The Great Smoky Mountains

Waking up in the early morning,

Hearing, “We’re going to the Mountains!”

Exciting feelings deep in my tummy.

Riding to the Smoky Mountains,

Singing in the back seat,

Telling bird hunting stories,

Entertaining my sister and me.

Swerving car through mountainous curves,

Driving Sister to car sickness,

Pulling onto the side of the road,

Looking down the mountainside,

Fearing I’d fall.

Getting back into the car relieved,

Asking, “Are we there yet?”

Singing more songs,

Telling more stories.

Stopping at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign,

Snapping pictures of our smiling faces,

Arriving, finally.

Our first of many pictures at the Great Smoky Mountains sign!

Uncle Kent

Throughout my life, stories have been told whenever there was a gathering of people, no matter the occasion. Daddy and my cousins are the best story tellers. Here is a family story that was a popular one.

My sister Jennifer and cousin Jeff were young. Daddy and my Uncle had a small mule at the barn lot at Grandma’s farm. They put a saddle on it, and Jennifer and Jeff rode the mule with Daddy or my Uncle leading it around the lot. The two young kids enjoyed the mule ride.

At last, time had come to leave. My Uncle and Daddy took the saddle off the mule. My Uncle turned to Daddy, “Get on it and ride it around the lot.” Daddy wasn’t sure, but he did climb on the mule’s bare back. Before he knew what was happening, my Uncle slapped the mule on the rump; the mule ran off. Daddy was barely hanging on, the mule turned left, and he tried to turn it right. Daddy fell off to the ground, landing on his arm.

The fall knocked the breath out of him. As he laid on the ground, trying to catch his breath, little Jeff came running over, shook his head, and said, “Uncle Kent, you’re suppose to say, Whoa!” Daddy wanted to laugh, but he had no breath. He wished he would have said, “Whoa,” because now he had a broken wrist.

That line, “Uncle Kent, you’re suppose to say, Whoa!” has been repeated so many times over the years. I smile every time I hear or think about it, as it reminds me of the laughs and good times our family shared.

Gardening at Grandma Samples’

I developed a taste for Mother Earth at an early age. Yes, I’m eating a rock!

Gardening at Grandma Samples’ Place: Playing in the Dirt

From a young age, I enjoyed nature and playing outside. Mama and Daddy planted gardens every year. We had a big one at my Grandma Samples’ place. In the spring, Daddy drove the tractor from the farm to plow up the ground. As I rode with him on the tractor, the luscious smell of overturning soil comforted me: I loved playing in the dirt. I dug holes, looked for worms, made mounds of dirt, even baked mud pies. The garden at Grandma’s provided me that dirt playground.

Gardening was hard work. We helped Mama and Daddy plant seeds, hoe weeds, and pick ripe vegetables. The first things planted and harvested were green onions and potatoes. I remember one summer day, we dug up potatoes and brought them back to our house. I wanted to eat one right away. Mama told me she needed to wash them and cook them for supper. I picked up a dirt covered potato and ran into our house to our bathroom sink. I scrubbed that potato with Dial bar soap, scrubbing and scrubbing to clean it. Mama came in there asking, “What are you doing?” I replied to her that I was just washing this potato so I can eat it. Mama shook her head, “We don’t need to wash them in the bathroom sink with bath soap!” I wanted to be sure that potato was squeaky clean.

Visiting with my Grandma Samples was the reason I enjoyed the garden. She was quiet mannered, loving, and had a sharp wit. She was born in 1903, a fascination for me, being born at the beginning of the century. Often, we brought in peas or green beans, sitting with Grandma to shell or string them. Grandma was always so much faster at that than me.

One story she told about her Grandfather Thompson both intrigued and horrified me. Grandfather Thompson served as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. He told his grandchildren, “I was so cold, so hungry, I was afraid to put my fingers near my mouth, afraid that I’d start eating my own fingers.” There is no doubt, Confederate soldiers suffered greatly.

Grandma Samples lived a simple, long life. I admire her immensely, living through the remarkable historical events of the 20th Century. I remember walking out to the garden with Grandma, seeing her smile. She enjoyed playing in the dirt, too, I can imagine.

