I just got home after a trip to northeast Arkansas to visit my family. It was a much-needed getaway after dealing with some health issues. Said health issues are still in progress and are causing me a huge amount of stress and worry. I know worrying won’t change the outcome of the tests, but it doesn’t make me worry any less. Some of them have come back normal so keeping my fingers crossed for the same result for the rest of them.
My family lives just across the Mississippi river from Memphis, Tennessee. It amazes me how much different that part of Arkansas is from the part where I live. East Arkansas is called the Mississippi river delta. It’s flat and mostly nothing but farms and fields of winter wheat, soybeans, and cotton as far as the eye can see. A few trees here and there. Where I live, on the other hand, is the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. It’s beautiful and covered in lovely forest. I never lived in the delta, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for it.
All four of my grandparents grew up in that part of Arkansas. My dad’s family, who I visited this time, grew up in Dyess, Arkansas. It’s really only known for being the boyhood home of Johnny Cash now, but I assure you he wasn’t the only one to grow up there. I saw his old home, they’re fixing it up and turning it into a museum. It looks nicer than I bet it did when he lived in it. If you grew up in Dyess, odds are you were poor as church mice (that’s how my granny describes the level of poverty her family experienced when she was a girl). Most of the old homes where the families lived are gone now. They lived there after President Roosevelt turned the area into a depression relief project. Families (my own included) who qualified were given 40 acres of land and a mule to help plow it. They grew cotton and used the money to pay back the government when they could afford it.
My great aunt, granny’s sister, showed me where their farm had been, and where my great grandmother lived after my great grandfather died and she sold the farm and moved into town. I saw the old high school, where my granny was the only one of her eight brothers and sisters to graduate. The rest of them quit school by the time they were 16 to get married or start working. The town is just a small community now, but thanks to it being Johnny Cash’s hometown, the town square is being restored to look like it did in the 30s-60s, when most of the poor farming families lived there. It was amazing to see where my family was and how far they each came in their lives. They may have been poor, but all the kids did well and the ones still living live comfortable lives now.
I come from a long line of cotton farmers. All of my grandparents had 7 or 8 kids in their families and picked cotton all their growing up years. Makes me thankful for how fortunate I am. My grandparents, on both sides, are the only ones who left the area. I’ve had to grow up away from my family, so I love any chance I get to visit my aunts, uncles, and cousins…of which I have MANY. They are sweet people with thick southern accents. I notice mine gets thicker when I’m around them. I wish I could spend more time with them. When it comes down to it, though, my home is near the mountains. I’m not sure I could be happy living in a place where there isn’t a mountain for over 100 miles.
My great aunt let me stay with her. We talked for hours and travelled all over northeast Arkansas seeing the old ancestral homes. She cooks like you would imagine any southern grandmother to cook–everything from scratch and tastes DELICIOUS. No one makes sweet tea like she does. I think I drank half a gallon while I was there. I experienced true happiness this week, time with my family…and gained 3 pounds thanks to all the southern food and super sweet tea. That’s the good life, y’all.
I didn’t update the last few days because I was doing most of my updating via social media. A lot of plans got cancelled and re-arranged thanks to a surprise attack by Mother Nature.
We were going to travel to Asheville, North Carolina on Monday, but the forecast called for a slight chance of snow so it was decided not to risk it and to go Tuesday. Well, it didn’t do a thing on Monday. We did enjoy some of the town of Gatlinburg, though.
Monday night the forecast called for light snow with little more than a dusting expected Tuesday, so we woke up early and went to eat breakfast before leaving for North Carolina. During breakfast it began snowing heavily. We put the trip off again thanks to the snow, and did some other things around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The snow was starting to pile up so we decided we better get back up the mountain to the cabin. The roads were so bad we almost didn’t make it back. By the time it was all said and done, we had five inches of snow.
