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Friday, January 27, 2017

11/28/16~The Day The Fire Came

photo source unknown


Monday, November the 28th, 2016

              The eleventh month, the twenty eighth day, in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Sixteen.

It doesn't matter how many ways I say this date, I get a knot in my stomach and my mouth becomes as parched as the landscape on that horrible day.  It was and will remain for thousands of people a day that changed their lives forever.  Some paid the ultimate price but all of us who live, work or have a deep love for these treasured mountains have been scarred. Some will bear the obvious physical scars while many, including me, will forever carry the unseen emotional scarring. 

Before I go on with the blog I need to say something. As many of you know who follow my blog Reflections From The Granny Bed, my job is the Communications Director for the Sevier County Tennessee 911 Central Dispatch. I will not be discussing the particulars of calls. It is not appropriate and we are under an directive from the District Attorney to keep the files and recordings closed until the criminal investigation is complete.  This blog is about very general information, emotions, thoughts, fears and the reality of the events of the day as seen through my eyes. I need to write this. I  have had some difficult days and sleepless nights, as have many, in the past two months.

I'm going to back up a little to the weekend of Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving weekend, Sevier County's population grows from around 87,000 residents to probably well over 250,000.  Our County encompasses the cities of Gatlinburg, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and the Town of Pittman Center.
I live in Pittman Center which is about 10 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. We had been in a severe drought for several weeks and the whole area was a tinder box and we, as emergency service workers were aware that we could have a break out of brush fires. This is one of the most difficult calls to dispatch, especially when the Wildland Task Force is activated. What this means is every fire department and usually the Forestry Department are all dispatched to a scene. We have three paid fire departments and eight volunteer departments in our County.
 I remember being so happy we had made it through the Holiday without a major incident.
However, we knew the National Park had an active fire near the Chimney Tops Trail that started the day before Thanksgiving.

Chimney Tops Fire  GSMNP

This is approximately 8 miles from Gatlinburg. We answer any 911 calls placed within the National Park and transfer those callers to the NPS Dispatch Center if they need a Ranger. We send an ambulance from Gatlinburg if its medical in nature or a car accident.

On that Monday morning, my friend and partner in crime Lisa text me from her job in Gatlinburg. She worked at the Mountain Lodge Restaurant ( a casualty of the fire) on the East Parkway. The text read " what is going on in Gatlinburg?"  I was in my office and quickly looked at the CAD screen and  didn't see anything significant. She then forwarded me these photos:

This was about 11am in the morning and was taken from the Mountain Lodge.  I went to the back to check with the dispatchers and they said that they were told we did not have an active fire in the city of Gatlinburg and that the smoke and ash was from the Chimney Tops 2 Fire.

I recall looking at the sky many times that day from Sevierville, in the direction toward Gatlinburg, Pittman Center and the Smoky Mountains and honestly it scared me. Apocalyptic, was the only way I could describe it.   All I knew to do was to make sure I was kept up to date as the day went on as usual with all the other routine calls of various nature we get. I can say that if there is any silver lining in this tragedy (in my personal opinion), it is that the fire occurred on a Tuesday instead of over the weekend when every cabin and hotel would have been filled to capacity. Most tourists had left on Sunday morning, as they traditionally do on a Holiday weekend.
 I know that is little comfort to many and I in no way mean to diminish their grief.

I was home and already in PJ's which is pretty typical for me on any work day by 6pm.  I had heard a few sirens a little later and thought " oh no, I hope its not a brush fire". I had also noticed the winds had picked up and suddenly a gust shook my house. I knew it had to be a heavy wind to do so.  About that time my phone rang and what I can only explain as a 24 hour period of hell on earth began. 

" You need to get out of your house and we are covered up and can't answer all the incoming calls"

I briefly was able to ask "where's the fire and what do you need?"
I certainly wasn't prepared for the answer of "fires all over and more reports coming in, particularly in the Gatinburg area and Cobbly Nob."
Cobbly Nob is about five minutes from my house.

I quickly gathered a few vital things. I loaded my two little Toy Fox Terriers, Merry and Pippin,  and Pyewacket the kitten into crates.

I had to make the decision to leave Ms. Kitty. She is a feral cat and has never been in a car. I bade her farewell and turned her out. I went to the chicken house and opened their door if they needed to try to get away. My Daughter and son-in-law where in Illinois visiting his family. I just recently got a little VW Beetle and when I got partially down the driveway I saw that my heirloom Old Fashioned Milum Apple tree had fell victim to the wind and was blocking the driveway and I couldn't get out.

