Tony Kendall

C oming out of COVID-19 restrictions, being fully vaccinated and having some extra money, thanks to the American Recovery plan passed by Joe Biden and the Democrats, we thought it was way past time to take another vacation with our three youngest children while they are still living with us. A de-Trumped Washington, D.C., was at the top of our list, but considering the distance and this being a driving vacation, it was out of the question because the bulk of our gainfully employed son Nate’s vacation days for the year already were scheduled. That made destination closeness a priority. At heart, we are an amusement park family and, whenever possible, we like to plan our outings around a visit to one. The closest one we had yet to visit was Dollywood, and the two youngest children had never been to the Great Smoky Mountains or Gatlinburg, as many of their family and friends had. An added caveat for me was that, although we were going at the height of the summer vacation season, there was a good chance that we had a surefire place to stay, thanks to my ole Henry County High School Class of 79 buddy Louis Caldwell, who owns and rents several bed-and-breakfast cabins in the heart of Pigeon Forge. Once we settled on a time to go last month, I called to see if he had anything available, and he did. Normally when traveling, I’m a hotel kind of guy; but going to the mountains, you’ve got to stay in a cabin, regardless of whether it’s made of logs. Louis’ cabins aren’t made of logs. They’re very comfortable small houses and that was more than fine with us, especially the wife, who shuns all things nature for the most part. From the Bottom where I see things, staying there changed the way I will travel from this point forward. For some reason without having ever looked into it, I was under the impression that bed-and-breakfast places were beyond my price point; this place, and the others I priced, were not. As I sat in the hot tub on the back porch of the two-bedroom, twobath cabin I was staying in that first night, I lamented all the times I paid more for a hotel room with less space than where I currently was. When on a trip of more than two days and not staying with family or friends, I’m going the bed-and-breakfast route whenever possible. I’m all about supporting and promoting all things with Henry County connections, so if you are heading to Knoxville, Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg and looking for a place to stay, hit Louis up via email at or on his Airbnb page, Tell him Tony sent you! It had been more than a quarter century since I’d spent more than a day in that part of the state, so much of it was new to me. My memories of the area were more rustic than what I saw as we drove into Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg the first time. Those of you who have been there know, using the words tourist attractions to describe what I saw is a large understatement. As with any vacation, unless you have unlimited time and resources, you can’t do and see everything you would like to in one visit, so we selected a handful of things to do and went with them. After some self-generated sightseeing the first morning, we spent the rest of the day at Dollywood. It was nice, but it was to spread out for someone who at age 60 doesn’t like to walk any further than necessary whenever possible. After years of going to them with my children, I’ve concluded if you have seen one large amusement park ,you have seen them all. But it was another opportunity to add to my shot glass collection, and the music show me and the missus got to see was top notch. If Dollywood was for the kids, my must-see-and-do thing was Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was way cool, especially the part where you get on a moving sidewalk and it takes you underneath the aquarium, making it feel like you are right there in the water with the creatures. We enjoyed it enough to go through twice before leaving. I could have stayed there all day, but we had a Ripley’s multiple attractions packages. I didn’t keep a count, but Ripley gives Dolly a run for her money for things with their names on in the area. A quick poll of highlights for the rest of the family members yielded the following things: Johnny, the youngest, and Nate enjoyed Dollywood and finally being able to drive a go-kart by himself while on vacation. Natalee, the outdoorswoman amongst us, loved seeing and being in the Smokies for the first time, and the knife store her brother Nate had told her about and couldn’t wait to get to, the Smoky Mountain Knife Works, which bills itself as the world’s largest knife store. Since I don’t have anything to compare it to, I’ll give it to them. Their selection of firearms and accessories wasn’t too shabby, either. I left with a nice, concealed holster and a machete for use on the back 40 and, between them, the kids dropped almost $200 on knives. The wife’s highlight was our visit to the Ripley’s Davy Crockett-themed miniature golf course, probably because she won the round we played by a stroke over Johnny. I finished last and am looking forward to a rematch when we return in the fall. As we embarked on this trip, I had one small concern: We were heading deep into longtime Republican territory in a vehicle with a Joe Biden and a Kamala Harris sticker on the back. I feared they would not survive the trip, seeing as how we have had a couple taken off our cars in Murray. Our collective ritual each time we returned to the car, after it had been parked for a while, was to check and see if the stickers were still there. Much to our surprise, they were, even the one time we parked near one of the two Trump merchandise stores that were in Pigeon Forge. Speaking of a divided nation, one of the things a part of me wanted to do and didn’t’ was attend the Dixie is Calling show at the Civil War Theater in Pigeon Forge. The flier we have describes the show as real Southern drama filled with laughter and tears, a family must-see, a Christian-based step back to 1864. It has a tag line that reads “Preserving Real History.” Being black and feeling uncertain about how Confederate sympathizers in the crowd might react to the show’s ending won out over my curious side that time — might get more daring on the next trip. I also might go see how much one can enjoy an all-you-can-eat dinner show at a restaurant based on the legendary Hatfield and McCoy feud. All in all, it was a good family vacation getaway, even if I didn’t see a live bear. Thanks again, Louis. Hi, Momma Lois.

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