Back to east Tennessee…

Veeka at the Casey Jones museum

Many apologies for not updating this blog in almost 3 weeks. I arrived in Jackson the evening of Aug. 1 and hit the ground running. First I had to take Veeka to a local pediatrician to get the necessary shots and documents to allow her to enroll in local schools. She had plenty of Maryland forms but she needed Tennessee ones. Then it was off to visit three local schools – in what I might say was horribly hot weather. We looked at two private ones and one public one and ended up choosing a private one; a choice I did not expect but Veeka seemed to love the place the moment she walked in there and it seemed right for her needs. So I enrolled her there. Then there was the home inspection to get through. All this was on Aug. 2, so you can imagine how exhausting it all was.

Veeka entering the Hensley settlement Aug. 11

Come the weekend, we did try to relax a bit by visiting the local tourist attraction, known as Casey Jones Village after the legendary railroad engineer who died a premature death in 1900 when his train rearended another train that wasn’t supposed to be on the track. Click here to enter the site that explains a bit of all this (and then click on the Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum). This went over better with the Little One better than our visit to Cypress Grove Nature Park, a place SW of town with lots of trails and a place for wounded birds to heal. All Veeka could do was wail about the spiders and how hot she was. Meanwhile, I was getting a tour of the campus and beginning to meet with folks to get a handle on how to advise the campus newspaper, which is a major part of my duties. That weekend, I decided I needed to do more research for a pending book proposal on young serpent handlers, which meant returning to eastern Tennessee for one of the “homecomings” at one of the better-known churches in this movement. The pastor, Jamie Coots, was fine with my interviewing folks and we had nothing planned for the weekend, so we headed 400 miles to the east. It took forever to get there, thanks to lots of rain and rush hour in Knoxville. I stopped back in LaFollette to interview some folks (although showing up 2 hours late for the interview did not sit too well with them).

One of the pioneer homes in the Hensley settlement atop Cumberland mountain

We got into Middlesboro, Ky.,  too late Friday night to attend services at this church’s homecoming and there was nothing going on during the day, so Miss V and I went back to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, which sits atop the junction of three states: Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. We were there last New Year’s Eve and it was even prettier now. We spent the morning getting a ranger-led tour of the Hensley Settlement, a gorgeous homestead more than 3,000 feet up that had an entire village from about 1900-1950, all operating w/o electricity. We got to see things I’d forgotten existed: smoke houses, ice houses (or whatever you called those buildings where milk was stored); an old schoolhouse and cemetery and lovely pioneer-type homes. It was a lovely, brisk summer morning and quite cool on that mountain (hence the coats we were wearing) and the setting was so pretty. It was lovely being up in the mountains after the flatness of west Tennessee!

At the base of the Tri-State trail where Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky meet

That afternoon, I’d planned a cave tour but Veeka wailed that she didn’t like bats. So we walked the Wilderness Trail, which from 1776 to about 1820 was one of the only ways one could cross the Appalachians to get to Kentucky and points west. It’s estimated that up to 300,000 people walked that trail to get to all that free farmland in the interior. At one point, there was a road covering that trail, but about 15 years ago, a tunnel was built through the mountain and the road taken out and the whole area re-planted with trees to look like the forested path that existed at the beginning of the 19th century. When we walked it, no one would have dreamed it once had cars on it. By the time we got on it, the temperatures had heated up considerably, so we walked to where the three states literally meet, then retraced our steps.

One of the better bumperstickers outside Jamie Coots' church

That night, we made our way to the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus’ Name , the church that was hosting the homecoming and I got lots of interviews Saturday night and Sunday morning, as folks were glad to tell me their stories. I heard some hair-raising episodes, I must say. It was a quieter meeting than others I’d been at and the snakes were not brought out that much. Much of my time was spent pacifying Veeka, who was quite bored. I could not leave, as a number of folks had parked their cars in back of mine, so I could not leave until they did and no one departed until 10:30 pm, which is considered quite early in these circles. I spent part of my time handing out at the smokers bench and hearing folks tell me their concerns about the local mines being closed. Three college professors from UTennessee/Knoxville or Chattanooga were also there, one of them a snake expert, which was quite helpful. And for the first time I met Ralph Hood, who I consider to be the foremost authority on the serpent-handling culture. Before long, though, it was time to drive 400 miles back to Jackson. We stayed with some old friends Sunday night in Nashville who treated us to a wonderful time at the Belle Meade country club and then Monday we headed home so I could start on my new faculty orientation.


One thought on “Back to east Tennessee…

  1. Mary Ann

    Sounds like an exciting few weeks. We’ll be travelling your way in mid September and may call to see if you and Veeka want to join us for lunch or whatever. I’m sure you are in the midst of classes now. Enjoy!

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