That left us pretty much snowed in Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon. Because we lost a whole day, we extended our trip by one day. We ventured down the mountain last night because the roads were better after being plowed and treated. Unfortunately nothing was open, so we found one place open for dinner and came back to the cabin. Watched American Idol and saw a fellow drama student from high school. He received a golden ticket, so good luck Kenneth “Woody” Gaddie!
Since we had the extra day, we traveled to Asheville today. The drive from Gatlinburg to Asheville is gorgeous. I was disappointed the more scenic routes were all closed due to snow, but the interstate was still absolutely beautiful. In Asheville we didn’t have a huge amount of time, so we sprung for the tour of The Biltmore house. It was absolutely lovely, like Downton Abbey come to life. Being a huge fan of Downton and early 20th century history in general, I was in heaven!
After the tour, we headed back to Tennessee, did a little shopping and ate at The Old Mill restaurant in Pigeon Forge. The food was great, but if you go there, keep this in mind: the prices aren’t terrible but they may seem a bit steep for what you’re ordering, but the price includes unlimited sides, fritters, soup, salad, and a dessert…and the portion size is HUGE! One of us got fried chicken and received THREE full size chicken breasts. I personally ordered the chicken tenders, and was given EIGHT large tenders! I was able to eat two. I have six left to snack on during the 8-hour trip home.
Now we’re settled back into the cabin for our last night. It’s been a lovely, much-needed vacation I’ll remember forever. We’re returning to Arkansas first thing in the morning. I’m looking forward to getting back to my own bed and my babies (my two dogs Sophie and Dixie)!! Now that the trip is over, here are my favorites from the week…
The Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee. Fantastic food, friendly staff. The wait was long no matter what time you arrived, but there was plenty of shopping around the property to keep you entertained while you waited because the beepers to alert you when your table was ready worked all over the property.
Gatlinburg Falls Resort. This is the resort community where our cabin was located. The prices are more than reasonable and the views are million-dollar. Our cabin looked out over the valley and the other fabulous cabins and had two back decks offering breathtaking views of Mount LeConte and the Great Smoky Mountains. Visit their website if you are looking for a fabulous place to stay in east Tennessee. The price is right, the beds are comfortable, and everything is clean. They have cabins for every budget and every size group. Can’t ask for more.
The Apple Barn and Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant. The restaurant offered my favorite meal of the trip. Every meal is served with complimentary apple julep and apple fritters with homemade apple butter. MOTHER OF GOD. Delicious. The chicken pot pie I ordered was delicious. The Apple Barn offered their fritter mix, housemade ciders, various jams, jellies, and butters, t-shirts, and more. There’s also a small cafe in the barn if you don’t have time to stop and eat at the restaurant. The cafe has apple donuts, those fabulous fritters, and more. If you’re in Sevierville, Tennessee, you have to stop by.
Best Italian/Best Italian Parkway. It can be confusing because there are two Italian restaurants with almost the same name…but go to either one–they’re the same! Don’t be put off by the appearance of the restaurant. The Best Italian where we dined was located right off the Parkway in a shopping center. Not much to look at from the road, or to be honest, when you get inside either…but that was the end of the negative. The food was outstanding. The meals come with their famous garlic rolls–knot rolls absolutely covered in Parmesan cheese and sitting in melted garlic butter. I had the spaghetti with sauteed mushrooms and I have had very few restaurant spaghettis that were better. The sauce is hearty, rich, and flavorful. Full of crushed tomatoes and flavor. The mushrooms tasted great and had a hint of white wine flavor. Good, good food.
The Pancake Pantry and The Village Shops. The last item on the list are the Pancake Pantry and Village shops together because they’re so close to each other. The Pancake Pantry offers one of–if not THE–best breakfast in Gatlinburg. I had the blueberry pancakes and they were out of this world. They have many, many more varieties of pancakes and crepes to choose from, though. If you’re not into pancakes, they have waffles, french toast, and traditional eggs/bacon/sausage breakfasts as well. The Village was a quaint little colleciton of unique shops including (to name a few) a candy store, a cleverly named pastry shop called The Donut Friar, and a Celtic Heritage shop with gifts from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (why is a Celtic Heritage shop in Gatlinburg? I don’t know…except maybe because so many southern people–especially people in the Appalachian region–are of Scottish and/or Irish ancestry). It’s worth a walk-through if you’re looking for a fun shopping experience on the Parkway in Gatlinburg.
