The summer of 1951 my family was living in the Copper Basin of Tennessee where my dad was pastor of the Methodist church in Ducktown. This area of Tennessee was a rather God-forsaken place with few trees or vegetation able to survive the ravages of copper mining . I remember the water that had an ‘off’ taste and the air with a strange smell. I believe this was the most challenging assignment my parents ever had, isolated from other pastor-family friends and of course loved ones in Virginia.
So when my mother’s sister brought family to see us that July, we anticipated their visit and counted the days to their arrival. My mother, who liked to cook, had made ahead much good food to be enjoyed.
When everyone arrived, however, not only had my aunt brought her sister and three children ages 9, 6, and 2 but our grandfather ‘Papa’ and Cousin Ada, who at that time were in their 60s!
To make their visit more special, my parents planned for us all to make a trip to the Smoky Mountains for a few days. We would take two cars.
That Saturday morning my parents packed food for breakfast, bacon and eggs, and the Coleman camp stove in the car. My mom cooked breakfast for 11 people at a picnic table beside the Ocoee River. I am remembering how delicious that breakfast tasted as we watched the rapids of the river flow by!
As we were preparing to get going, my dad requested that we stop at a gas station nearby so he could make a call to one of his parish families, where an elder was very ill. As fate would have it, the elder had passed during the night. There was nothing else for my dad to do but turn back for his duty.
After talking the situation over, the adults decided to go ahead with the trip. So the ten of us somehow squeezed into my Aunt Helen’s Chevrolet and off we went toward the Smokies with the food, camp stove, and our few belongings.
Due to everyone’s limited resources, I think we ate in a restaurant maybe twice on that three-day trip. I remember a breakfast in a restaurant where our cousin Ada ordered a glass of orange juice. Her jaw dropped when she found the charge on her bill - $1.00!
We stayed in tourist homes for the two nights. That was similar to today’s bed and breakfasts minus the breakfast.
The second day, we were in Gatlinburg. Not quite as crowded as today, the town was still filled with tourists like us. Trying to cross a busy street, all ten of us, my cousin Dick (my age – 9) was grazed by a car. I remember him getting knocked down and stunned but somehow not injured, except for a skinned knee.
Our splurge for the trip was buying tickets for the outdoor drama Unto These Hills. How exciting was that, witnessing the story of the Cherokee Indians and Trail of Tears! I remember my cousin Susie being thirsty. Sure enough in the middle of the play, her mom had to go find some water. My brother was also very young at the time, four years old.
Our Aunt Helen the driver was a spinster school teacher and had a bit more money than her sisters. She was always so good to her nieces and nephews. I remember her buying each of us children a souvenir from the trip. Mine and Susie’s were purses made of nylon yarn with draw strings.
Traveling home the next day, we had the windows open to let in welcome air. Cousin Susie had her purse on her arm out the window when a puff of wind suddenly blew it away. I remember how she cried.
For years to come, my mother’s family talked about the fun of that trip together.