Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pigeon Forge After Dark

From our campground in Sevierville (TN), we can drive south on the Parkway, pass the city limits sign, and immediately enter Pigeon Forge.

After about three miles of neon lights, entertainment centers, and restaurants, we reach the southern limits of Pigeon Forge. Another four miles passing through greenery and the foothills of the Smokies and we enter Gatlinburg.

In our opinion, Pigeon Forge is the entertainment center of the three towns. Even Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que (left) got into the glitter of the show palaces.

Adventure Quest seemed to set the stage for

the Loch Ness Monster

and the shark as the features at some of the attractions for kids.

The arcades shown in the next two photos were two of the most colorful exteriors along the Parkway.

The words on the arcade (right) changed from "Sit Down," "Shut Up," "And Race." Of course, I timed the shot to get the middle instruction.

And the winner for the most unusual building was the upside-down "Wonderworks." Even the marquee had the name inverted. The Hoot 'N Holler Comedy Show was one of the entertainment features there.

Finally, as we were leaving Pigeon Forge, I could have sworn I saw something that looked like a flying . . . pig.

I'm not sure.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Smoke" in the Smokies

It is estimated that over nine milliion people visit the Great Smoky National Park each year making it the most frequently visited national park. There is no admission charge, so there is no official count of the exact number of visitors.

We had never visited the Smokies, even though it is one of the few national parks in the East. However, the photos of the Smokies always evoked the response: "Someday we have to tour the Smokies."

A common theme running through the travel brochures was the presence of the blanket of fog or clouds covering the mountains. As Fall approaches, the chances of a foggy morning have increased, much to our delight.

We have wanted to capture the mood of the Smokies, which to us seemed to be one of times past. We kept expecting residents of the 1840s would emerge with their equipment from the clouds or fog.

Indeed, some of the features of the Smokies are highlighted by clouds, as in the case of the storm clouds shown here.

But, unfortunately, it is often the pollution in the atmosphere that provides the appearance of a blanket over the beautiful mountains.

These last four photographs capture the mood of the Smokies that will remain with us as we travel on.

The mountain peaks were outlined as though reflecting the vision of an artist who controlled the lighting.

We will view the blanket covering the valleys and wrapping around the mountains as the evening fog rolling in off the ocean.

Yes, . . . that's how we see it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Full Bore, Guts on the Floor Singing"

Rarely have we enjoyed an educational experience that had as powerful an emotional component to it as we did today at the Headrick Chapel in Wears Valley. The Chapel was built in 1902 on property which was given for use by four different Christian denominations: Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist, M.E. Church, and the M.E. Church South. Our attendance at the Headrick Chapel Singing was our third exposure to Old Harp Singing in two weeks, and it will leave a lasting impression.

Less than two weeks ago, we were introduced to Old Harp singing by Park Ranger Tom Harrington at the Primitive Baptist Church in Cades Cove. Six days ago, we met Robin Goddard, Nancy, Nan, Otis, Earl, and others during the Fourth Monday Singing at the Broadway United Methodist Church in Maryville. I’m still not sure if I have a good understanding of “shape-note” singing, but I have an excellent idea of the sound that shape-note singers produce.

In “shape-note singing,” the musical notation uses note heads in four distinct shapes (Sacred Harp singing) or seven shapes (Old Harp and Christian Harmony) to aid in sight-reading. (The term “sacred harp” refers to the human voice.) The system using shapes was developed by M. L. Swan in the mid-19th century to quickly teach people to sing.

Old Harp music is traditionally sung in a "hollow square," with each voice part facing the center. Referring to the photo below, altos would sit in the three rows with the woman in the print dress, trebles would sit on the right three rows with the man in the checked shirt, bass singers would sit on the left three rows (where the man is standing), and the leads would sit in two groups of three rows each (with the woman in the beige blouse). The reason for the hollow square is to enable the singers to hear each other.

From A Guide to Old Harp, "the song leader stands in the center, beating out the rhythm and delighting in the unearthly blending of sound."

In an orderly sequence, any person who wants to lead the singing (the youngest leader today is shown at the left) introduces himself or herself and gives the number of the song the person wants to lead. Those assembled (and today there were over 100 people singing) first "shape" the song by singing the syllables of the shapes through once. They then sing the lyrics.