So, today we traveled from Nashville to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to stay in a beautiful mountain cabin for four nights. This is the main part of the trip, and a person could do some serious relaxing here!
The drive from Nashville to Gatlinburg is beautiful! You steadily notice that you’re climbing in altitude the whole way, and you begin seeing the foothills followed by the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Once you get off the interstate in Sevierville, the scenery gets even more beautiful. To get here, you have to drive through Sevierville and then you reach Pigeon Forge, the first major tourist town.
The mountains where I live look like hills compared to the Smokies. It’s beautiful.
Once you get through Pigeon Forge, all the restaurants, show auditoriums, gift shops, mini golf courses, and go-kart tracks disappear and you start driving up a winding road through the woods as you enter Smoky Mountain National Park. The road has a meandering stream following it the whole way. After a few miles, the forest opens up to another city strip filled with restaurants and tourist attractions. You’ve reached Gatlinburg.
Once we got to Gatlinburg, we checked into our cabin, settled in, and made our way to the back decks of the cabin. The view we were met with was breathtaking. A gorgeous scene of the Smokies, directly facing Mount Le Conte, all 6,593 feet of it. Here are some photos of the view from the cabin.
At night, the lights of the cabins shimmer in valley, and off to the right, the sparkling lights of downtown Gatlinburg shine brightly. I wasn’t able to get an adequate photo of that.
After settling in to our cabin, we went to a park, where we drove up a mountain and saw an old homestead, some snow, and a few deer.
Finally we stopped at the foot of the mountain to take a few photos of a lovely stream flowing through the woods.
After seeing the park, we went into town for a bit to get the lay of the land. We had dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (which I do not recommend, by the way–exorbitant prices for mediocre food). After dinner we went to a candy shop where they make taffy, even moonshine flavored! We were going to make the trip to Asheville, North Carolina tomorrow, but now there’s a chance of snow. We’ve decided to stay in Gatlinburg tomorrow. If the snow isn’t too bad, we will visit some of the shops in town and eat out and visit Asheville Tuesday. I’m looking forward to seeing some snow, as it’s so rare at home, but I hope it doesn’t keep us cooped up the whole time!
Keep an eye on florencefallon.com for updates and photos from my adventures in Tennessee and North Carolina. Probably will consist of photos mostly–unless some really exciting/funny stuff happens.
Tonight we’re in Nashville. Made a stop at Loveless Cafe before heading to the Ryman. The Loveless Cafe was amazing. It was completely full with an hour wait at 3:30 in the afternoon! I hate to think of how busy they are at dinner time! The food was so good. If you like southern food, you must stop there next time you’re in Nashville. The fried chicken is out of this world, as are the biscuits and fried green tomatoes. I didn’t try one thing that wasn’t good.
It was a fast and furious afternoon/evening, and it isn’t over yet! Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time for picture-taking here in Nashville, but I’ll have time for that at the other destinations! I was able to snap this lovely picture of the sunset before it got dark. More tomorrow.
I’m officially over a week out from my surgery. It feels nice to reach this milestone considering how long I had to wait for it. I’m still in a lot of pain, but it is gradually improving. The leg pain from compressed nerves I was experiencing before surgery is still gone. The majority of the pain I’m experiencing now is bone pain (the surgeon shaves some of the bone off the vertebrae near the affected disc to help take pressure off the nerve being compressed) and muscle spasms. The pain is forcing me to use muscles I usually don’t use to support my upper body. These muscles are screaming and spasming in protest! That will eventually go away, muscle spasms are a very normal part of recovery from spine surgery. Doctors regularly prescribe muscle relaxers in combination with narcotics for pain control.
