My Favorite Childhood Place

My Favorite Childhood Place “The Chimneys in the Great Smoky Mountains”
Originally written 2001 Revised August 2016
The large metal trunk was wrestled down from the attic by my father, and placed in the middle of the long, red formica kitchen table. My mother wiped it clean of a year’s worth of attic insects and dust before it was packed full with almost every kitchen utensil my mother owned, along with the sturdy, unbreakable bright turquoise dishes we would eat our meals on during our stay in the Chimneys campground of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
The trunk would also be filled with a few changes of clothing for me and my two brothers. The clothing for our camping trips was always the same… jeans, jeans shorts, t-shirts, plaid shirts, sweatshirts, and sneakers. Except for my long blonde ponytail I looked like one of the boys, and that was just fine with me. At age 67 I still love jeans and plaid shirts today.
The next morning, very early, my father would somehow secure the trunk onto the top of our station wagon, along with the big, heavy canvas tent for 5, and all of the other camping equipment we would need for our visit to the mountains. A canvas water bag would be strapped to the front grill of the car and when we occasionally stopped for a quick drink, I was always amazed at how cool the water tasted, no matter how hot the weather.
We children were the last things to be loaded into the car before we headed for Tennessee and a week or two, often more, of the best times of our lives. My father only stopped the car for gas or a bathroom break once or twice on the way to the mountains, and we all knew we’d better make the most of each stop and return to the car immediately or risk being left behind. My younger brother was actually left behind once for a short period of time, and that just proved to the rest of us what we already knew….. either remain in the car for these stops, or do your business and return to the car immediately, no dawdling, no perusing the candy counter. Pee and flee!
When we arrived at the Chimneys campground my parents would begin to unload the car and we were set free to do whatever we wanted until meal time. I always headed for the icy cold mountain stream to dance across the large boulders that sat silently while the stream noisily rushed around them. I leaped, jumped, whirled, and skipped across the sparkling water, my heart swelling with joy. It felt as though my heart was trying to free itself from the small bony prison of my chest. When I had danced the last step I could possibly dance I would stretch out on the biggest boulder I could find and allow the sun to reach down from the sky with its warm loving hands to dry my skin, and shed its warmth onto every inch of my happily exhausted body. So delicious!
My younger brother, Gene, would soon come and find me and we would begin the search for the hollow tree we visited each year. Once found, we would hide in it, giddy and giggly from the mountain air and the independence we were given in this foreign but familiar environment. When we heard Mom’s voice calling us to dinner we rushed to our campsite, and when we sat down to eat we were always surprised at how hungry we were! Fresh air and the beauty of the outdoors can do wonders for a child’s appetite.
There were always black bears around the campground digging in the trash cans that were secured between four cement pillars. They would climb up onto the cement pillars and dive headfirst into the trash cans. We all knew we shouldn’t get too close while watching them, but I overstepped that boundary once and was chased by a bear. Luckily, he gave up the chase after only a few yards and quickly returned to his “stash” of trash. I never got that close again!
My Dad and Mom were both raised in the mountains of Pennsylvania and had an enduring love for nature. Especially my Mom, who would have lived outdoors, in a tent, every day of her life if possible. I am forever grateful they chose to share that love with us. The Great Smoky National Park is one of the magical places we returned to again and again, and it’s where I found my close connection to the earth.
Shortly before she died my mother told me those summers in the mountains with us were the best days of her life. At her request, my brothers and I would return there to reminisce about those beautiful memories, and to scatter her ashes into the icy cold mountain stream she so loved.


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