The Guide best describes the singing: "The singing style of Old Harp is full bore, guts on the floor singing. They leave to others the delicate phrasing, the gentle modulation of dynamics and tone. For those accustomed to the weak insipid style of congregational singing that has currency in most white dominated churches, exposure to Old Harp in full wail can be an ear-ringing experience."

No instruments accompany the singing, and if the initial pitch is too high or too low, the group stops, makes a change, and effortlessly continues. The melody line is often in the "lead" or tenor line so that male and female voices blend in all four groups (simply by changing the octave in which the line is sung).

The combination of the "full bore" singing and the wooden floors, walls, and ceiling of the small chapel create a sound that is beautiful beyond words. Standing outside the Chapel, one can almost hear the sounds of the human voices echoing off the hills that surround the valley. It was magnificent.

This experience was made even more powerful for us when we were invited to join the leader in the center of the "hollow square" for the next-to-the-last song. We understood the meaning of "delighting in the unearthly blending of sound." What an honor to be invited to share in that experience of hearing the voices in the way that only the leader hears.

The singing began at 11:00. At noon, the group broke for a potluck lunch. Kate made what many a Midwesterner would bring to a potluck lunch--three bean salad. At 1:00, the group re-assembled and sang until nearly 3:30.

Represented in the four groups of voices, were singers from Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Represented in the small group of listeners were two people from Pennsylvania.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dear Mr. Sauceman:

Most of the eateries that we have visited in the past seven weeks have been described in either volume 1 or 2 of The Place Setting by Fred Sauceman. We found a spot that wasn't in either volume, and as I was writing Mr. Sauceman about our experience there, I thought it fit into today's entry. So this is basically an open letter to him (with some background information about us and our travel plans omitted here).

Dear Mr. Sauceman:

My wife (Kate) and I want to thank you for providing us with leads to many of the finest eating places in northeastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and western North Carolina.

During our seven weeks in Kingsport and Sevierville, we have sampled foods from 18 of the restaurants, cafes, and shops that you have presented in Volumes I and II.

We would also like to suggest another eatery for your third volume. We chanced upon The Filling Station in Bryson City, NC, today. The sign on the sidewalk in front of the shop asked, “Have you had your Cuban Sandwich today?” A Cuban sandwich in Bryson City—well, that certainly caught our attention.

We walked into the small take-out shop to read the large menu on the wall. With about 8 people standing inside, the shop was packed.

Barry Tetrault (right) conversed with everyone who entered, easily bringing “first-timers” up to the status of regulars with suggestions, encouragement, or offers to answer questions. What a wonderful welcome.

Kate ordered the High Octane (top, in photo below), which Barry translated to “one Rueben” when he passed the order on to the person in charge of preparing the sandwich. I ordered the High Test (the Cuban), and we both ordered a side of Baked Potato Salad and unsweetened ice tea (the real giveaway that we are “not from these parts”—actually, Philadelphia). When the order was filled, we took our sandwiches outside, sat in two of the comfortable rocking chairs, and began one of the best meals we have had in many years.

Eating while rocking on the sidewalk seemed the most appropriate setting for our meal. Kate said her Rueben was the best she had ever had, and my Cuban sandwich would be firmly stationed at the top of my list for sandwiches other than a Philadelphia cheesesteak. The baked potato salad is a take-off on a loaded baked potato. Slices of baked potato are mixed with sour cream, bacon pieces, and ranch seasoning, and this salad is the second best potato salad in the world (next to Kate’s).

After finishing the sandwiches, we returned to give our compliments to Barry and his team (family?). He said that he has only been at the present location for a couple of years, but talked about the special touches he adds to the presentation of his foods that he prepares through his catering business. He certainly cares about his product and about the people who will be enjoying the foods he has prepared. We felt very fortunate to have made the turn down Everett Street and the one block walk from our parking spot to 145.

By the way, an added bonus is The Filling Station’s location—right next door to Soda Pop’s Ice Cream Parlor (on the left in the first photo), serving the creamiest ice cream imaginable (Mayfield, as you probably guessed). Paul Crawley is operating the Swirl Freeze in the photo (left) to create a Coffee Toffee – vanilla ice cream mixed with coffee powder and toffee bits. The Swirl Freeze blends the ingredients and extrudes a semi-soft concoction that is pure heaven in a bowl.

