Enough about the travel to Tennessee. Now for the stuff when we got there. There were 57 family members--dads, moms, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, and most of all cousins. First cousins, second cousins, and removed cousins and a few not blood—or current marriage--related at all, but just as welcome. Even a wayward resort employee joined the fun. (Who could resist?)
Follow along closely as we swing and dangle from the family tree. (My dad is a pro at keeping this all straight.) My kids and my sister’s kids are first cousins. My first cousins are my kids’ first cousins once removed. My cousins’ kids, are my kids’ second cousins. My kids’ second cousin’s kids, are my kids’ second cousins once removed. Those same kids would be my cousins twice removed. There were no third cousins, but there could be at the next reunion in 2010, then again, maybe not.
For the sake of this post we will just use the word cousin, even though “cuz” seems more appropriate in Tennessee, it just gets annoying and there are too many teachers in this family who would mark-up their screens with a red grease pencil.
With miles between us and no glaring physical attributes that join us together, there are still similar reflections rippling in the gene pool. The DNA springs up like volunteer dandelions growing in a lawn. There’s no rhyme or reason, but the resemblances and attitudes, sometimes aptitudes, just feel like home. That’s when you appreciate the value of family in its greatest sense.
These are the things I learned that stood out most:
• Like determined dandelions, the McCormicks have a stubborn gene and enjoy a challenge;
• More than stubborn, there is a sarcasm that is readily available and applauded in most cases;
• The spouses are good sports;
• A cousin in Chicago can make a triple taco with her tongue like I can;
• Two of the youngest cousins watch TV while flipped upside down on the couch;
• Four cousins reached the highest level of Girl Scouts and have successfully squashed the production of “Girl Scouts Gone Wild,” wherein you would hear familiar phrases with new meanings like, “See my badges!” “Wanna buy some cookies?”
• Family trees can be really tall;
• The Uncles are a little like Friars—silent, but still on their rockers (for the most part);
• No matter who is driving, it takes four times as long to get back from anywhere in Tennessee;
• The “scoop” is something different on the farm than in an ice cream shop;
• My aunt was a poor driver—aha! It’s genetic after all!
• Barbie dolls go skinny-dipping in creeks in Pennsylvania;
• What’s with all the teachers? They’ll never be done with school;
• Cousins have done walks and runs—marathons even--to raise money to treat leukemia and cancer;
• A quilt can be made in a week—and by amateur quilt makers;
• Sunrises in Tennessee include the sound of bugs hitting the window (bad drivers);
• After it rains in the Smokies, the mountains actual smoke;
• Shopping is in our genes, we just can’t escape it;
• The McCormicks got to wear the Smart Hats in the McCormick vs. Goff trivia game;
• Spelling T-E-N-N-E-S-S-E-E can be more difficult than it seems;
• There is a future for little kids who like to hula hoop;
• Gladys Knightgarner and the Bum-Pips shall live in our hearts forever;
• Really great Chex Mix is called “It” or “Texas Trash”;
• Add oil and dill weed and even stale pretzels will entice you to eat the whole bag;
• Playing games involving shoes and windows are sure to shatter your mom’s nerves;
• Who needs 18 holes for a round of golf? One will do (it’s a matter of perspective);
• Be glad when your daughter plays with imaginary friends and casts herself as the quiet girl who doesn’t talk;
• Planning a reunion takes a lot of work;
• Cousins look alike and often look like their aunts;
• Face it, Goffs really are just McCormicks;
• Families take care of each other;
• There’s always room for more;
• There's a lot of love left in these fields.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Monday, August 4, 2008
I am so glad I live in Southern California! Nothing confirms this more than a recent trip to Tennessee. Granted, I did not go to Nashville or Memphis, which I would still be interested in visiting, but the part of the Volunteer state I saw was beautiful but lacked direction--literally. I will give the benefit of the doubt to other areas of the state. Believing Sevier County is indicative of all of Ten-A-C is like believing Colusa is indicative of all of California. It ain’t.
I attended a family reunion held at The Preserve Resort in Wear’s Valley in the Smoky Mountains. Neighboring cities are Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The Preserve Resort was beautiful, but one trip down the main drag in Pigeon Forge clarified a comment that a Knoxville native made while waiting for our delayed flight in Atlanta. When I told her we were going to Pigeon Forge, she said, “I am so sorry!”
