For about thirty years, every October our family has headed to the Smokies for a long weekend. The group has evolved over the years: Steve’s dad and Steve’s sister and husband, our children’s spouses, my mother with my brother and his family, our grandchildren. Every new addition adds more interest to the trip. Most of that time we have stayed at Zoder’s Inn, this year celebrating its 75th anniversary. No other place we’ve found has suites that sleep eight, plus breakfast, wine and cheese, and cookies and milk every day. It’s clean and the price is reasonable.
This year, however, we had an addition we had not experienced previously: Josephine, 17, an international exchange student from France. She lived with the Lafayette Boyds for a couple of weeks and it happened that our trip was at the end of her visit. Her English was excellent and easy to understand. In fact, we heard more of an English accent than a French accent. Her parents are both English teachers, so that could account for it.
Jo was a delight to have around. Of course our grandchildren are also, but we are used to them. She was constantly learning new definitions and especially new idioms. One of the first things Gina had explained to her was “Bless her heart!” and she used it appropriately a couple of times, then looked up questioningly, which made us laugh.
We ate at Log Cabin Pancake House the first morning and pancakes were a familiar food—as were bacon, eggs, etc. Then we hiked a trail off the Greenbrier entrance (kind of our secret to avoid the cars pouring into the main park entrance on such a beautiful and colorful weekend) before eating lunch at the Wild Plum Tea Room. After that, we stopped at a Magic Shop, and all the children—and their fathers—were intrigued by that. For the rest of the weekend, we were occasionally entertained by someone practicing his magic trick.
After eating at the Wild Plum and enjoying the wine and cheese offered at the hotel, we weren’t very hungry. Finally, around 8, we went to Kelsey’s choice for dinner, Estrella Hondurex. As you might guess, it features both Mexican and Honduran cooking. It was another interesting cultural experience for Jo. I ordered the talianas and they were delicious—kind of a homemade tortilla stuffed with meat, seasonings, chopped egg, and avocado.
The second morning we ate at the Atrium, recently discovered by us for their amazing Apple Pancake, which is really a one-layer apple cake served with syrup. But Jo wasn’t very hungry, so she was looking for something small and light. She asked me what a biscuit was. I knew this was confusing because in England, where she has visited, a biscuit is a cookie. I figured she was wondering why a cookie would be on a breakfast menu. I encouraged her to order two and she loved them! They were large and fluffy, hot and delicious. She asked how to describe the inside, and understood when I said they were “fluffy.”
The children cleaned out a pumpkin and Steve cut the design they drew on it. We were glad they did the nastiest part! Jo was intrigued by the American obsession with Halloween and all the decorations.
We ate at The Peddler and we explained what a peddler was in earlier times. She was unfamiliar with our cuts of steak, so that dinner in itself was a culinary education. The salad bar had several items new to her, such as pickled okra. And even though she enjoyed her shared cheesecake for dessert, she loved my blackberry cobbler, another new term to her.
She saw many familiar things that she just didn’t know the English word for, such as hydrangea and maple and oak trees. She was amazed at the variety of trees she saw on our hike. Then when we saw the movie at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park visitor center, we all learned that the park has over 100 native tree varieties and 100 native shrub species, plus other trees and shrubs.
We always get sandwiches at Parton’s Deli and eat lunch on a creek, so we did that on Saturday. A bonus of having her with us on our hikes was that we didn’t have to lasso a complete stranger to take our annual family photo. Jo did a great job, as you can see.
Saturday night, at Kinley’s request, we all went to Dixie Stampede. That thing is a marvel, even though I’ve been several times. They always sell out. Saturday night was the only night we could get in for the 6 pm show, partly because they closed Sunday and Monday to prepare for the Christmas show. (Yikes! Already?)
When it was over, Jo flung her arms around Steve and said, “Thank you SO much for bringing me to this!” All the children loved it, but Landry was the most amazing. At a little over twenty-one months old, her parents feared she would be a problem during the almost two hours we were there, even though much of the time we were eating (and that girl is a GOOD eater!) But she was entranced from beginning to end. She clapped when everyone else clapped and many times when they didn’t. She had trouble sitting in Kelsey’s lap, but instead wanted to stand in her lap from excitement. We all enjoyed it, of course, but I think the three girls—Landry, Jo, and Kinley—enjoyed it the most.
Actually, Knox got a flag and Finn got to go down to lasso in the show and could keep his lasso, so the boys had fun, too.
Nearly everything Jo tried, she was positive about. She frequently said, “I love it!” whether it was about food or an experience. She played Mini-golf and got her first hole-in-one and was so excited. She had never hiked on such rocky, rooted trails. She had never seen mountains like these. Hearing the mountain accent fascinated her. She even unobtrusively recorded Dennis Parton when we were getting our sandwiches. Now she can let her father hear the mountain dialect.
We all enjoy our Smokies activities and food, but seeing it through new eyes made me appreciate it more. And it was a glorious weekend for temperature and for color. I kept wanting to sing “Oh, What a Glorious God!” and Steve and I kept thinking of Psalm 104:31-32: May the glory of he Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works—he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.