from Gatlinburg to Sevierville and all the way to Interstate 81, and even more places of entertainment are being built.

Oh! We never found the old home place after driving around all afternoon looking for it. We were assured that it is still there.

We did not visit Dollywood, but three of our party got to see a bear on top of Ole Smokey!

Will we return? Of course! We were born there.

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