We left Bryson City thinking the owners should tear down the wall that divides their shops.


Friday, September 26, 2008

The Vanishing Lunch Counter

Let’s take a trip back in time to when Chuck and I were students at the University of Iowa. Pearson’s Drug with its lunch counter was a short block from campus. For less than one dollar, one could get an egg salad sandwich (on soft white bread) with chips. Chuck was a ham salad man, while I preferred the egg salad. Whichever you chose, poor college students couldn’t find a cheaper or more satisfying lunch.

Ahhhhh,…the drug store lunch counter,…a simple sandwich that becomes a staple of the menu,…one of the thickest milk shakes imaginable. These are fast becoming only a memory.

The lunch counter at Riddle and Wallace Drug Company in Athens, TN, is one of those special—but vanishing—places that has not just one, but all three, of the ingredients noted above.

The specialty of the house is the grilled pimento cheese sandwich with lettuce and tomato. For those not familiar with this Southern staple, pimento cheese is a simple mixture of shredded cheddar, pimentos, mayo, salt and pepper. If one wants to walk on the wild side, onion and/or garlic can be added.

Now, I enjoy pimento cheese; Chuck has been less than enthusiastic. But, since this sandwich is the house special, we both felt obligated to order one. To my surprise, Chuck repeated “this is really good” after each bite. We later learned from Allene Moses (manager/cook/server) that their spread is made with grated Velveeta (don’t go yuck – this is one of life’s secret sins) and the milder cheese flavor was more to his liking. The sandwich was heated on a sandwich press, so the cheese was warm but didn’t really melt. We shared an order of potato salad--I still haven’t reconciled myself to sweet pickle in potato salad.

Allene (left, in the first photo) is one of those unique people who can prepare the counter’s classic pimento cheese sandwich, while conversing with regulars about the health and housing alternatives for a common friend.

As we were finishing our meal, Allene asked if we wanted dessert. I could see Sylvia (right, in the first photo) out of the corner of my eye; she was poised with the ice cream scoop, waiting for the word. When out came “chocolate shake,” she scooped into action. Reluctantly, I agreed to share one shake; fortunately, I agreed to share one shake. Even half of one shake was a sizable dessert. Sylvia did not even bother to give us straws. The shake was so thick that only a spoon would be able to get the contents into our mouths. And what tasty contents! The lunch counter was the first (and obviously, the oldest) ice cream customer of Mayfield Dairy, which is just down the road.

So to rate…we give Riddle and Wallace 4.5 Addies--less for the food but for being one of the last of a dying tradition that provides simple food at good value and gives its customers a sense of home or community.

After a short walk around downtown Athens, we headed north to Madisonville, TN, home of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams.

When we walked into this little shop about three miles from the city limits, I asked, “Can I just sit on this couch here and enjoy the aromas?”

Just inside the front door, there was the typical meat display case, but it was virtually empty, except for a few hot dogs and some jars of pickled bologna sticks. But just to the right of the counter was the source of the enticing aromas.

In addition to wanting to purchase some country ham, we had come for what has been named the “American prosciutto.” Yes. A country ham is aged for 18 months and then shaved into paper thin slices that many use instead of Prosciutto de Parma. While I took a few peeks into the curing room, Kate was talking with the owner, Alan Benton, and mentioned that we were from the Philadelphia area. Alan said that one of his best customers was Di Bruno Brothers, an Italian food specialty store located in both the Italian Market and in Center City. Initially, customers resisted the idea of Tennessee ham--they wanted imported--so Di Bruno’s began just giving customers samples without indicating the origin. One taste was all it would take.

We ate one of the six packages we purchased with biscuits for supper last night, and I have a large melon sitting on the counter just waiting for a meal of prosciutto and melon.

Alan also mentioned that Benton’s was also known for their hickory smoked bacon and that it would make the best BLT ever. Two pounds of bacon also came home with us. I was warned not to cook the bacon in a small enclosed space like an RV--the smell will last for days. So, some night I will take my hot plate and cast iron skillet outside and fry up “a mess of bacon.” Eat your hearts out my fellow campers.

Midway through the 30-mile drive "home," we both commented on how memorable the stop at Benton's had been, since we both believed we could still smell the aromas.

