Time to fill my role in Tennessee


I’m headed on a getaway in memory of Mom.
We used to rent a home in the Smoky Mountains every couple of years just to re-engage with each other. Usually a four-night, five-day affair where the groups from outside of Iowa plow through bags of Sterzings while we work our way through coolers of beer.
Euchre and Rummy Royal are usually on the agenda at some point, but so is a trip into Pigeon Forge for go-carts and mini-golf.
Mom wasn’t in for all the tourist, get-out-your-wallet kind of stuff, but you gotta satisfy the kids a little.
We tripped down their a couple times when I was a kid, too. I would always be in a t-shirt or tank top, athletic shorts and white socks with colored stripes up to my knees.
Yes, I was a nerd. It’s probably not hard for many of you to believe that. I still have that aura about me. It took my older brother many years to get me outta that mode. Then I went way the other way, long hair, jean jacket, boots, Brut, all the stuff that’s supposed to make you not a nerd.
Anyway, in my family, I am still the nerd. The book geek, coffee drinking, know-it-all that irritates my brothers and their wives to no end. In my last 10 years or so, I’ve tried to live my life a little better - focusing on family and being an asset instead of an ass.
Everyone here knows that families are tough. You must have patience and wisdom to survive. You must be able to smile and know each other’s boundaries – be helpful without being intrusive.
You also must have a short memory. That’s something that I try to carry with me when we’re tucked back in the trees inside a wooden home that was built to sucker people like me into hanging out and dodging black bears…and apparently this year, Bigfoot.
My niece wants to go on a hike looking for a sasquatch. I’m not a fan. I don’t fear America’s most elusive ‘monster’, but I don’t wanna see how I’d fare up against a black bear in the woods.
We usually don’t meander too far and there’s usually a creek nearby that we dam up with rocks so as to pool up the creek a bit and then put our chairs in the water to stay cool. Otherwise we’re in the cabin with the A/C running. We’d rather be outside.
One year we were damming up a rather brisk creek and I was carrying a large flat rock up through the water to “damn” site. I went to set the boulder down in a strategic spot. It slipped off the mossy surface of the other rocks and tumbled down onto my ankle. I had to be carried out by the boys and back to the cabin. I thought I was headed to the ER for a cast and some crutches. I couldn’t move the thing. We iced it and I limped around for a few hours until I regained some mobility as we debated heading in for the x-ray. It turns out nothing was broken and we didn’t go to the hospital until I got back. The ankle was green, yellow, blue, and black, but the doc said mobility was good and he couldn’t feel any fractures so I was sent home.
One year I took the Kelsey and Taylor myself and Lee stayed back at the house. Kelsey would not let anyone else hold her. EVER. I think she may have been maybe two at the time, but I couldn’t do anything without having her in my arms. We got there a day after everyone else and, because of that, we got stuck in a closet of a bedroom with a twin bed for all three of us. I now get a bedroom of my own.
Last year we played blackjack on a bar in one of the rooms for, like, three hours. I was the dealer and we played with real money. We used two decks or “shoes” and we proved quickly that the odds are always with the house. I gave mom’s money back, but I kept everyone else’s. Nobody puts Chuckie in the closet.
On any given day we can find ourselves migrating through some of the towns tucked into the curves of the Smokies. We find all-you-can-eat catfish, or breakfast buffets to help the recovery of some of the previous night’s antics. One of my favorite things to do is to find little restaurants owned by the locals and try something “somewhat safe”.
But the main thrust of these things is to get together. The value is in the memories of nearly broken ankles, taking each other’s money, walking around the cabin talking with hands full of salty chips and conversation.
It's the hugs upon arrival and the hugs when we leave. It’s rubbing paint with your nephew on the go-cart tracks and then making sure he doesn’t cheat on the mini golf course. You never let your brother keep score.
It's the memories of the road trip and I guess a stop at a big gas station called Buc-ees. It's the late nights around a fire telling stories that you’ve all heard umpteen times but still laugh at. It’s Chuck being the family class clown. And it’s mom and Kels looking down.
I’m not sure how many more of these trips are in our future. I hope many. You can be sure that I’ll treat every one of them like it’s the last.
So go find your cabin, or hotel, or campground, or tee-pee (yeah we did that), or vacation home. Find a place to get away from the politics and social anxiety that blankets us daily in a world of 24/7 skewed national news, and debates that are literally an embarrassment to the nation. Find a place to curl up with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and watch your family be your family. Blink a lot like you're taking mental pictures and file it all away. At some point when you really need it, those memories will be there. You just gotta make ‘em .
We'll be off for a week, but I'll have the laptops with me. Never know when news will break, or an ankle. We're never too far away – but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Editorial, opinion, commentary, Beside the POint, Sunday, Fort Madison, Tennessee, cabins, vacation, Chuck Vandenberg, family, memories, trips, Buc-ees, smoky mountains,


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here