Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On the Road to Knoxville with Big Eddie

Our few idyllic days in North Carolina drew to an end this morning when we found ourselves sitting on the patio at Joe and Mary Jane's house enjoying a beautiful, cool, sunny morning reminiscing one last time about the 57 years that Joe and my husband have known each other and the resulting 45+ years that Mary Jane and I have been friends as a result of Ed and Joe's friendship.

Neither Joe nor Ed remember how they met .. just that they were neighbor boys who lived a block apart, were the same age (but a year apart in school) and went to different schools, yet formed a lifelong bond of friendship.  Whenever weather permitted, they played sandlot baseball or basketball together from sunup to sundown.  They ate meals at each other's houses ... considered each other's mother their "second mom" ... challenged other local kids to pickup ball games, were in each other's wedding one month apart 45 + years ago, and had eldest daughters born 3 days apart.  There were lots of laughs as they reminisced about the homemade basketball hoop they built up at the local school yard that no school official took down until years later; the song they planned to write that would result in their making it big ... if only either one of them could sing; the slide guitar that Joe learned how to play in 4th grade (not exactly a rock 'n roll instrument!);  and, of course, the hours and hours of ball they played in the neighborhood schoolyard, making their own rules (anything hit off the first floor school windows was a single, second floor was a double, etc.); and finally ending with my husband telling Joe, "I've never said this to you before, buddy, but I love you."  It was a touching moment that was capped off this morning when, as we left, Joe said, "Ed, I love you too."  Mary Jane and I were already tearing up.  That iced it for us.  We left with promises to visit more often ... words we always say.  I hope we follow up on them more regularly.

After a short drive around the neighborhood, we were on our way headed for our overnight stay in Knoxville, TN.  We took the short drive around the neighborhood because we were already lost, having turned the wrong way out of the driveway without realizing it.  We double backed, hoping if the neighbors or Joe and Mary Jane saw us, they would just think we were taking a last look at their lovely surroundings.  Early into our drive, the car on the road in front of us seemed to be an omen of some sort ... don't you love personalized license plates?

Our trip went fairly smoothly (she says with tongue in cheek).  North Carolina is a beautiful state.  Green and lush with trees and vinecovered wooded areas along the highways.  As we approached Asheville, NC, I remembered Shiela, a friend of ours, recommending that we stop at the Biltmore Estate if we had the opportunity.  It's on Shiela's bucket list, so I knew it had to be worth a stop (she's got a fine sense of the spectacular).  We pulled in at 2:30 and I went in to buy tickets.  Ed gave me $20 - we figured that would be plenty! LOL. Anybody know anything about the Vanderbilts?  George Washington Vanderbilt built the Biltmore Estate and the Vanderbilts were the seventh wealthiest family in history.  

The ticket docent asked me how long we had.  I told him we were heading to Knoxville, but could probably spare an hour or two.  He smiled at me gently and said, "You need 3-5 hours to go through the house .. 8 if you want to do the entire estate!"  I asked how much tickets were and he said "$59 each until 11 p.m. tonight but they're good all day today and tomorrow."  I think he thought he was giving me a deal.  

I told him my husband was in the car and that I'd go check if we had 3-5 hours .. I hoped he didn't see the $20 folded into my palm as I turned and left the building. 

As we pulled out of the Biltmore Estate grounds, I remarked that we could at least tell Shiela that we did make the stop ... no sense in letting her know we never saw anything more than the ticket booth!  By the way, we weren't the only ones turning around and leaving.

Shortly after that stop, Ed asked me if I would mind driving for a while.  We switched places and I played the role of the good wife ... "Of course, I don't mind, Honey.  You've been driving for 1500+ miles already.  Have a nice nap."  And off we went.  Little did I know what lay ahead.

About 10 minutes after I started driving .. just as we entered the Smokey Mountain range of I40 West, it started to rain.  I wasn't too alarmed but I wouldn't have been surprised to see animals passing me by .. two of everything .... and a funny little guy with a long white beard pulling a boat behind his camper with a license plate reading "AnimalsRUs."  Just sayin'.

It rained and blew and rained and blew for the next 2 1/2 hours.  It was as dark out as if it were night, and the road was winding up and down the mountain similar to the children's game of Chutes and Ladders. There are 4 conditions under which I don't like to drive: rain, night, mountain roads, and over bridges.  I had 3 out of the 4 conditions going  .... and there was Ed reclining in the passenger seat next to me, probably being lulled by the sound of the rain on the roof of the car.  

Shortly before we arrived in Knoxville, he awoke and casually observed, "Oh, it's raining again."  We may not see 46 years of marriage.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were happy to find a hotel garage for guests .. even though the roof was leaking!  We dropped our luggage in our room and headed out immediately for some good BBQ at Calhoun's by the River.  We ate and were back in our room by 6:30 p.m.,  in our pj's (well I am!) watching the Stanley Cup Finals and listening to a thunderstorm.   I'm hopeful the system will pass before we depart for Memphis tomorrow, but at this point, I'm hoping we don't have to find Mr. Noah and use him as our guide down the road.

Oh, and shortly before we arrived in Knoxville, I had to drive on a bridge over the river. BINGO!  4 for 4!

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