I loved that apple tree. In one of my blogs "Too Many Apples , Not Enough Spoonies" I tell the story behind the tree and its journey from the old home place in the National Park.
I realized I was stuck.  I knew I couldn't move the tree. My only choice was to drive through the neighbors hedge row and exit out of his driveway. He is elderly and lives in Nashville most of the year.  He keeps a small opening in his Forsythia hedge for the riding lawn mower. Thank goodness for the Beetle... I slipped through the hedge with just a few scratches to the sides.
 As I pulled to the highway I could see the orange glows from the Smokies and from the direction of Gatlinburg.

One of my daughters friends Heather, called and said the road to their house was closed and they couldn't get in to their dog and cat that were both inside. I felt so bad for her but told her stay away, they were already in Sevierville. They lost their home and animals to the fire. I am so thankful they were not on Wiley Oakley where their house was. It was hit really hard.
I knew I was not driving that direction so I headed out the backroads to Sevierville. The traffic which was usually very light was heavy and the wind was blowing me all over the place. I got behind a big truck and we had to stop a couple times to move trees. It took me over a half an hour to get to the dispatch center.
When I walked in I was just stunned. Every department was talking, multi phone lines were ringing and every dispatcher was engaged.  Six dispatchers were on the console radio's, two were on portables and I took a third portable. It was about 7:30 pm. I normally had four people on this time of the evening. Two had stayed over from their shifts and two had come in from off days. Later another came in as well to help. She was on vacation. David Rauhuff, the Emergency District Director came as well and helped.  As I said above, I'm not getting into the calls. Suffice it to say our records show we received 1409 calls in a 24 hour period. Our average call volume on that particular day of the week and in November would be some where between 100-125 in 24 hours. This is where I am having some issues personally with coping. I know some calls did not get answered and I just can't wrap my mind around that. We have an average 3 second answer time on over 98% of all calls.  There was no time in an approximate 14 hour period that the phones were not constantly ringing. We have six incoming lines. We kept all our equipment up and running but Gatlinburg Police was not so lucky. We lost contact with them at about 8:30pm when they had to evacuate the police department building. The phone lines were damaged as well as some cell towers.

All I can say it was like being in a nightmare in slow motion. I remember one time they told me I had a call and it was the State 911 Director from Nashville wanting to know how we were and if we needed help or anything. I remember numbly saying " we are doing all we can, as fast as we can."  And it just kept on and on... I have heard it called "The Perfect Storm".  I guess it was, but it was also a vision of chaos and the hand of nature giving you a bitch slap so hard your head spun in circles. A friendly reminder, if you will, of how little control we actually have.

Below are some photos of the Spur road. This is the road that connects Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

We had people getting into the river that divides the road to escape the heat and flames. Also we directed folks to swimming pools who couldn't get out of an area because of blocked roads.
No Way Joses and the Ripleys Aquarium in front of Greystone Heights burning

from Inside Park Vista Hotel

 As the night progressed all we could do was pray for the rain that was moving slowly through middle Tennessee. At about 2am, I realized no one had food all evening so David and I went to Walmart and got stuff for sandwiches, while we were out the heavenly rain began to fall.  After everyone had taken a quick break and ate a sandwich, I had to go to my office in absolute exhaustion. I have several Chronic Illnesses and honestly, I wasn't sure how long I was going to be upright and conscious. I had left the animal tribe in my office and had let Merry and Pip out of the crate. I guess the stress of the sudden trip and unknown place had scared them terribly. They are 12 year old sisters and their bladders have seen better days...whose hasn't?  One of them had peed all in my recliner chair that I use when I feel the POTS getting ready to take me out. I realized that night if you are tired and stressed out enough, that even dog pee will not stop you from getting horizontal. I slept two hours and when I got back to the dispatch area at 4:30a, they were visibly shaken from an elevator rescue but elated the couple had finally been freed after several hours. I learned later that one of the dispatchers lead a group prayer for the couple.   I can say without hesitation I am so proud of this group of unsung heroes.

