coming up for air
On Mother’s Day, I did go see mom. She…sort of knew who I was? I wore her favorite Winnie the Pooh shirt, and she recognized that; but then she kept asking how old I was. I wanted to take her some silk flowers and the blueberry bread from the corner grocery that she likes, but New Psych doesn’t allow such, so I just took her a card. I kept up a conversation for half an hour or so, before she started to get fidgety and want me to roll her around so she could show me where she worked before we left. When that started, I said I’d go find her clothes (she was complaining she didn’t have any, which she does) and slid out. Call me a coward, but I wasn’t sure I could deal with bringing her down from a fit of agitation.
The staff are very nice and seem capable, so I took the advice of Amy, the new social worker, and hit the road Monday morning for the mountains. About halfway there, the phone started to ring. Amy called to ask if somebody could come out that afternoon to meet with the new psychiatrist, so I called to line my uncle up. Then the business office called for mom’s insurance number because they couldn’t find it in her file. Um, I’m driving, 100 miles from home, and why would I risk losing her insurance cards by carrying them on a trip? They said they would call Old Psych, and the insurance company.
I love the Smokies so much, just seeing the number 407 in any context makes me smile. (It’s the exit number off the interstate. LOL) That magic mile marker reached, I started up toward the mountains, with a stop at the big knife store. Sounds odd, right? It’s amazing. It has a huge kitchen store, all manner of outdoors stuff, and half the basement is the ‘relic room’: everything from Native American stone tools and chunks of meteorites to African royal stools and letters from World War 2 soldiers. We drove past it dozens of times when my parents and I went up there, and daddy always wanted to stop but never did. I wish we had’ve; he loved history and he would have loved the place.
Actually, I did stop for knife purposes, I took a couple of daddy’s old pocket knives, one to get sharpened and the other to see about getting the handle repaired. A kind old fellow explained to me how to fix the second one myself, then examined the first one closely, then sent me upstairs to the antique department. There, another kindly old fella whipped out a magnifying glass and a list of makers’ marks, and after more scrutiny, informed me I likely wouldn’t want to touch that knife, to sharpen or anything else. Apparently, it’s almost 100 years old. Daddy carried it as long as I can remember, and I think he said once he’d had it since he was a kid, so that fits.
While eating the peanut butter sandwich I brought for lunch, the phone started to ring again. Amy again, to cancel the doctor meeting; he wanted to have a few more days to see mom first, which made perfect sense. Texted uncle David again to inform him, before hitting the road. I barely got out of the knife store parking lot before the phone went off again; this time, it was Place K, informing me they felt mom really isn’t appropriate for assisted living, memory care or otherwise. If she has to go into the nursing home section, the process of working out payment and such pretty much has to start all over, because it’s a whole other thing, with Medicaid petitions and such. Nice to hear while navigating through tourist traffic.
Needless to say, all this was not contributing to my starting a relaxing mini-vacation. Aunt and uncle sensed my distress, I think, because they both ordered me to quit worrying. By the time I got to Pigeon Forge, I decided they were right. Worrying isn’t going to change anything. Besides, just seeing the mountains lifts my heart so, I could not bear to harsh my buzz.
Now, about that motel. It’s called the Norma Dan, opened in the 50s by, yep, a couple named Norma and Dan. Their little home is next door. Across the street is a Shoney’s restaurant. If you aren’t from this area, Shoney’s is pretty famous for their breakfast bar. Daddy loved a good breakfast bar, and often, on the morning we were going home from the mountains, we would stop at this particular one. I don’t know how many times we were sitting in there eating, and he would look out the front window and say ‘I wonder who owns that little house! It looks so funny in the middle of all those motels and eating places. It must belong to somebody (as in, somebody with money), or they would’ve sold it long ago’.
You see where this is going. It was that very same house, owned by the folks who started this motel (which, by the way, is not fancy, but is neat as a pin and very comfy. I highly recommend.)
Here’s the view from my balcony, and there’s that little house.
