If you are elderly, overweight, disabled, or a member of my family, you know it's just not a summer until you pay a visit to Dollywood. Growing up, my obsession with Dolly Parton waned to a healthy, fascinated respect, but the wonders of her theme park continued to delight and entertain. Dollywood is part amusement park, part county fair, and part tent revival. I loved the logging-themed Log Flume, the American eagle exhibit, the fancy dresses at Lid'l Dolly's, and the gospel/clogging shows. I loved the woman in period dress sweating over a kettle of boiling lye soap in 96° heat. I loved the Birdsong Family. The Birdsongs were a mom, a dad, and a slew of young'uns who wore gingham and played instruments. Needless to say, those were some homeschooled kids if I ever saw any. Each year they'd have yet another infant on the stage playing a fiddle.
In addition to theme park thrills, Gatlinburg boasts the Smoky Mountain Arts and Crafts Community. Looping around a mountain, a two-lane highway connects the cabins/studios of these local artists. It's hard to pick a favorite amongst the potters, whittlers, macrame-ers, Indian jewelery makers, quilters, dream catcher weavers, and those people who melt colored candles over glass bottles. But certainly the most memorable of these Smoky Mountain traditional artisans is Stephen Sawyer, painter of the Art for God masterpieces. Sawyer portrays Jesus as a contemporary hero- a shirtless, ripped, tanned, glistening hero in a contemporary setting such as a boxing ring. A viewer might think she was looking at a country album cover or a naughty firemen calendar, if it weren't for the halo frequently hovering over Jesus, the only Byzantine relic of this flashy new religious iconography. Sawyer invokes Thomas Kinkade's skilled use of light in weird places to create a general celestial glow around all his muscle-y Jesuses.
Now if you think Gatlinburg is just a bunch of rednecks sweating and throwing their money away on hillbilly souvenirs, you'd be forgetting the hordes of dilettante outdoor enthusiasts like my mom, Jaci, and me. When we're not driving around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park looking for black bears, we are tubing down a river somewhere. Tubing is just like rafting except 329043 times slower. You don't have to wear a life jacket, and you can sleep and tube at the same time. Tubing is relaxing and heavenly.
So you can imagine everyone in the river's surprise when my mother, lazily floating on her stomach, plunged her arm into the water and yanked out a great big rainbow trout!!! We all thought the only aquatic life in that segment of the river was minnows, salamanders, and Coke bottles. But here, plucked from the muddy water without bait or dynamite was a humongous rainbow trout. We were elated. The little kids behind us were elated, as were their grandparents. Mom was elated because she'd just started the Eat Right for your Blood Type diet, which required her to eat loads of rainbow trout!
Mom stored the thing in the Wal-Mart bag we'd packed our lunch in. For the remainder of that victorious trip down the river, she dangled the bagged fish off of her wrist in the cool water. Back at the hotel she cleaned and cooked it, and we rounded off our locally-sourced supper with some of the addictive cinnamon sugar bread we'd bought at Dollywood (which wasn't on the Highly Beneficial list for Mom's blood type, but didn't appear on the Avoid list, either). During dinner I tried for the billionth time to convince Mom to take us to see The Miracle, but she said no, we had to go outlet shopping. That was ok; by the end of the week I'd scored some good discount school clothes, a new pair of moccasins, a miniature crock pot, and a season pass to Dollywood. By that time Jaci couldn't wait to get home where she already knew all the channels on TV, Mom couldn't wait to share the rainbow trout triumph with all our friends, neighbors, and relatives, and I just couldn't wait to return to the Smokies next year.