I was talking to my dad earlier about my pain and we discussed the differences between my last two spine surgeries compared to this one. While the operative pain is a bit worse this time due to working on more than one disk, my legs are much stronger this time than they were after the other surgeries. They feel stronger now than they have in months! The surgery was definitely successful in that respect. While there’s a chance I won’t ever be pain free, I have high hopes that I’ll be pretty close to pain free after 6 weeks or so.
My last spine surgery resulted in an allergic reaction to SOMETHING used in incision closure. Whether it was the dissolving sutures or the topical glue I don’t know, but I’m having a similar reaction this time. The wound and surrounding area itch something terrible and are red. It isn’t infection, though…I’m just concerned that the reaction will hinder healing. Last time my incision didn’t heal properly and remained open on the top layers. That combined with a hematoma developing resulted in a second surgery. The surgeon closed the wound with non-dissolving nylon sutures and it healed beautifully. I wish she had done that this time, but she didn’t. We’re watching it like a hawk and first sign that the wound is opening up we’re going straight back to the surgeon. I refuse to go under the knife again!
In other life news, I’m getting excited about the holiday season. The Christmas commercials have begun and I have my fall scents all over the house. I love the warm, spicy scents of fall. One of my favorites this year is Yankee Candle’s Apple Pumpkin. It’s fabulous. I’m beginning to search Pinterest and my new cookbooks for a different recipe or two to make for Thanksgiving. I’d love a link if anyone has a suggestion for me. I’m also looking forward to a trip to Branson, Missouri sometime before Christmas. My mom wants to take me up there for a little shopping and enjoying their Christmas decorations and activities. I hated Branson as a kid. It was a place everyone went to shop and I thought it was a haven for old people and extremely cliche and I hated going. I even boycotted it and refused to go for years. Now that I’m older I appreciate it more. It’s a lovely place with good shopping not too far from home but far enough to seem like vacation. I still don’t enjoy the shows or any of that aspect of it, but Branson actually has a lot to offer besides their kind of cheesy stage shows.
A Review of Carol Burnett’s latest writing endeavor, and it’s unique connection to me.
That may seem a little strange to read. “Why would someone make that particular pilgrimage?” Well, the answer is simple. I am absolutely in love with Carol Burnett. Her talent, her incredible personality and kindness, the whole package. She is phenomenal. When I read her first memoir, One More Time, I was delighted to find we had something in common. Both our ancestors come from western Yell County, Arkansas! Hers come from the beautiful beyond description Belleville, Arkansas…Mine come from the equally beautiful–and slightly larger–Danville, Arkansas, located just a few miles down Highway 10. I had been to Danville before, not often, but on occasion. My family visited a popular Arkansas State Park in the County, Mount Nebo State Park, every year when I was growing up. On our visits to that lovely place, we would often venture away from the coziness of our stone cabin and venture down the mountain for a drive through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. The area is beautiful beyond description.
The area is known as the Arkansas River Valley, as the Arkansas River carves a path straight through these mountains, creating a spectacular sight to say the least. Knowing we had some ancestors from the area, we enjoyed making the 20 mile trek from Dardanelle, Arkansas–location of our vacation spot Mount Nebo–up to Danville. The drive between Dardanelle and Danville is beautiful. Lovely farmland, picturesque homes, cattle and horses grazing peacefully in the fields. The occasional farm outlined with a white picket fence. It’s the stuff of legend. What one thinks of when they think of the South…well, that and the old cotton plantations you hear so much about in historical southern lore. Suffice it to say, the area is beautiful in a way that words can hardly do it justice.
