Heading South

When most people say, “And that’s when it headed south,” they mean things went terribly wrong. But for me, heading south is heading home. It can be the home in middle Tennessee where my mother lived for 36 years, but it can be other places as well. In this case, it’s home to the mountains of Tennessee.

This particular day we are heading south for our annual family visit to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for hiking, picnicking, and general family togetherness. As well as we can reconstruct, this.. is our 25th year for this trek. We didn’t start out to create a family tradition–we just wanted to take advantage of the long fall weekend off from school to head to the peace and color of the Smokies.

At first, Dad Boyd would drive over from his Indiana home to ride down and back with us. We loved having him with us and he seemed to relish it, too. When he could no longer drive over, often Steve’s sister Nancy and her husband Flay would meet us there and bring him along. Nancy would make Kelsey a special birthday cake and we’d celebrate two weeks early. We’d go our own ways during the day, but we’d enjoy eating, shopping, and hanging out together in the evenings.

When Josh went away to college in 1990, we wondered if that would be our first Smokies weekend without all of us there, but he didn’t want to miss out. Nancy and Flay drove via Nashville to pick him up at his college campus, and we went home that way to drop him off. So coming from college became the routine which Kelsey picked up on all four years.

When Josh and Gina married in 1995 and were living in Bloomington, Indiana, we figured all the heroic measures for getting Josh there from Yankeeland were in the past. But we were soon informed that not only Josh, but Gina didn’t want to miss out on this annual event that she’d heard about for years. When they moved two hours further away to Lafayette, we thought that was too far. We were wrong. When Kinley was born in 2001, we thought they surely wouldn’t drive so far with a baby. Wrong again. Now at age three, Knox is heading south to the Smokies for the fourth time.

Kelsey and Stephen came first from Nashville and now from Bellevue, Kentucky. Excited about this year, we’re all already thinking about next year when they’ll bring their baby to the Smokies.

The route is so familiar. As we drive south on I-75, we feel our muscles relaxing and our spirits lifting. We marvel at the neon-colored trees, pointing out one after another. We stop for supper and grin at each other when we feel a nip in the air. Twilight falls as we near the Tennessee state line. We are certainly heading south to a slower pace, softer voices, and silent grandeur.

I had no intention of chronicling so specifically the evolving of this family tradition. I simply wanted to pay tribute to family traditions. It doesn’t have to be a six-hour trip; it can be to a nearby park. I analyze what makes a family tradition, and part of it is repeating something the family enjoyed the first time. As years passed, I became hesitant to do any activity for a third time; I’d noticed that the third time pretty much locked it in as a family tradition.

I can’t resist mentioning that the same thing is true of things we neglect. As parents, if we skip bedtime prayers, or Sunday class, or visiting a shut-in, it gets easier. I want to encourage young parents to pay attention to their traditions. Be sure that your family traditions are positive ones that will help you to grow closer as a family and closer to God–and not in the opposite direction. Keep pursuing those special family traditions that you and your children will treasure for years to come.