Lovely east Tennessee and Catherine Marshall’s Christyfest

So much has happened these past 10 days! I got some very good news today (May 29) that has to do with my future job but I can’t share publicly what it is yet. So stay tuned. But I have already emailed my real estate agent to put my home on the market. May 23 was Veeka’s last day of second grade. I showed up a few days before that for a presentation for the parents and snapped some photos. It was a bittersweet time as Veeka’s sojourn at this elementary school has not been the happiest but all the

Veeka (right) and two classmates put on a play for us visiting parents in her second grade classroom.

Veeka (center right) and classmates put on a play for us visiting parents in her second grade classroom.

same, she has spent two years there. I’d also told her she may not see many of these kids again as it was pretty sure that we’re moving this summer. She gave a gift to Beverly Smith, a retiring teacher with whom she’d worked to learn extra reading and math skills and said good-bye to all her little friends.
We pushed off for Nashville, where we were to meet for lunch a man who is to be the agent for my serpent-handling book. It was a two-hour drive and we were meeting at a section of town close to the airport that is inhabited by a lot of immigrants. They call this area of southeast Nashville “little Kurdistan” for all the Kurds who live there. It’s the country’s largest concentration of Kurds, actually. We arrived just before 1 pm, when the local mosque was letting out. We peeked into some of the stores and ended up buying some delicious Middle Eastern flatbread that cost all of $3 for five large pizza-shaped patties. We ate a great meal at Shish Kabob, a Persian/Kurdish restaurant about a mile down Nolensville Road.

The mosque off Nolensville Road in "little Kurdistan."

The mosque off Nolensville Road in “little Kurdistan.”

By early evening we had ended up at Dogwood Cabins, a community of mountainside chalets overlooking Townsend, Tenn. We got a cabin called “Home Away,” which had pretty views of a mountain ridge. Finally, a part of Tennessee that I liked! The road to that and other cabins was so steep, I had to use the lowest gear possible. Nearly all of the cabins were clinging to the mountainside on huge stilts. Guess this is not an earthquake zone. The route from Marysville, a city 18 miles to the west, along the Senator Lamar Alexander Parkway, was quite pretty. Townsend is a place of 300 souls although surrounding Blount County has many more inhabitants than that.
The next day, Veeka and I drove 80+ miles to Del Rio, Tenn., the site of ChristyFest, a gathering of people who are interested in the part of the country that placed such a large role in Catherine Marshall’s best-selling novel “Christy.” There were about 55 people there that Saturday gathered at Del Rio Elementary listening to people who had done research on Catherine Marshall. One woman named Marilyn Mitchem had put together a 75-page presentation on how Marshall had come to write the novel and why it took her nine years to get it into print, which she finally did in 1967. She and her parents visited the area in 1959 to get her research started. Her mother, Lenore Whittaker, was a missionary to the area around Del Rio from 1909-1912 or

A booth near where we had our Sunday ChristyFest picnic near the Ebenezer mission.

A booth near where we had our Sunday ChristyFest picnic near the Ebenezer mission.

thereabouts. She married John Woods, a local minister and the two moved to Johnson City, where Catherine was born two years later. This was a part of the country that used kerosene-burning refrigerators, had no running water (in some parts until 2004); farm chores started at 4 a.m. and breakfast was at 5 a.m. because kids had to walk 3 miles each way to school. Appalachia was truly another world.
For lunch, we went to a local community center, where there was a cake honoring Catherine Marshall (the 100th anniversary of her birth is in September) and where there were two familiar people selling crafts on the front porch. They turned out to be Pam and Jimmy Morrow, both of them serpent-handling friends from a nearby church. It was so good to see them and I bought a walking stick for Veeka from Jimmy (with a snake carved on it, naturally).
Veeka and I returned to Townsend to find John Morgan, a friend, already there. He shared our 3-bedroom cabin with us because he was going to accompany us to a serpent-handling service that night in LaFollette, which was 80 miles to the north of us. John had accompanied me to Sand Mountain, another serpent-handling center in Alabama, a year ago, so he knew the drill. However, the folks at the LaFollette Tabernacle Church of God were much more open to photographers snapping photos and John took about 500 during the three hours we were there. He got some wonderful shots in very low light of people handling all manner of venomous reptiles, holding flames of fire close to their skin and chugging down strychnine. Yes, you read that right. There was a lot of dancing and singing going on too, so it was one very active evening.

Veeka and John with a pleasant woman in the middle who we met at Dollywood.

Veeka and John with a pleasant woman in the middle who we met at Dollywood.

Sunday, we went to a ChristyFest picnic near the Ebenezer mission which is where Lenore ministered a century ago. It was the most out-of-the-way hollow I’d even seen, down the longest road into the country but when we got there, I was amazed at the number of homes that were there. Talk about off the beaten track. But dropping by there meant that we missed the Sunday service in LaFollette but we got to the dinner afterwards where I interviewed a bunch of folks.
Monday, we visited a most charming amusement park in nearby Pigeon Forge. It was Dollywood, named after Dolly Parton, and it’s built on the side of a mountain. The weather was gorgeous and it being Memorial Day, the crowds were thin. John took Veeka on several roller coaster rides, as I refuse to get on the things. The kiddie rides were lots of fun and we also took a train through the park, ate lots of cotton candy and French fries.
Tuesday was the day we drove through the Great Smoky Mountains national park, which begins within five miles of where we’re staying. We went hiking to Laurel Falls and to Veeka’s delight, all of us hikers saw a mother bear and her two cubs in the hollow below us. The fuzzy babies were climbing up and down trees and squeaking so loudly, we could hear them. Then we drove quite a distance up to Clingman’s Dome some 6,600+ feet into the clouds and then climbed an exhausting half mile up a VERY steep trail to a large concrete viewing platform where we could see into several states. We spent WEdnesday back in LaFollette talking with Andrew Hamblin, the best-known of the serpent handling pastors, as I had lots of questions I needed answered for this book manuscript. After we said farewell

Veeka playfully wrestling with John as we were all enjoying the views from the McCloud Mountain resort.

Veeka playfully wrestling with John as we were all enjoying the views from the McCloud Mountain resort.

to him, we drove up to McCloud Mountain, a site overlooking Powell Valley, the place in which LaFollette sits. It was the loveliest view with Kentucky off to our left, Tennessee below us and Virginia in the distance. There was a restaurant, helipad, a small inn, a large cross bolted into a rock (which lights up at night) and even a field of live buffalo atop that ridge. During a week of pretty views and restful vistas, this was one of the nicest sights I got to see. I’d wanted to drive up there for some time but it was always closed when I was in town. And today we spent by a pool owned by the outfit that runs Dogwood Cabins, which was restful for me in that I’ve driven hundreds of miles in recent days. John took us out to dinner to celebrate this new job-in-embryo and a local police officer who was eating there gave Veeka some really nice gifts from a stash he keeps for local kids: sunglasses, a water bottle, stickers, that sort of thing. We will leave Townsend with some nice memories.

2 thoughts on “Lovely east Tennessee and Catherine Marshall’s Christyfest

  1. Marilyn Mitchem

    Dear Julia,

    Thanks for the mention and description of my presentation in your column. I really enjoyed my audience’s reaction; also, their appreciation of my presentation’s content and my efforts in researching and writing it. I;m glad I got to meet you. It sounds like you enjoyed ChristyFest and your trip to East Tennessee. Good luck on your upcoming book on serpent handling. Regards, Marilyn

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