Instead of memories being that vivid, we concluded that the aromas had permeated our skin.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sequoyah's Syllabary

We spent the morning at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, TN. Before mentioning his significant accomplishment, I want to give some of his background. He was born George Gist, son of Nathaniel Gist, a Virginia fur trader, and Wut-teh, daughter of a Cherokee chief. He was crippled from birth and his characteristic limp may have been the source of his name, Sikwo-yi, a derivation of "pig's foot."

Although he had few friends as a child, he worked on his mother's farm, learning animal husbandry, agriculture, and silversmithing. He served under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, and it was during this service that he saw other soldiers reading letters and recognized the advantages of writing thoughts on papers.

After several attempts to create a writing system for the Cherokee, Sequoyah struck on the idea of creating a symbol for a sound. After much adversity (for example, at one point, his wife, who did not share his ambition, destroyed his books and papers), he completed the syllabary (or alphabet), consisting of 86 symbols. In 1821, after 12 years of work, he and his daughter introduced his syllabary to the Cherokee people. Within a few months, thousands of Cherokees had become literate.

[Remember the bear statue in Cherokee (entry two days ago)? Well, I wanted to show it again, because now the headgear, pipe, and letters on the bear, entitled "Sequoyah Syllabeary," have much more meaning.]

A few comic books were on display, showing the application of Sequoyah's alphabet to current writings. (Note the Cherokee writing under "Popeye".)

One of the most beautiful items in the Museum was "The Talking Stick." Carved into this six-foot long walking stick was the entire Cherokee alphbet as well as Seneca masks and clan names of the Cherokee. A portion of this stick is shown on the left. This work was a long-term project of Ross Everhart, a Cherokee Indian.

In recognition of his contributions, the Cherokee Nation awarded Sequoyah a silver medal struck in his honor, and a lifetime literary pension.

The Museum also told the history of the Cherokee nation, which at one time occupied an area covering parts of eight states. The saddest chapter told of the forced removal of the highly civilized, literate Cherokee nation to the Oklahoma territory in 1938, ostensibly for the safety of new settlers, but more accurately, as a means to gain valuable Cherokee land. This removal, because of the cruelty inflicted on the Cherokee by several thousand troops, a cruel winter, and disease, has come to be called "The Trail of Tears."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

George Armstrong, Miller

Before leaving for home in South Carolina, Judy and Vern accompanied us on a visit to Mingus Mill, just outside Cherokee, NC. The Mill was built in 1886, restored in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and restored (again) in 1968 by the Park Service. Unlike the other mills we had visited, Mingus Mill has no water wheel; it is a turbine mill. Water flows down a 200 yard-long wooden mill race and drops vertically through the steel turbine (with a diameter of about three feet), which turns the gears which turn the millstones.

Entering the mill, we saw signs of a working mill--one could see the gears moving and either corn meal or wheat flour was flowing into the collection bin at a fairly steady rate.

In spite of these signs, my sister learned that the flour she was purchasing was not ground at this mill. Just as in the case of the other mills, the FDA had banned the sale of corn or wheat ground at the mill. The miller, George Armstrong, noted that the flour and corn meal he was selling had actually been ground at The Old Mill in Gatlinburg. "But," he added, leaning forward and talking in a low voice, "we sell it cheaper here."

George has the perfect personality for the position of miller. He had an answer to any question that visitors asked, and he then added a little bit of information that gave the listener the feeling that he or she had just learned a little secret that the "regular visitors" were not told. For example, he revealed to us that he was from New Jersey (Tom's River) and seemed to take great delight in having local visitors compliment him on his knowledge of the Mill and its role in the history of the community.

He also told us that a couple of years ago he had a small job doing some clean-up work around the Mill. One day one of the staff observed him talking with the visitors about a variety of topics as he went about his work. The staff member praised him for his friendly interactions with a variety of people. George was then asked if he would like to use his skills as a miller. His answer, "What's a miller?" began a quick course in combining knowledge about operating a mill with a winning personality.

Before we left, I asked if I could get one more photo. He gladly agreed, but first he grabbed his cap because he wanted to look like a miller.

Right out of central casting, I'd say.


Even with the vistas surrounding us on our drive back to Sevierville (TN), there was time to look closely at some small scenes. The first picture shows some moss and lichen growing on the roof of a building near the Mill.

These last two photos show some bushes and branches with berries.