Imagine the Vegas Strip designed by second graders and you have a pretty clear vision of beautiful downtown Pigeon Forge. There is every tacky attraction found off the beaten track in every tourist city—even Vegas! There’s a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, about a dozen miniature golf courses, a variety of challenging go-kart courses, some extreme carnival ride and bungee jump places, a hundred pancake houses that all have the word ‘America’ in their names, then multiple chain restaurants from glorified coffee shops to steakhouses, surrounded by outlets—the Jerky Outlet, the Fireworks Outlet, and best of all, the Russell Stover Outlet. Don’t ask why the stuff is on sale, it might take the thrill out of buying it so cheap!
North on this main drag is highway 321. South is 441. Really!
The Preserve Resort is 2.8 miles up a road that wound round, dipped and climbed through woods and cabins with blind turns and a few forks. Although it was freshly paved, there were no lights. I was forewarned and always came back before curfew.
Wear’s Valley was not even on the map that came with the rental car. Alas, my eight year old could not navigate for me. That same map was useless in getting back to the Knoxville airport, and not just because I could not find the map. You take the 321 South to the 129 Bypass to the airport. The rent-a-car map does not show those two roads ever intersecting.
But I don’t think it is the rental company’s fault. I am pretty sure that the people who live there have never lived anywhere else. I am sure the only reason they have names or numbers on their streets was at the threat of losing federal highway monies. Those names are fake in their minds--just for show.
All directions, even the official ones on the resort’s website include landmarks instead of names. Instead of giving distance between turns, they use words like ‘soon,’ and ‘at this point.’ Translation:
At This Point=you just passed it.
When I got to this point and sensed that I had missed a turn to get to the airport, I stopped at a gas station.
“Yep, you missed it. Go back to the fourth stop light and turn left,” the cashier said.
“What is the name of the street at the fourth stoplight?” I asked, choking down laughter.
“It’s the 129. It’s right by Shoney’s Restaurant.” Of course, that famed tourist attraction, Shoney's! How could I have missed that? The sad part was we just had lunch across the street at Aubrey’s—which had quite an impressive beer list. (Remember that next time.) If only there had been a sign at that intersection, just a drawing of an airplane and an arrow would do.
Laughing at the directions, I forgot which way to turn. By the second stoplight I called the rental car company to ask, “If I am traveling north on the 321 to the 129, which way do I turn on the 129 to get to the Knoxville Airport?”
His reply: “Do you see the Burger King?”
On the other hand, the cabins had full air conditioning, hot tubs, and Jacuzzi tubs in every cabin. Loaded with wireless Internet access, the cabins were better than a lot of Starwood resort properties and, in some ways, better than my own home. Not to mention, we had great cell reception. The resort even has a pretty nice website, but not surprisingly, the website does not include a physical address so attempts to get directions to the airport from MapQuest were futile. I guess the mailman knows where to take mail that is addressed, “Go right soon after the Fudge/Fruit Stand on Happy Hollow, follow the blue and white signs.”
Here is my personal L.A./Ten-A-C comparison list. Keep it handy if you ever find yourself in that part of the country. If you get lost, just turn right at Burger King.
Streets are known by names
Streets are known by how many stoplights they are from where you are right then, and landmarks. But not good landmarks. There’s a difference from telling someone to get off the freeway at Dodger Stadium (where there are signs) compared to “turn left at the Advanced Auto Parts store.” Especially if there are two of the same store within a mile of each other.
People who work in any capacity remotely related to the airport or an airport hotel, know the airport. I have never gotten a shuttle driver at LAX or a neighboring hotel or parking garage who did not have a better than average understanding of the airport and the surrounding area.
The Knoxville (Alcoa) Holiday Inn Shuttle driver (40-something year old woman) has never picked up anyone from the airport at the arrival terminal. She did not know what that was. I needed her to take us there the morning after being in the hotel to retrieve our rental car. She could not figure out why you check-in with a car rental place IN the airport and go to the garage to get the car. She kept taking me to the garage. “That’s just crazy. They really have this all screwed up!” she complained.
Highways have signs. Lots of signs. Signs that tell you where you are, where you are headed and the next six off-ramps.