After the rain and the sun rose, the full extent of the damage begin to set in. I think it took several days for most of us to really know how extensive the fires and damage were. We soon were saddened to hear about the loss of life as well. 2400 buildings lost. Let that sink in for a few.
One situation that was particularly hard on all of us was that one of our volunteer agencies, Pittman Center Volunteer Fire Department, had pretty much battled a monster all night without communications after their repeater site burned.  We had no idea in dispatch the size of their fire, where they were or if they were ok. They were in the community of Cobbly Nob, east of Gatlinburg pretty much on their own. We sent them initially on one structure fire. They ended up with 98 houses involved. For the first nine (9) hours they battled alone on that mountain in high winds that reached gusts of almost 90 mile an hour. They had a total of 19 firefighters. The Chief is Rosemary Nichols. She is the little sister of my friend Lisa and my neighbor here in Pittman Center.

Hellfire may have rained down on us that night, but many stories of courage, faith and grace are being shared.

Aerial view of Cobbly Nob

Roaring Fork Baptist Church

One thing that I wish everyone in America was aware of .... if anyone wants a lesson in how to behave post- crisis look no further than our County. To my knowledge, we had zero looting in a Town filled with retail shops and expensive items. Some areas of Gatlinburg were closed for almost two weeks, even to residents. The only thing that was a problem was an overflow and abundance of donated items, so much that we ran out of space to store the goods. And then lets talk about Dolly Parton:

 Her foundation has raised almost 10 million dollars to aide the victims of the fires, especially the ones who lost homes that were renters or lived in weekly housing. Those poor souls lost everything. Almost all the housing used by the Hispanic community was lost and several motels that housed the workers for many restaurants and hotels burned. 
  I haven't really ever talked much about this on the blog,  but my mom and Dolly's dad were brother and sister. The Granny I named this blog after is Dolly's grandma as well as mine.  She was bedridden her entire adult life with what I believe is the same medical issue I am now facing. I have always been proud of Dolly, but this act of generosity  has elevated her to a level of respect that is shared by everyone I know.  She may truly be the Dolly Lama.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Decoration Day

Lindsay Cemetery    Mike Maples photographer via Facebook

As long as I can remember, our family has loved a trip to the cemetery. Now, let me preface that with we do prefer to walk of our on accord instead of being carried.  Many a Sunday picnic in Greenbrier ended with a walk to one of the several cemeteries in that section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our elders rest in those hallowed grounds and the families of those scattered during the establishment of the Park in the mid 1920's continue to yearn for a connection to our roots.  I remember one summer evening in particular when I along with mom, my sister Marjorie, cousin Pat (yep the Pat of Old Diamond fame) and Aunt Hazel went to Friendship Cemetery right at dusk to decorate the grave for the upcoming Decoration Day. The cemetery is on the hill to the right of the bridge over the river to Ramsey Cascades.  My Aunt Margie Parton, who died when she was around 3 years old is buried there. She died of pneumonia as did many mountain children.  We had been in the cemetery only a few minutes when we heard the scream of what I have been told my whole life is a Panther.  Now, few things struck fear in our hearts more than the word Panther.  Dr. Wadley, our local dentist was neck at neck in the fear category in my 6 year old opinion.
  It was dusky dark, right at the time when long shadows and fading light play tricks with the eyes and mind. The adults tried to keep their cool but I was neither dumb nor deaf.  So mom and Hazel were herding us out of the cemetery when the scream rose again, this time closer. What happened next is a little hazy. I  remember the screaming . I'm not sure if it was all of us or the big cat. Maybe a combination of both. The yell of the cat came closer and I remember mom wailing  "Oh Lord, its in the trees".... at this point, I became boneless and just flopped over between the head stones. I knew good and well one of the four would carry me , thus increasing my chance of survival. Mom swooped in lifting me up in  full momma bear mode.  The cat came closer and I heard a branch in a tree break. It seemed like nightfall happened instantaneously. I buried my face in fear and bosoms and hung on for the ride of my life. Maybe next season Dollywood will have a new ride called "Panther Run". The worlds first roller coaster that travels through old cemeteries and moonshine still filled Hollows whilst a screaming  'Painter jumps through the pine branches above your I want a funnel cake.
We ran for our lives toward Aunt Hazels Ford Fairlane  parked beside the trailhead at the river. Even though no one actually saw the Panther, we pretty much all agreed it was a close call that night in the cemetery.  Every time I go to the cemetery, I remember that Decoration Day and realize that rain, sleet ,snow or Panther cannot keep an Appalachian woman from going to visit a cemetery. 
I wish my biggest adversary was a Panther at this point in my life. But dealing with my chronic illness is somewhat the same as the big cat in the tree: scary, powerful and invisible.
Tomorrow is Decoration Day and for the first time I just simply cannot make it to decorate the graves. My sister is in a boot for a foot injury as well. We talked today about how bad we hated and resented this illness that has trapped us both.  I had hoped that today I could take the flowers to the cemeteries, but it is not to be. I have been in the Granny Bed all day and simply do not have the energy to make the trek. Most of our fathers side of the family are at Lindsay Cemetery and Huskey Cemetery. We try to every year keep the old mountain tradition of Decoration Day going, but I fear it is fading fast with many families.
Early in the spring, the women would start to make the crepe paper flowers that were placed on the graves in those day. Sometimes they were dipped in paraffin wax to hold up to the elements better.

