Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tennessee: The Fires and The Junk


I wrote just a little bit about the "polite unkindness" of living in the South, when I wrote this post, but I just want to throw out an unpolished, stream-of-conscious post about what it's like, for me, living in Tennessee.

I won't go into the fires, the dry spells, the odd weather, or the Woodmore bus crash. Our news this year has been the worst in ages. Living through wildfires and tragedy in our community has been -- hard. That sounds extreme; it didn't happen to me. But it was close and felt close.  I will say September was as hot as hell. One-hundred degree weather and I'm still stumbling over Summer clothes although it's December and cold, now. It was... hard not to complain on the hottest days. I try my darnedest but I'm afraid Stephen does hear the worst of my complaints.

I think it came to a peak during the election. I talked about moving about twice a day. And I wasn't joking. I thought it, dreamed it, and incessantly battered Stephen with my ideas of when and where. I got stuck on somewhere in the Midwest with better Fall and more wintry weather. I would be lying if I didn't say I wanted out of the right-wing Republican red state I had come to somehow, seemingly, accidentally. I was tired of being disagreed with. The subtle taste of culture shock, it was like a string before you thread the needle.

I say that because my heart and my soul shifted this year in a way I cannot describe as anything other than the life-altering experience, our trip to my Mom's home-state, Minnesota. I just felt so different there. I know. I'm not complaining because today it's 45 degrees and on Christmas it was 70 and I would lie if I said I liked negative temps, not that I have ever experienced them.

But coming back to the South, even though that trip was a week, was like a repossession of my homestate- and the home I found didn't feel much like a haven or home at all. The heat of September and the heatwave of election season hit me like a ton of bricks. We lived in Maryland for seven years- the first seven of our marriage. I suddenly strongly remembered why I really liked it. I didn't struggle with Anxiety, Depression, or Heatwave Melting Rainless Septembers there. Coming back here- I'm not going to lie- after being 12 hours north of here- has been ridiculously hard for me and all of my ailments bubbled forth. But coming back from Minnesota all of my worries and all of my anxieties that had been crippling me came into acute focus: the South. UGH. That tiny taste of culture shock.

I told you this would be stream-of-conscious, and it is. I hated the South. From the time we moved back, I couldn't get the house organized. I found people strangely mean in their politeness. There was a lot of shrugging and a lot of "Bless you hearting" with a self-pitying pat and never "How do you do it?" as I got in Maryland all the time. I couldn't get the kids to dressed the way I liked. I had burdens in my close family relations that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Mainly of the bad-boundaries and the strained-relationships with those closest became murkier. I have an above-average relationship with both of my parents and I love them deeply. In that, I'm lucky. But beyond that... well. Yeah.  Brothers, in-laws, below average relationships with in-laws and sister-in-laws. I do not blame myself. ;-)

Mostly I would say to you, Tennessee: you're gross. There, I said it.  You've been flattered. You're turning me off.

Learn from Gatlinburg.  We went there on a little family trip just a few years ago, and I was repulsed at what it had become since my childhood.  It's gone, people. I mean, that's a whole lot of damage and the nearly the whole town burned to the ground. Let's take stock of that for a minute. When New Orleans was nearly destroyed by a hurricane, many, many people said God was judging the sin he found there. Well what about the sin in Gatlinburg? I mean a church and the wedding chapel burned, among many, many other buildings.

And if you've been there, you might or probably know at least a little of what I'm talking about. The main strip is and was- to put it nicely- UGLY. Before the fire hit, it had come to a peak: it was all Ripleys and tourism of the materialistic kind with huge christmas stores selling ornaments and endless junk all year round. It wasn't quaint or small-town.  It dripped with greed stands and boredom busters, and shoppers who long ago forgot what the Christmas spirit and the spirit of the Smoky Mountains was all about. It was materialism worse than Nashville, and it reaked of an emotional stain almost as bad as plastic surgery. Ok. Maybe worse.

No wonder it half-burned to the ground. It stank.

Tennessee: I ask you, I urge you. That stuff is greedy, and you are broke. Let's admit that much. Let's take what was nasty, appalling, and disheartening about Gatlinburg as it stood before the fire, and learn from it. I came back from our trip up North and what I saw came to fruition when the fires started burning.

I don't know what to say. There's a judgmentalism and a laziness here. I'm not heartbroken. There's a lot of extra pounds. Extra pounds of crap. It needed to go. I say, let's rebuild the Smoky Mountains and the city of Gatlinburg into something that has soul- something beautiful, something pure, something with staying power. The Gatlinburg from my childhood was Townsend- I remember a small sleepy peaceful town in the mountains, with small general stores and good food and a chill in the air from elevation. A lodge with a wooded, no traffic, and a family feel. We went hiking at Cade's Cove one year at Christmas and it snowed up there in the mountains....  Sitting by a crackling roaring burn, hiking, skiing? Pure bliss; nothing wrong with that. Innocent fun and board games; hot cocoa by a contained fire.  I don't know. I don't have anything profound to say. But something is missing- something was missing when the heatwave, the dry spells, and the wildfires finally broke out.

Setting foot near Dollywood and the Ripleys the large-scale shopping and big box christmas stores and the wax museum? That junk wasn't a part of my childhood and I hope it isn't a part of your's.  The smoky mountains will forever be famous for that name- now for a new reason. ;0) We have smoke in our eyes. Collectively we have lost the vision for these small towns in Appalachia that hold such a special place for so many.

"I remembered what was so special about the Smoky Mountains in the first place: generations of collective memories shared by countless families, all tied to a stunning mountain range that, today, sadly lives up to its name."

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