Who needs a sign? The road you are on is the road you are on and it will take you to where you are going. Dead end of story!
Highways are the same going North and South—the I-5 is the I-5, the 405 is the 405. Anything that intersects has its own name.
North 321, which takes hard right and left turns all over the state, is the same as 441 South. No wonder they call it the scenic route.
Amusement park parking lots have exits clearly marked.
At the famed Dollywood amusement park, there are only signs for parking, more parking, coach & bus parking, and parking. How do we leave? There’s an exit sign at the exit. Ten-A-C Reasoning: We don’t need them on the highway, why would we need them in a parking lot? We tell you where you are when you get there. Soon.
In L.A. you can buy alcohol--all kinds, at liquor stores, grocery stores, food warehouses, and even some gas stations; affordably, every day of the week.
In Ten-A-C you can buy beer and wine at grocery stores on most days, but don’t hold your breath for an import beer. A bottle of Absolut that is $16.99 in SoCal is $32.00 at a package store in TN. Maybe they don’t know the medicinal qualities of vodka.
Smog (much better than it used to be).
Fresh produce grown in CA
Anything you want deep fried. Even peanuts in the shells.
The roar of the ocean
The roar of cicadas
Sunday, August 3, 2008
I just took my kids to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee for a family reunion. We were outside Pigeon Forge in a beautiful cabin overlooking the Smoky Mountains. It was a wonderful trip but not without some challenges.
My husband had a previous engagement to go to golf camp with his dad in Colorado. He had to miss his chance to hobnob with hillbillies, but we all have to make choices (whatever!). The hillbillies were the locals, not my relatives, of course. The family prefers the term “Rurally Cultivated.”
Traveling with a kid to parent ratio of two to one can be an adventure on many levels with lots of learning opportunities. The biggest challenge is going to the bathroom. You can’t send one by her self, and you can’t leave one behind to watch all the carry-on bags. If you don’t schedule some potty breaks, you are sure to get caught deciding among sending them alone, going with them and leaving your stuff with strangers, or re-packing the mule (AKA Mom) every time nature calls.
A few weeks ago the two had gone into a bathroom at a restaurant where they were dining with their aunt. Sharing the same ratio and the same challenge, she sent them to the restroom while she stayed at the table where she could see the ladies restroom door. It is unclear what really happened to make them believe they were locked in, but their imaginations spun out of control faster than a smoothie in a blender.
In a split second they believed their aunt was going to completely forget they were with her, pay the bill and leave. As fear took them hostage, they didn’t pull the door instead of push, or turn the doorknob and then try to push/pull. They did what little girls do best. They screamed! She retrieved them and all was well.
The first opportunity for the potty break was on the plane from Los Angeles to Atlanta. We had just finished not eating our $8 Todd English-developed fried chicken sandwiches and the cellophane pouches were sprinkled all over the three lap trays in front of us. We were on a big plane; two aisles, seven seats across, with three in the middle, that one. We had the three seats in the middle allowing a 360 view of the cabin.
With a little prodding, I got her to agree to take her sister so I could mind the trash now all shoved over and piled on my tray. I could see the bathroom and would just keep my eye on the door until they made it out and make sure no one else tried to make their way in.
“If something happens, push the call light that has a picture of the stick lady carrying a cup. And don’t scream.” This warning seemed warranted. If they scream on a plane these days, I think a ranger pops out of the overhead bins and arrests somebody.
“Why would something happen?” she asks. Uh-oh, I have now introduced the possibility that something could happen.
“Nothing will happen,” I reassure her. “Now just go over there. It’s right behind the TV.”
I see their little heads bob above the seats to the TV, and come back.
“Mommy, that’s an EXIT,” they explain with a hint of “what kind of a mother are you anyway?” in their voices.
“Behind the exit row is the bathroom. Look, I can see the light on, can you see it?”
The little one was certain she knew just what I meant.
Off they went again, up six rows and into … the kitchen.
“The other TV,” I mutter under my breath. They reappear, trot across the aisle, and the light from the bathroom disappeared behind the folding door without any screaming.
“Mommy, mommy! Call Daddy when we get to the airport and tell him we went to the bathroom by ourselves on the airplane!”
Mission Accomplished: Potty Independence.