Prayers for Gatlinburg

This Fall has been filled with moments of true sadness, sorrow, woe,?  Confusion? It has brought with it drought, hurricanes, fires and death.

At the end of September, my father died.  A few times, I’ve sat down to write a blog post about his death, but each time, I couldn’t find words that matched how I felt.  Every time I thought I might try to discuss it, I found that it seemed too complicated to try to sort out and I doubted that anyone out there in cyberland was interested in watching me flounder around trying to give some background on his story? my story? our story? that would make it all understandable. 

To say that we didn’t have a good relationship is an understatement.  We had a terrible relationship that was almost always a double negative and it seemed wrong somehow to pour out the spew that came up inside me in a moment when I should be respectful and mournful of his passing.  How could I go about explaining the relief I felt and the fact that I didn’t want a funeral for him without it seeming like I was the worst possible daughter in the world?  So I knew that I would have to get to a point where I could at least attempt to put it all down in some meaningful order before I could bring myself to even broach the subject of his death.  But I haven’t done that.  Even now, I stumble to find any words that would help this story make sense because it doesn’t. 

So there it all is in a mess of a paragraph that doesn’t do much to explain any of it.  But it’s a beginning, like lancing a boil.

For weeks now, I’ve gone about the business of trying to live my life and handle things the way I always have, by putting on my big girl panties and facing the tribulations like a trooper, pushing away what I don’t have time to deal with until a time when I can take it out and organize it so that it makes sense to me. 

I did this when my grandmother died too.  But that was different.  She was wonderful and I loved her dearly.  Still.  That time I pushed my sadness down and rocked on.  Until one particularly ordinary day when I walked into the pharmacy to pick up some medicine.  I didn’t even realize it was close to Mother’s Day until I saw this extremely gaudy plaque that was just the sort of thing that my grandmother would have cherished.  The moment I registered what it was, I burst into tears.  Not just tears.  Nasty, snotty tears and I couldn’t catch my breath.  I thought I was going to die.  The pharmacist did too and was on the verge of calling the ambulance when I ran out, jumped in my car and tore away from there before I had to explain myself to anyone.

I had another moment like that again this morning. 

Each day, while we are getting dressed, The Dane either turns on the radio or the TV.  After he leaves, I switch the channel to a news station.  This morning, I stood frozen, watching the Great Smoky Mountains burn.  The tears tore from me so fast that it physically hurt to cry.  This cry was totally different from that day in the pharmacy.  This wasn’t grief.  This was rage.

Once upon a time, when I was eight years old, I went to Gatlinburg with my grandmother and my father.  That year is very vivid in my mind.  My father was home for the first time in my life and he actually wanted to do something fun with my grandmother and me.  And it was fun.  He packed me and my grandmother into his old blue station-wagon with the wood paneling and drove us up to Gatlinburg.  He stopped at every stream on the side of the road, just because I was fascinated with them.  The two of them took me to see real bears and we visited family at the top of the mountain.  They made honey and put it into those little bear bottles that you see on shelves in the grocery store. 

We drove into Gatlinburg to see the sights.  Back then it was just a dinky tourist town, just enough to keep us busy for the day.  Later in the week, we drove further into the mountains all the way to Cherokee, NC where my father attempted to try to let me learn something of my Indian culture.  That attempt was to take me to an amusement park called Fronteirland, which truly was a poor attempt, but at least it was an attempt.  More than he would ever try to do again.  Those memories are precious and the only ones of him that were good and pure. 

Seeing the mountains on fire was more than I could bear.  So I cried uncontrollably as I tried not to let my anger and hate consumed me.  Tried not to be angry at all the other moments he stole from my family and me through the years.  All the ones that were pleasant until I realized they were tarnished.  I tried not to think about how much I resent my family for talking about how awful I am because I “didn’t put him away proper” and how my grandmother would turn over in her grave if she knew. 

I thought about the most awesome trip that The Dane and I took to Gatlinburg and how colorful it was this time last year.  I thought about the beautiful bed and breakfast, Eight Gables Inn, where we stayed and I feared to think about it too much.  Didn’t want to wonder what happened to the two kittens that followed us around last year.  This afternoon, I saw coverage of the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort on fire and my heart sank.  Our favorite little spot is just a little up the mountain from the resort so I knew, no, felt, that it was lost. 

When I came home, The Dane looked up the website and my heart sank all the way to my toes when I saw the page thanking everyone for the memories.  Again, the tears came as I thought about all the people who’d lost loved ones, pets, homes, businesses, and property.  I thought about all the places where there are animals that I was sure no one had time to take away properly. 

Tonight, The Dane and I tried to learn what we could about how much damage was done to the town.  Was anyone hurt?  What about the birds at the sanctuary?  What about the fish at the aquarium?  What about the wildlife and how far down will they run?  Should we get our jump bags ready?  Our son is a fireman, will they call him in?  Will the disaster team be activated?

For those of you that have never been to Gatlinburg, it truly is a special place.  I know that I am not the only one morning it tonight.  For those who are affected by the fires, I send my condolences.  The Great Smoky Mountains are in my prayers tonight.  If you’re the praying sort, Gatlinburg could sure use them.  If you’re not the praying sort, I ask that you keep Gatlinburg in your good thoughts.

A sincere thanks for stopping by my blog.

Sincerely,

~PJ

PS:  To the staff at Eight Gables – thank YOU for the memories.  I will never forget them.

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