When I was a child, our weekends were often spent “going to the mountains.” Daddy would say, “Let’s go to the mountains this weekend.” We kids would go outside and hide behind the garage. Mom would pack a picnic lunch, find our hiding place and drag us into the car for a day of adventure.
We never knew exactly where daddy would decide to take us on any particular trip. Now that I think of it, I doubt that daddy knew either. We lived close enough that some parts of the Appalachian Mountains were within driving distance for a day’s excursion. It seemed more like a trip to California to us.
There were scenic overlooks, mountain springs, and sometimes even trails to explore – if daddy stopped driving long enough. Often he would drive and drive until my sister and I became restless and Mother would have to make him pull over before our bladders exploded. Daddy would always say he was waiting until he found a better place to stop.
In those days, there were picnic tables at intervals along the way and travelers would stop, unpack lunch, and eat right at the roadside. We always wished that bears would come and chase us away, but they never did. Probably they didn’t like baloney sandwiches and were waiting for a family with fried chicken.
A special treat on our tour was stopping at a “Blanket Store.” Blanket stores were found all along mountain roads and sold handcrafted quilts, apple cider and other souvenirs imported from Japan with “Great Smoky Mountains” painted on them. We never did buy a blanket at one of these places.
The best tourist attractions were deep in the mountains, places like Grandfather’s Mountain, Cherokee, and Chimney Rock. We never went there. Daddy didn’t like to go places that you had to pay money to see and had the ridiculous idea that you should be able to enjoy nature for free.
If daddy found a roadside stand selling mountain apples, however, he might stop and buy some. The best ones were extra large and he called them “horse apples.” We would stop at a spring that ran out of the rocks cliffs along the side of the road, wash the apples, drink water from our hands, and read the interesting graffiti scratched on the rocks until mother noticed and made us get back in the car.
Daddy sometimes took us on precarious dirt roads to see places that he remembered. One especially steep and treacherous road was called the “stair steps.” We drove along with sheer cliffs on one side and sheer drop offs on the other. He thought it was great to have two wheels practically hanging off the road, but mother usually got angry over daddy’s little side trips.
The mountains were cool and scented by pine. Mountain laurel and rhodendron bloomed in the Spring filling the woods with blossoms. In the Fall, red and gold leaves stretched for endless miles at scenic overlooks. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see too much from the car.
Often a haze hung on the mountains like smoke and daddy would say we were driving through the clouds. My sister and I would hide on the floorboard. We figured if daddy didn’t drive off the edge of a cliff, a runaway truck barreling down the mountain in the fog would probably kill us.
We learned, however, to appreciate the beauty of nature on these on these journeys to the mountains. We also learned that crooked mountains roads made my little sister carsick. I think that daddy loved the mountains and wanted to instill these same values in his children. A bit of fresh mountain air did wonders for my sister’s motion sickness, and also gave us another excuse to make daddy stop the car.
Our trips to the mountains ended as we grew older and became better at making excuses. But even as my memories become misty when I think of daddy and childhood, one of the things I’ll always remember most is the old car overheating and the radiator boiling over as we climbed the steep grades while going to the mountains.
Did you have a favorite day trip or vacation when you were a child? Where did you go?