To say I’m devastated is an understatement about the Tennessee fires in Gatlinburg. As the mother of a deceased child there are triggers that bring back the pain of loss. A song. A smell. A place. A memory.
Yesterday a community that is so special to my heart was all over social media because it is burning. Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The beautiful Smoky mountains where I spent 12 summers with my children. A place so like where I live now; Colombia, South America. When I first came to Colombia I noticed the similarities immediately. Now that I live here, I am reminded of the lovely times in the Smoky mountains, recollections of complete happiness. Enjoying my children’s childhood as they spent their time outside playing, hiking, learning to love nature like I do.
We had property in a plush RV resort just outside of Gatlinburg. My son learned to swim and ride a bike there. My daughter was only 4 when we first started spending time in Gatlinburg, my son a new baby just a few months old. We were there for the opening of the Aquarium that was a favored spot to visit with my children. We had my children’s friends from South Florida come with us for the summer every year. There was the 4th of July parade where they decorated their bikes while us adults watched as they rode through the RV park. The hikes on the many trails in the Smoky Mountains, the tubing in the freezing water, and the swimming in natural pools. The sadness of leaving when it was time to pack up and go home, back to our huge house after living in a trailer for a summer. Maybe this is why I’m a minimalist now. Those times in our trailer were the happiest times I remember. I could spend all my time with my children instead of always cleaning and keeping the perfect house. I cherished my summers in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The complete freedom we felt living a life that was one with nature. I even ruptured my ACL while telling a story around a campfire. A funny remembrance that my daughter Misha loved to retell to all of her friends as she grew up. I was telling a ghost story around a campfire and slipped on a small hill that was wet from an earlier rain. The kids all thought I was acting, but I was crying out in pain! The using of dryer sheets in our hair to keep the gnats away (like in the photo above). The special places we frequented, and loved. The sighting of a bear, a deer, of nature. The visits to Cade’s Cove. The back to school shopping in Pigeon Forge, the season passes to Dollywood and the many country music concerts we attended of up and coming stars. We saw Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Sawyer Brown, Steve Wariner, and many more before they were really huge country favorites. That tiny theater at Dollywood was a place I will never forget. Yes, these memories keep my daughter alive in my mind.
Now Gatlinburg is burning. I see the places I frequented gone. The small wedding chapel that Keith Urban told a story about when he came onstage at Dollywood is gone. He was coming to play our concert : he stopped and entered the ceremony and sang for the bride and groom!
The Welcome Center of the Smoky Mountains. This was the first place I visited with my children when I fell in love with Gatlinburg.
The nature that was the most important part of these beautiful mountains.
The ride through Cade’s Cove with my daughter on bicycles and the spotting of baby bear cubs. Seeing wild Turkey’s, and deer grazing. How can I not feel sad? This was a time of my life that was joyous, without stress, and with many lovely memories.
So I wrote my ex husband and one of the children whom my kids grew up with. The ORA resort is still standing. My ex and I might not get along, but we remember these wonderful times. The memories keep us in sync, no matter where we have gone in our lives. My children’s childhood friend who is now a grown man gave me some good advice. He said “the ecosystem has had this happen before, it will grow and reproduce. The poor of Sevier county will have new jobs to benefit growth of the community. This will pass like the hurricanes that hit, or Earthquakes in other countries.” It was oddly calming to me. A man now, but I remember him as a child. He had a great way of making me feel better.
So I will let my heart grieve as I always do, a past time when my daughter was alive, when I was extremely happy. A culture, a life that I loved and still love. The outdoors. It is burning in Gatlinburg, TN. But I am enjoying nature here in Colombia. A life of freedom and peace. I need to learn to let things go, the things I have no control over. We all do.