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Dollywood, Church, and Throwed Rolls

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

The best vacation I ever took as a kid was with mom. The craziest vacation I ever took was with mom. Shocker.

Our uncle Mickey, her brother, lived in Tennessee with his family, about 550 miles away. He invited us to visit. He drove to Jackson, MI, to see our grandparents, and then we loaded up the car with our stuff and headed south at midnight. Because everyone wants to drive with less traffic and no light, right?

My uncle and brother were in one car, and mom and I followed in the "family truckster." We called our car the "family truckster" after the vacation movie, and it fit. I was 16 and had just received my license, so I was volunteered to share the driving – sounded super cool until I hit Chicago traffic while tired at 3 a.m. Exhausted, we switched drivers at least every hour after that. The miles and miles of cornfields were hypnotizing.

We had a few memorable moments, like:

  • We stopped for gas in Illinois, and the driver's side door latch broke, and the door would no longer close. We had to use my belt and strap the door to the inside of the car to keep going.

  • Uncle Mickey pulled off the road in the middle of Illinois cornfields. I attempted to pull off behind them – at 70 mph. My driving wasn't great yet. Mom turned the wheel just in time so that I didn't kill them. But, not quick enough for me to miss the fact that they were peeing. But hey, I didn't kill them.

  • We stopped in the morning at an old, smoke-filled truck stop. And I was shocked to find that the food was terrific! Grits and all. Uncle Mickey had a knack for knowing how to find good food.

  • All while listening to early '80's country music. I can hear Elvira in my head now.

Once in Tennessee, we had a lovely time visiting with my Uncle, Aunt, and cousins. We toured the charming town of Paducah, where I learned that it is best to stay in an air-conditioned car until you can run into an air-conditioned building and vice versa. Summer was not the time to hang outside.

We then headed south for Dollywood! Oh yes. It was our first big amusement park. I have no clue how mom paid for anything, but we stayed in a lovely Red Roof Inn, rode the rides, bought a caricature drawing of the three of us (man, I wish I had that picture now!), and ate all the junk food. Then we saw Minnie Pearl at the Grand Ole Opry. It. Was. Awesome. My 14-year-old-self did not appreciate the experience enough.

Our next stop was mom's friend in Missouri. More fun! I think she was mom's friend from one of the navy bases somewhere. We drove down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere and arrived at their neat double-wide trailer. A single-wide trailer was in the front yard, where her mother-in-law lived. A middle-aged woman who looked a lot like mom greeted us kindly. No surprise.

I confidently strode in and said hello with short spiky frosted hair (yes, frosted – not a good choice, I learned the hard way), mismatched gold geometric earrings, thick bright blue eyeliner, a hot pink top with white crop pants made to look like someone had splashed all of the colors of paint on them. Oh, and jelly shoes that I probably borrowed from my friend, Jeni. I was rocking the latest look, albeit it straight out of Kmart and Claire's.

From behind mom, I could see her friend's teen daughter. She was in a brown sheath dress, long sleeves in the heat of summer, long brown hair pulled back with a barrette, and bangs that were curled under in a sizeable straight tube, with no makeup and no jewelry. See, mom's friend was ex-southern Pentecostal, but her mother-in-law and daughter were VERY actively observant.

I had broken every church dress code for girls in one fell fashion decision swoop.

Mom left quickly after with her friend to meet some people at a bar. Luckily, the daughter was nice, and she helped us enjoy our days in Missouri.

Where did we go? Oh, we went to the church, of course. I immediately washed my face, removed my jewelry, and her daughter loaned me a skirt. When we arrived, a group of older women introduced themselves, nodded their heads of swirled and pinned-up hair, and told us they would be praying for our salvation.

Back to their hair. We found out that women were not allowed to cut their hair. So, all the hair they had ever grown was twisted up into a bun on top of their head that was bigger than their head, like a big, brimmed hat of hair. Our new friend told us the younger girls would brush their hair in the front so much that it would break, giving them bangs but not defying the "don't cut your hair" rule. Yeah, there was nowhere to hide with my spiky blondish hair.

We took our seats in the pews, and everyone stared at us. Then all at once, the congregation turned around in the pews, knelt, and put their foreheads to the back of the pew. Us two catholic kids froze. Then they started yelling in a language I couldn't understand. Was this speaking in tongues? A young woman rushed up from the back of the church, threw herself on the altar, started bawling and yelling in gibberish. Several elders rushed over, raising their hands to the sky, and appeared to pray over her. I wasn't sure if they were all happy to have her there or the opposite. It was a scene. They came to some agreement, and then we were separated into groups of males and females and taken to bible study. Where all of the women again prayed for my salvation while glaring at me under their hair. It seemed like forever before we were released.

And then we went to McDonald's. Seriously. All of the tweens and teens could go once in a blue moon, and we got lucky that today was that day. Praise Jesus.

We left a day or so later and got to listen to mom tell stories about the wonderful time she had at the bar with her friend and the city's fire chief. Always a sucker for a guy in uniform.

On the way out, we stopped to eat at the home of the throwed rolls. Seriously, they throw rolls across the room to you when you need more. The way home must have been a total bore, as I have no memory of it.

Mom was one to pick the fun stuff, whether we could afford it or not. I know that she did her best. We have some great stories to tell now. They have this bitter taste to them when we tell them. Like we had fun, despite, or when you average it all together. Better than average. I’ll take them.

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