As you make the short drive between Dardanelle and Danville, all these lovely farms and open pastures are presided over by the majestic Mount Nebo and Chickalah Mountains in the distance, keeping watch over the serene landscape below. Growing up an only child, constantly surrounded by people older than myself, I learned from an early age to appreciate the beauty of nature and all it had to offer. I would often wonder as a child if the animals living in these pastures realized how lucky they were to be living right in the middle of perhaps the most beautiful place God ever created–at least in my mind at the time. I have since done a lot of travelling across this massive country. I have seen the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Santa Monica Mountains and other gorgeous peaks found throughout the Los Angeles area. While they are all beautiful, my heart will always remain partial to the gorgeous Ozarks and Ouachitas of home. They are unique and hold a special place in my heart. I grew up there, and Lord willing, I plan to get married right in the heart of them–on top of my beloved Mount Nebo.
As you continue this drive, Highway 27 dead-ends at Highway 10 and you are met with a crossroads. You can turn left and enter Danville proper, the place of my ancestors (only a few of them hail from this area). Turning right will take you directly into the middle of Belleville, Arkansas. Home of the legendary Mae Jones, the “Belle of Belleville.” Birthplace of Ina Louise Creighton, mother of the incomparable Carol Burnett. In the past, I have made the hasty decision to turn right and just see what Belleville had to offer. I knew it existed after reading One More Time, and I wanted to see it for myself. That particular trip was almost disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is absolutely beyond description. One of the most beautiful places in the state of Arkansas, if not the entire South. Mountain vistas that will take your breath away. But I simply drove down Highway 10 straight through Belleville, looking at the breathtaking scenery but seeing nothing of particular interest. I then turned my car around and headed the opposite direction toward Danville–the intended destination.
Then Carol wrote another book, a magical book entitled Carrie and Me: A Mother Daughter Love Story. An unbelievably warm and touching tribute to her oldest daughter, Carrie Louise Hamilton. I read the book in two days. Not even two full days. Two nights after work. I could not put it down. That’s how it always is for me when I read any of Carol’s books. She has the most easy, down-to-earth way of writing that you can’t help but read it all in a hurry. It leaves you dying to know what happens next. And her stories are so heartfelt and real that you feel you are sharing them with her…and, in a sense, I suppose you are.
There was never any question that I was going to buy Carrie and Me when I learned it was coming out. I pre-ordered it almost the very day it became available to do so. I waited anxiously for its arrival, excited to read the next story Carol was willing to share with us about her incredible life journey. Then I followed a link provided by none other than one of my top ten favorite social media friends, Libby, who provided a link to an excerpt from the book. It talked about a little about Carrie (who tragically died way too soon from metastasized lung cancer) and her journey across the United States to visit Graceland–Home of “The King” in Memphis, Tennessee as a means to connect with a writing project she was working on. Along the way, she planned on stopping at her family’s ancestral homes of San Antonio, Texas (Birthplace of Carol Burnett) on the way to Memphis, and stopping in Belleville, Arkansas (where her Nanny and Grandmother originated) on the way back.
I don’t want to spoil the whole book for you, but I was beyond pleased to discover that Carrie felt a special connection to the town of Belleville and thoroughly enjoyed her visit to the small farming community. One of the locals later told Carol that Carrie had “a smile as big as a barnyard door,” which pretty much sums it up–albeit in very simple, southern terms! Carrie’s smile is absolutely one of the first things you notice about her. She was gorgeous, yes, but that smile would soften even the hardest of hearts. It seems the locals took to Carrie right away, and were helpful in showing her where her ancestors lived and were buried. An experience that apparently resonated deeply with Carrie. In the book, Carol says Carrie mentioned “Mama, I want to go back to Belleville.” It is obvious in her reaction to the town and its people that she felt a deep, almost visceral connection to the place. No doubt the family ties run deep. I am not surprised by this. I honestly believe many people do have another “sense” within them. A way of sensing where they originally come from. Carrie may never have actually lived in Arkansas, but her very soul felt a connection to it, much like the way my soul will always feel a special connection with this beautiful state I call home.
