I never lived in Gatlinburg, but I have surely spent a lot of happy time there! My folks always went to Gatlinburg for vacation, from the time I turned 9, I think, until they couldn't make the trip anymore. As a matter of fact, I took both of them on their last trips down there. We often stayed in the same motel, Cox's Moonwink Motor Court. It was a collection of little mismatched cabins, and I think we stayed in all of them. Mom knew the cabins so well that she knew exactly what she needed to take for a stay, a toaster, a coffee maker, her electric skillet; she didn't need an iron or an ironing board, because Mrs. Cox would loan her one. She also knew she could use one of the grills there for hamburgers or steaks, but I imagine she brought charcoal lighter. There were probably other things she didn't need that she left at home, but those were the ones that came immediately to mind.
Our routines down there were pretty consistent. On a nonevent day, we would get up, eat breakfast, head down the street to the swimming pool (this motel had what they called 'pool privileges'). Then we would come back to the cabin, get dressed, and head downtown for lunch (meals were cheaper then than at supper). After lunch, we'd go back to the cabin. Mom and Dad would sleep; we would go back to the pool or head downtown to one of the many miniature golf courses.
On an event day, rather than go downtown for lunch, we might head up into the mountains for a picnic. We really enjoyed this, especially looking for bears--and we saw lots of them back in the 50's and 60's. We must have hit each tourist attraction in the area one year, going to Tuckaleechee Caverns, Christus Gardens, Hillbilly Village and some sort of little Frontier Town in Pigeon Forge--that was before Pigeon Forge became the shopping mecca it is now. We would go over the mountain to Cherokee at least once, and we would stop at a teepee beside the road and have our picture made with the old Indian who posed there. We even went to Franklin, NC, one summer and panned for rubies! That was a terrific experience--lots of mud and the excitement of actually finding some gemstones! Daddy kept our haul in a small box in his sock drawer for years, beside the stale menthol cigarettes left over from directors' meetings. I remember getting five bumper stickers one summer, but other than Tuckaleechee Caverns and Christus Gardens, I have no clue where they came from.
Early vacations often involved going swimming in a mountain creek. We would put on our bathing suits, climb into the car, and drive about 15 miles out the Little River Road so that we could "swim" in the creek. The first year, Daddy drove quite a distance looking for a place that was deep enough for swimming. When he finally stopped, he told us we could wade, but he didn't think the water was very deep (maybe knee deep for him). Was he surprised when he was soon up to his chest in that cold, cold water! Mama and I would sit on a little water fall and let the water swirl around us (we called it a water fall, but it really wasn't--more like a cascade). And of course Mama had to collect her rocks. She was notorious for picking up rocks that interested her. I don't think she really cared what they were, but she enjoyed finding rocks to bring home. Once on a trip out west, her traveling companions threatened to weigh her every time she got back into the car to try to keep her from weighing them down! After we had as much cold water as we could stand, we got back into the car, sitting on beach towels, and drove back to town to change clothes.
We always ate supper "at home", then went downtown to walk around. We loved to watch the people, so often we would end up sitting on a park bench beside the sidewalk and watching the show, all the people who were on vacation just like us. We would watch the candy makers at Ole Smokey Candy Kitchen (they had the best taffy logs) and the stick candy makers at Aunt Mahalia's (their stick candy was best). The candy cooks would come out with free samples of warm taffy or little warm stick candy canes. We would go through all the "junk" stores (no t-shirt shops back then), maybe play a game of miniature golf, buy some post cards, and head home. The last thing we would do would be to buy a caramel apple to eat as we walked back to the cabin.
We never failed to see someone we knew while on vacation, and twice, we ended up inviting friends from home who we ran into on the street back to our cabin to stay with us! I don't know how we did it, but one time we had four adults, three teen-aged boys, me (I was in college), and a two-year-old staying in a three bedroom cabin. Another year, there was a vacant cabin at the Moonwink, and our preacher, his wife, and their two children moved in, right across the drive from us. Those were two great years for the kids and the adults.
Gatlinburg was such a safe place, parents had no qualms about allowing their kids to go downtown by themselves. Mike and I spent a lot of days wandering around, reading tabloids in the drugstores, playing miniature golf...One summer we went downtown and I had to go to the bathroom. Rather than go back to the cabin, which really wasn't that far, we rode the Sky Lift--I knew there was a bathroom at the top.
When we are in Gatlinburg, even now, I feel like I've gone home. Gatlinburg is more familiar to me and less changed than my hometown. Oh, there are changes... Lots of the places have disappeared. There are almost no miniature golf courses on the main road now. Lydia can't take her babies to bunny golf. T-shirt stores have taken the place of souvenir shops. Mama's ritual trip to The Cliffdwellers now involves riding way out of town, since they moved off the main drag. We didn't even get there this year. My children and grandchildren will not get a chance to visit Christus Gardens and see the eyes of Christ follow them all around the room. Nor will they be able to take their spouses to visit Xanadu, the house of the future. Restaurants where my family ate regularly have closed. I miss the good rolls at Hobey's Copper Still.
But even though things change, they still remain the same. Gatlinburg still seems to me to be a safe place. I would allow my children (age 10 and up) free range to go downtown and see the sights all by themselves (well, at least as long as there were two of them going). The Sky Lift still goes up the mountain. The candy makers still perform in the store windows. The Mountain Lodge fixes a great breakfast and lunch. Arrowmont still has beautiful things in the window to see. Looking for folks from home is still fun, even if there isn't enough room in our motel room to put them up. And it's still fun to go over the mountain to Cherokee.
Home is a place in the heart, anyway. Good night to all, and God bless.