Decoration Day was and is a major event in southern Appalachia. The Sunday begins with a church service and usually ends with a dinner on the ground and a singing. Many have the old whole note or Harp singers. Here is a video to Harp singing at Cades Cove:

 Before our grandfather died he told the family to make sure and put flowers on the little grave of dads little sister Opal who died in infancy. Pap always took Sweet Williams and Seven Sisters Roses.

There is no greater guilt than a mountain woman denied the ability to make it to Decoration Day.
My sister said that our earthly flowers would pale to those they are enjoying in Paradise. I'm sure that is true.
But the Good Lord willing, I will make it next year if that dang Panther don't get me....


Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Wave Goodbye... a tribute post to Justin and Stephanie Shults and those who love them.

It still seems so surreal and unimaginable. Everyday we are flooded with images of violence and war torn areas worldwide, but we are once removed from it, or so we thought. Oh we shake our heads and think how terrible it is that radical Islam has killed yet another group of people. But we tend to forget as the pressing issues of our daily lives keep most of us in a whirlwind of activity and responsibilities. Those images soon fade, but not anymore. All of our lives in this small  Tennessee mountain community have changed with the senseless death of Justin and Stephanie Shults who died in the Brussels bombing. Justin grew up in Sevier County and attended Gatlinburg Pittman High School as did his parents Sheila Branam Shell and Jeff Shults.  My good friend Lisa that is Ethel to my Lucy is their first cousin. I am heart sick over their deaths, as are so many.

  My first boyfriend in high school was Sheilas brother Randy. We dated a couple of years but drifted apart as time passed. I became particularly close to their parents Bruce and Juanita during this time. Bruce was a police officer for the City of Gatlinburg. He was instrumental in helping me get my first job in my chosen profession.  They loved their kids and were very nice, down to earth people. Several years later Juanita was my first baby sitter for my daughter Courtney when she was very little and I started back to work.She would call her Corky and spoiled her as if she was her very own granddaughter. 

 Uncle Bruce was a basketball lover. You definitely wanted him on your side in the bleachers during the big game. He took the round ball serious.
I didn't see them much as the years went on and as most of us, our own lives took hold and we were busy with our families. They're a lot of people gone I wished I had spent more time with. This is a lesson that sadly is usually learned as the wisdom of age sets in.  All three have passed on now, as well as a second brother Mike.

I didn't know Justin personally, only through pictures and seeing his name associated with the local high school. From all accounts he was an exceptional young man with a loving spirit and a bright future. His wife Stephanie is from Kentucky and they met in college at Vanderbilt. We grieve her loss as well here in Sevier County and I pay my sincere condolences to the Moore family in Lexington.


I can't imagine the grief and sorrow the families are enduring. It is my understanding the bodies are back on American soil and will be released soon. Under the worldwide media attention, I hope they can grieve and bury their children without added stress. Please keep them in your prayers and thoughts as they face the next step in this ruthless tragedy.

I can't seem to get the image of Stephanie's mother waving goodbye to them at the airport out of my mind and my heart. Apparently, it was at this moment that the lunatics detonated the bomb as she was turned back giving them a final wave.Mothers do that, especially Southern mothers. We follow our loved ones and kids to the car as their leaving and watch as they leave till they are no longer in sight.  Departing can become a lengthy process as we realize "oh, one more thing"..When I was a child everyone did this, you stood on the front porch and waved until the visitors, whether family or not was gone from view.  I hope that the last thing that Justin and Stephanie saw on this old earth was the waving hand of their smiling mother saying goodbye. I pray and believe that the angels who were dispatched to escort them, whisked their souls to the Heavens so quickly that they instantly raised their eyes to see their grandparents and loved ones waving Hello as Jesus welcomed them to their forever home.