I told this story to the front desk folks, who happened to be a daughter and a couple of granddaughters—yes, it’s still run by that family—and they said grandpa still lives there, and at that moment was probably kicked back in his recliner watching tv, in an old holey pair of jeans and a shirt he had had for 30 years. I could not keep from tearing up. Wish we had known that back then, because it sounds like he and daddy would have hit it right off. Probably would’ve sat and talked half a day. Daddy never met a stranger, and while mom and I were up the mountain shopping, he could amuse himself all day riding the trolley around town and chatting up the driver and anybody else he met.
It was warm, so I changed into a clean t-shirt & went to walk a bit. There’s a new Cuban diner I wanted to find for supper, not far up the Parkway, the main drag. Yeah, it’s lined with tourist traps, but somehow that’s never bothered me. It’s just fun.
Once I found the diner, I wasn’t really hungry yet, so I thought I’d walk on. In the midst of the t-shirt shops and mini-golf courses is a little place called Stewart’s Drugstore. Mom and I found it years ago; when the only bookstore in Gatlinburg closed, this was the only place we could find the Nashville paper, and every day we drove into Pigeon Forge to get one for daddy. It’s a classic old-school variety store. You want a donut cushion to sit on, a sleeper sofa, or jewelry made from cut out coins? Sandpaper, a leather biker jacket, a framed religious print, a tub bench, or an old comic book? Just rummaging around in there was often the highlight of a Smokies trip for mom.
After supper (no atmosphere, but good food; huge Cuban sandwich, ate half, took the rest back to the fridge in my room) I got in touch with my friend Kelly. She lives on the North Carolina side and we planned to meet for supper the following night. Then I sat on the balcony and looked out at the mountains. Really, I expected to cry a good bit while there. I didn’t, and wasn’t sure why, till later.
Tuesday, I drove up to Gatlinburg and spent the day meandering around the park and the loop of craft shops in the hills above town.
I had sternly told myself I wasn’t spending money. (In fact, thanks to the fridge and microwave in my room, the bread and peanut butter I brought, plus the plentiful free continental breakfast, I ended up only buying suppers.) To be honest, I did more gleaning of ideas for stuff I could make than buying of stuff. I did, however, buy a marbled leather bookmark (the lady threw in some scraps, which I plan to make into earrings!) and a scented candle, Another PB sammich for lunch, but this time I got a phosphate (handmade soft drink) at an awesome old-fashioned soda fountain to go with, and they welcomed me to sit and eat.
Supper meeting was at a catfish joint called Huck Finn’s. I’d known Kelly online for a while but this was the first time we’d met. We connected instantly—she reminds me a lot of a dear friend I lost earlier this year. Her daughter who’s heading for college in the fall came along and the three of us had a great evening. After eating, we came back to the motel; she’d brought me some of her homemade soap, and I brought some of my fountain pens for her to try (and one to take with her. Yes, I am an evil enabler.)
It’s a good thing I can entertain myself shopping without SHOPPING, if you know what I mean. Wednesday, I went to get a few gifts to bring home, and roamed around the outlet malls, with a midday break to return to my room and knock off the rest of that tasty Cuban. As evening approached, I stumbled upon this teeny German restaurant with glorious bratwurst and fries, and an ice cream sundae made to look like a plate of spaghetti.
Full disclosure, I did not take this pic. I was halfway through the thing before I even thought about getting my phone out.
As I packed to come home, it occurred to me that other than the drug store and discovering the story behind the little house, I had, consciously or not, avoided places I associated with my parents. I didn’t go to restaurants we frequented, or shops we had often visited; didn’t ride the trolley; didn’t even check on the place we used to stay. Maybe that’s why I didn’t miss them as terribly as I had feared. On the whole though, it was good for me, to go up there and wander around on my own timetable, and breathe before I have to dive back into caregiving
Oh, one more thing. For a good while after daddy passed, I would see heart shaped things in unusual places. Mom said it meant he was thinking of us. The only time we went back to the Smokies without him, I went to the car one morning and found an oil spot on the pavement beside it in a perfect heart.
I was not thinking about that, at all, last Wednesday when I went up to the park, but walking along the road, I looked down and saw this.
Guess he knew I was coming, huh?