I understand this from another point of view as well. I am extremely drawn to Mount Nebo, the place I spent so much of my childhhood. I feel like my spirit partially belongs there. I think Carrie felt the same way about Belleville. Carrie’s ashes were divided between Los Angeles, her beloved Colorado Rockies–where she had a cabin–and on the grave of her great great grandfather, F.C. Jones in Belleville, Arkansas, which were scattered there by her Mother Carol Burnett on a visit to Belleville sometime later.
If you haven’t read Carrie and Me: A Mother Daughter Love Story by Carol Burnett, I can’t recommend many books more highly. I have many favorite authors, and I am not ashamed to admit that while being one of my all time favorite entertainers, Carol Burnett is also one of my favorite writers as well. Her books are always touching, open, and honest. She gives her fans a gift with each of her books, and Carrie and Me is no exception. It is a brilliant, heartwarming story about the journey of a mother and daughter that will leave its mark in your heart, I have no doubt. It’s a quick read, it’s an easy read, and it’s worth the day, two days, or week it would take you to read it. It will warm your heart and endear both Carrie and Carol to your heart.
The end of the book—Part II–is a story called “Sunrise in Memphis” which was started by Carrie before her untimely death of cancer in 2002. The story is missing some parts in the middle–unfortunately she never got the chance to finish the story, but it is incredible. Her insight and ability to draw the reader in and keep their attention is astounding. She had a very different, unique way of telling a story, and although the story was never finished, it will still prove to be a very exciting, interesting read.
On a personal note, after finishing the book, I felt the need to re-visit Belleville, considering it’s only about 80 miles from my house. An easy drive just over an hour. I wanted to see the town after reading about some of the places Carrie and Carol visited on their separate journeys there. I guess you could call it a pilgrimage of sorts. I wanted to see Main Street, The Memory Lane Cafe, and the F. C. Jones house where it all began, because I honestly believe it wasn’t only Carol Burnett’s unmatched talent, but her unique upbringing that resulted in her becoming the force she is today. Who knows? If she had not suffered with dealing with alcoholic parents whom she loved dearly, and being raised by a hypochondriacal Christian Scientest grandmother–her beloved Nanny–and being raised partially in the South and partially in the magical world of Hollywood–albeit “a million miles away from Hollywood.” I believe it was a combination of all these factors that led to creating one of the most beloved entertainers and treasures America has ever produced.
I made the short journey to Belleville this weekend, book in tow, so I could be sure not to miss any of the landmarks discussed in the book…sure enough, there it was. The house–at least it was a house that looked identical to the house in the book–the Memory Lane Cafe, and the minuscule Main Street of Belleville. The two different cemetaries. It is all still there, exactly as Carrie and Carol described it. Perhaps the thing that strikes me most of all–or anyone for that matter–is the unbelievable view. Travelling down Highway 27 toward Belleville is lovely in its own right, but once you near Highway 10, the road to Belleville, you drive up a hill and at the top you are met with one of the most incredible mountain views you can possibly imagine. I am not exaggerating when I tell you it literally took my breath away. It is not somewhere I would want to live, personally. It is 30 minutes to the nearest Wal-Mart–practically the ONLY shopping facility in the county–and I was born and bred a “city girl” who needs to be near civilization.
When you reach Belleville, whether you look left, right, in front or behind you, all you see are gorgeous mountains. As far as the eye can see. It’ll bring a tear to your eye. I can understand why some people who are born there choose never to leave that magical, beautiful place. I met a couple of people at the gas station, all curious what a stranger was doing in those parts. I just told them I had relatives from Danville and decided to turn right instead of left and see what Belleville was like. The people were so friendly, and I learned this by taking the advice of Carrie herself, “When you smile, the whole world opens up to you.”
This beautiful, loving tribute to an incredible human being can be purchased here: Carrie and Me on Amazon. I assure you it is worth the small price you will pay for it. An absolutely beautiful, touching read. Go buy it, you won’t be sorry.
Some photos from my visits to the breathtakingly beautiful Belleville, Arkansas\