Monday, December 28, 2015

A Walk In The Woods

Portal Tree   Great Smoky Mountains  Big Greenbrier    Timothy H. Fisher Photograpy

Yesterday I went for a hike. You heard me, a hike. I have not been on a trail for several years due to many health factors and the chronic fatigue I deal with each and every day.
For me to work each day and then rest on weekends is pretty much the best I can do physically. But this was one of those situations that you just have to say yes to and hope for the best. My friend Mike, who is a Mountain Jedi, contacted  me and said he was taking some nice folks from Mississippi to Parton Town in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and they would love to meet a close relative of  Dolly Parton or as I refer to her, The Dolly Lama.  A whole new wave of Dolly love was born with the release of  the made for T.V. movie "Coat of Many Colors".  Dolly's dad and my mom were brother and sister. They were born into a family of 12 children in the area that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Life was tough in Parton Town located in a community called Big Greenbrier. The old cemetery is located about a mile or so up the Old Settlers Trail. It is by no means a difficult walk unless you are out of shape and haven't hiked in a while. Check and double check...
But I so wanted to do this walk. I have not been to the family cemetery in about 20 years. Not that much changes in a cemetery,  but I wanted to make sure my daughter and her husband knew where it was and heard some history on the area of her Parton family ancestors. Many of the Parton men were tough and of a violent nature. It appears we produce a lot of  tom cats and preachers.  From what I can hear most of the fair maidens in the Brier were warned to stay away from the Parton clan, but alas as most fair maidens tend to do, they did not heed the warning. My grandmother Bessie was pretty much banished from her family when she married Walter Parton, AKA Poppy to us kids. This is just a hard truth for some, everything certainly wasn't rainbows and lullabies for our family and for the majority of mountain families. It was a hard knock life in the Appalachian hills, lack of education and wide spread poverty encased many of the families like the damp mist that hangs in the hollers to this day.

I did not want to miss this opportunity to walk with Mike Maples and to hear stories of the people and the places long forgotten in the Smokies. He is certainly one of the most sought after hiking guides and never fails to keep you entertained and amazed with his knowledge of our ancestors. He does a lot of off trail hiking (not recommended for John Q Public) and locates and maps old home sites and the artifacts of daily living left behind when the inhabitants were forcibly removed to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Mike Maples with an old saw found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I had been worried on Saturday night that I would not be able to go on Sunday morning because I was so tired from the Christmas holiday. As you folks with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue know, the holidays usually knock you on your patooty when all is said and done and the tinsel hanging limply on the tree just reminds you of how much you dread un-decorating. I had over indulged on fudge and chocolate covered cherries and just felt like a run over dog. Sunday morning came and I was stiff and wobbling like a weeble. So I did the only thing I figured might help: massive coffee intake while I watched the catholic mass on TV, (no I'm not catholic),  Minister David Jeremiah and then a Pentecostal preacher. I wasn't leaving any denominational stone unturned,  I needed as much Divine Intervention as possible.
 Much to my daughters surprise I was ready to go at 8am. I was slathered in Pain-A-Trate, the Melaleuca  company's miracle pain relieving cream and had dug the old hiking boots out of the closet.

I had her dust and clean my walking stick with the turtle carved on the handle and I was ready to go.I had emergency snacks, a liter of water, BP meds and hopefully a direct line to the big man upstairs. We met the family and Mike at the trail head. It was already in the upper 50's and humid as could be. My stiff muscles were screaming already...but i went anyway. Soon familiar scents were dancing around me~ rich fertile earth, the river and pines.  Aches and pains faded to memories of the past when I walked this trail with my mother and Aunt Hazel, the last time being around 1998. The sound of the high waters of the middle prong was roaring through the valley. I felt light headed and I did not care... I breathed the air of the Brier and felt the familiar presence of  my past, it was wonderful.

 We slowly made it to the cemetery where we dowsed a few of the graves that were only marked with river rock head stones. If you are not familiar with the art of Dowsing, it is also called Water Witching and  using Divining Rods. I can't explain how it works but it does and you can either do it or you can't.

Mike and I both can find the unmarked graves and determine the sex of the person buried there. We visited the grave of Benjamin Christopher (Chris) Parton, a Civil War Soldier who is both mine and Dolly's great, great Grandfather.We left and continued on to the old home place of Chris Parton, where the mossy remains of a rock wall and the old pile of chimney stone sit  by a mountain stream.

