I’m sitting out on our front porch. No, it is not a deck, it is a porch like my Grandma Emert had at the old Emert home place. It’s beautiful today, at least here on this porch.
Birds are singing and carrying on conversations among themselves. I wish I spoke “bird,” but this is not a talent I’ve acquired. A squirrel and a male cardinal are noshing side by side on fallen seeds from a bird feeder. Maybe we could all learn some from these two separate species.
I loved sitting with my grandma and other relatives on my grandma’s front porch. Someone would more than likely be strumming on a guitar or mandolin, singing some song of the mountains — Smoky Mountains, to be exact. My dad passed this along to our two oldest sons, one who played music with his grandfather at his final concert in Athens, Alabama, at the Delmore Days Festival in 2010. I think I’ve mentioned this before.
When I was a kid visiting at the old home place at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we wouldn’t talk a lot. We’d listened to Birds Creek across the narrow country road that led upward into the mountains. Daddy told me it used to be a gravel road and they’d take a mule drawn wagon to Sevierville or Gatlinburg.
As a kid when we drove to my grandma’s, I knew we were close once we got off Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. We’d travel on Chapman Highway out of Knoxville and make our way toward Sevierville. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, it wasn’t overrun with people.
The first structure we saw at the top of a rise coming into Seviervile was the courthouse, which is still standing. It’s an iconic building surrounded with benches and trees. I love this little neck of the woods to this day, although it’s not quite the same. The area is congested now with tourists, tour buses, and the like.
I can’t say I blame people for wanting to go up into these mountains. The Smoky Mountains always had a calming effect on me. It was like I could breathe again. Going through Sevierville to my grandma’s, I can remember getting on a road that passed a children’s home. I was always intrigued by it and wondered how kids came to live there.
Mom told me they were children of parents who were incarcerated for all kinds of crimes. I felt sorry for the children. Back then, orphanages, children’s homes, and the like didn’t always have the best reputations. I think they got better as the laws governing child welfare changed. At least these children had a home instead of the street.
The road to Grandma Emert’s could be treacherous sometimes. Chunks of it would come away from the edge and leave a really narrow gap along the shoulder of the road. I can remember sitting in the back seat and not looking out much.
Daddy would point out where my Great Grandma Maples’ little cabin was on the Little Pigeon River, I think. I adored Grandma Maples. She was so funny. Always full of jokes, she’d have everyone laughing. She taught me how to stack my fingers one on top of the other starting with my middle finger on top of my pointer finger, my ring finger on top of my middle finger, and my little finger on top of my ring finger. They’d kind of stick together. I thought that was the neatest thing.
I was not a very graceful child even as tiny as I was. It seems I fell into every creek that ran through the parks in the Smokies.
We were at the Chimneys one warm afternoon, just visiting and getting cool, and I got cooler. I don’t know how it happened, but while I was playing near a stream, I slipped on a rock and slid into the icy water. It didn’t matter if it was middle of summer and 95 degrees. The mountain streams were cold as ice.
I heard my daddy laughing and mom fussing. My sister was also laughing. I was wet to the bone as I clambered out of the water onto the rocks. Even my hair was wet. Mom was always prepared for anything and she had some towels in the trunk of the car. No, I didn’t have any extra clothes, but in truth, I enjoyed the heck out of falling in that creek.
A few days ago, my youngest son and I were on this very same porch having a discussion about life. He made the statement that he wished people realized that life is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. So far, I’m good with mine. Just give me a front porch.