Mike Maples at the Albert Houston Parton homeplace  chimney remains
A couple of pieces of old pottery shards were on the ground. I tried to imagine life as it was 100 years ago for them. I wonder if they imagined 100 years ahead to their future generations.....  soon we were making our way back to the car. My feet were soaked from crossing two rain swollen streams and the day was catching up with me, but I was so happy for that moment in time.

Now today is a horse of a different color. Don't get me wrong I am so happy I went, but this morning when I attempted to walk to the Keurig it looked much like this:


So I now find myself deep in the soft comfort of the Granny Bed, once again slathered with Pain-A-Trate and on not one but two heating pads.  I honestly don't have an inch that is not aching or sore but God willing I will  try to do it again when I can bend my knees....but for the next few days I will be like this:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

HALLOWEEN~Ghosts of Days Gone By

I was born on a Sunday morning at straight up 2 a.m. under the dark of the moon, also known as the new moon.

I suspect this has a tad to do with why I have always been drawn toward supernatural occurrences,the after life, celestial bodies and all things that go bump in the night.

As long as I can remember, I have felt different someway. Not bad or sad, just different. Drawn toward the unseen....this may be in part because I spent a lot time alone up until I was about 12 years old. I was a lonely child who did not play well with others. I spent my time in the woods or playing in the creek and had a fantastic imagination. I recall the time I played and ran from my shadow all day on the dusty road of my childhood home. Pretend and unseen friends were my normal and I also believe the origins of my absolute love of all things Halloween.

I have talked about my cousin Pat before on this blog- Everything in Life I Learned From Lucy post. She was all about anything Boogery (scary in mountain talk). She too loved Halloween and was born with a caul over her face. For those of you who don't have a clue what I'm talking about, a caul is a section of the amniotic sac that appears as a thin veil over the baby's face and head. Folklore in the Appalachia's and in many other parts of the world tell that a baby born with a caul, also known as a caulbearer is "double-sighted" or has peculiar visions.

My first Halloween memories are with her and my mom, aunt and sister going to Gatlinburg to Trick or Treat downtown. Usually, my costume was just old clothes and a sooty face, but sometimes I would get a little costume from the Dime Store in Sevierville as a very special treat if we had any extra money.
They were usually devils, princesses, black cats, ghosts, and other wonderful characters and a far cry from what passes as a costume these days.

Trick or Treating in Gatlinburg during the 60's was a cornucopia of pure heavenly delights. My favorite place to go was the Old Smoky Candy Kitchen. They would give out Red Candy Apples and Pralines. Full retail size, one to each child. Never had anything tasted better on the ride home from Gatlinburg as the candy apple. Other shops on the Parkway were also generous. KarmelKorn gave small boxes of their homemade delicacy. The hotels and motels had full size bars of candy or popcorn balls.  The streets were filled with local families and a handful of tourist who were the last  remnants of the October leaf crowd. When November the 1st arrived the streets of Gatlinburg would look like a ghost town, with only a handful of shops open during the day.

In 1966, the world was introduced to the Great Pumpkin and the Peanuts gang in the animated special. I clearly remember the excitement of going to the neighbors house (color TV) and sitting in the floor as close to the TV as I could get. This neighbor was also my first grade teacher, Ms. Sally. She was very good to me and at one time took me to her house everyday at lunch. She and her husband Gordon had a store in our community. She would give me little treats and once she gave me a Lay's Three Little Pigs mask for Halloween.  During this time, 1966,  we were living on their property. My mom and dad were in the middle of a terrible divorce battle. This was a very difficult time and I will never forget the kindness they showed us.  About 30 years later, they had both passed and the family was cleaning out the store and the personal items in a large estate sale. I was saddened to see the once loved items being sold. But that is what happens to treasures on earth...they become rust covered and moth eaten. I walked around and ending up buying Ms. Sally's very old pressure cooker/canner. Then I saw the prize: an old plastic Jack-O-Lantern.

I wondered if it had once sat in the old first grade classroom at Pittman Center as a silent observer or maybe held candy on the check out counter beside the ancient cash register at Gordon's store.  Its black paint is peeling and it has a large crack down the side. Jack now has a place by the tattered black cat.

The highlight of the school year for me as a child was the annual Halloween Carnival at Pittman Center School. It always was on the Saturday night before Halloween. We wore our costumes and brought our treat bags.   The gymnasium was decorated into a spooky  wonderland of orange and black streamers, paper witches and white sheets transformed to ghosts. You could bob for apples or toss free throws in the basket.  Game booths were sit up and tables of homemade bake sale goodies as well. One of my most prized possessions was won at one of these games. I was lifting the Ducks from the wash basin/pond and won a grand prize. A set of ceramic planters that feature a little bear cub on a log. I was thrilled.

On the ride home I remember being in the back seat of the car and my dad pointing to the moon and asking if I could see the man in the moon? 


 I recall that both my mom and dad were laughing and having a great time.One of a very few unfortunately,  it was a magical evening . I still have the little planters. They have made it through numerous moves, the blizzard of '93, two marriages and about 50 years of life. My poor daughter is going to inherit some weird stuff.  Some day I will tell you about Granny's hair.... but for now back to the Carnival.
 The teachers had goodies for our treat bag and a class room had suddenly morphed into a Haunted House where you were accosted in the dark by skeletons and goblins.

If you dared to stick your hands into the box of brains, you would be forever haunted by the grizzly jello goo that stuck to your trembling fingers.
 Most of the games were simple and Carnival style, aimed at the younger children: A Dart Throw, a Duck Pond, Ring Toss, etc..

 The older kids were sneaking off to steal kisses in locker rooms and to let the air out of tires in the parking lot.Occasionally a flying egg would greet a late arrival to the Carnival and some toilet paper might be billowing from the big trees by the creek.    We had a local constable that we delighted in enticing to a good harmless game of cat and mouse. In those days we had no intent to destroy or vandalize, and the local lawman was part of the plan. I think he enjoyed chasing us around the parking lot and playground, and having a little fun himself. It was the one night he could be childlike too. Little pranksters and tricksters had one night to innocently revel and it was glorious.

                                    Times sure have changed :

We also had the crowning of the King and Queen of the Halloween Carnival  that ended the evening festivities.   One end of the shiny gymnasium floor was decorated for the soon to be royal couples to march in with much pomp and circumstance. A basketball goal had magically became an arbor of white tissue paper, balloons and orange and black party streamers to the floor, a majestic back drop. Two chairs, fit for a King and his Queen were on an elevated section, with the remainder of the  royal court seated on long benches covered with cloth. Their conspicuous legs telling us that on a normal day they would be the basketball team benches.  The honor of running for Queen and King was decided by classroom vote early in the fall.  After the candidates were elected, the process of gathering the most money began. Each class had a designated day to hold a bake sale at school, moms and dads donated raffle items and tickets were sold, Granny made a quilt and Pap might carve a beautiful songbird bird as a raffle item. At the carnival you made your last charge at making a few more dollars for the honor of the crown.

 I was the queen candidate in the 4th grade. I remember one Saturday, my friends and I  took a mason jar to Gatlinburg and pan handled all day for change on the Parkway. Dickens would have been proud. Certainly, this would be frowned upon in modern day society. The tourists gave us loose change and a smile.Most were very nice and talked to us little hillbilly's about our school and families. Some gave us a piece of candy and some even gave us a dollar bill. I remember one man gave me a five dollar bill.  
 My King candidate was Stanley. I always had a  crush on him, but he sealed it one day with a dirt clod to the head at play period and I knew he was the boy for me.

 My mom had  borrowed a formal gown from a lady in Gatlinburg that had a daughter my age. It had a white satin top and a big red crinoline full length skirt. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen. My pixie was teased and poofed  and a tomboy had become a princess for a few hours. While the crowd was being entertained in the gym with a cake walk, square dancers and musicians,  we were in classrooms getting dressed for the grand entrance. The secretary and the Principle were in the office counting the final totals for each class. Soon we marched into the gym, in order from 1st grade to 8th grade and took our places. There were crown bearers and robe bearers, it was a grand event.  Unfortunately, we came in second place and watched from the bench while another took our sparkly crowns and was adorned with long velvet robes... such is life.

 Many years later I watched my daughter walk in the same processional when she was in the 1st grade. It was changed several decades ago to the Fall Festival and is held in November at the new school. All essence of Halloween has long been removed.

 I like to think that decades later, the shadows of Halloweens past still join the annual march for the crown in the empty old gymnasium on the Saturday night before Halloween and the little valley nestled between the mountains and Webbs Creek lovingly holds the faint laughter of children from days gone by.