Christmas Day, 1977 with Grandma Samples

Summertime on Grandma’s Farm

All of us during our childhood could not wait for the last day of school, for our summer vacation to begin. Summers when I was young, meant I would spend days with my Grandma, my sister, and my cousins, playing all over cow pastures, Grandma’s yard, and my cousins’ house. Grandma and my cousins lived on 25 plus acres of cow pastures and a small lake in the middle. Their houses sat at the front of the property, a short distance apart. When I went to Grandma’s house early on a summer day, I would yell for Jason, wave to him to see if we could play. He’d ride his bike or go-cart and join me. The hours passed as we climbed trees or roamed through the pastures on make believe hunting adventures. We mashed poke salad berries to make ink, dipped a stick in it, and wrote on rocks or pieces of wood. We threw crab apples to see who could throw it the farthest or feed them to the cows. We even played on top of the LP gas tank, a great submarine, ship, or horse!

When my sister and I traversed to our cousins’ house, summertime meant hours of our favorite game: War. Jeff and Jason had a plethora of play guns: pistols, rifles, dart guns, cap guns. We split into teams, usually Jeff and Jennifer vs. Jason and me. It was a hide and seek, stealth mission game. One pair hid outside, while the other pair stayed inside the basement, no peeking! The goal was a surprise attack. If you were seeking, you wanted to find the others and shoot first. If you were hiding, you wanted to jump out and shoot before you were spotted and run back to home base.

One summer day, Jason and I climbed up our favorite magnolia tree to hide. Minutes passed. We sat on the branches, silent, waiting with our guns ready. Jeff comes walking up to the tree, looking around on the ground. I am ready to jump down, but Jason motions to me to wait. Jeff walked away. We stayed in the tree longer. Finally, Jeff came back around. That time, Jason and I leaped off our perch, landing on both sides of him. “Pow-Pow, we got you!” Victory for us! Jeff was totally shocked! We laughed as we recalled how Jeff had walked right under us, not suspecting anything.

Summer evenings, as the sun set, we ran around Grandma’s yard catching lightning bugs, placing them in a mason jar. By that time, our parents finished up working on the farm. Everyone gathered in Grandma’s driveway, sitting on tailgates of a truck or jeep or in chairs in the yard. I looked around feeling the warm coolness of a summer evening, feeling the joy of my family being together, a magical way to end a summer day at Grandma’s farm.

Grandma’s Farm

Music in My Early Life

Ready for Sunday morning!

Of all the changes in my life, music has been a constant, a calming balm, a passion within me. Music evokes emotions and memories vividly within me. Hearing a song can take me to a place I have not thought about for years. I often express myself with music by humming, singing, or reciting lyrics. Music became a part of me when I was very young.

My earliest memory of music is being in church. I remember no matter what church service or where, I opened the Red Hymnal Book, singing, even before I could read all the words or music. And I probably knew page 57 was “Amazing Grace”, p. 333, “I’ll Fly Away”, and p. 120 “Victory in Jesus” at that early age, too. (You still remember those page numbers in the Red Hymnal!) My family and I attended church singings on weekend nights to hear local groups. Mama had many albums of them that we played frequently on our stereo. I listened to the records wishing I was the one on the record singing.

My sister and I did start singing together in church. Mama says she gave us a dollar the first time we sang in a church service; although since I was so young, I cannot recall that moment. I know Mama played the piano, and we sang a song during the service. Known as “Kent’s girls”, we sang, and then Daddy preached a sermon in many churches for years.

Around the time I was six years old, Mama and Daddy bought an old upright piano. They placed it in our living room, which had doors separating it form the rest of the house. Jennifer started taking piano lessons first, then when I was nine years old, I began my lessons. I was so excited! I practiced every chance I got. My lessons continued for about two years. Learning a little more on my own, I began to play basic church songs. However, going in to the living room and playing the piano became my sanctuary. I stayed for one to two hours there, never becoming a grand pianist, but I created a sound along with my voice: music.

Throughout my teenage years, much of my life centered on music. One of my greatest joys in high school was chorus. The every day thrill in my heart, walking into a class and singing, was phenomenal to me. I had never experienced being surrounded by so many people who loved music, too.  And here, I found some of my best friends for life, including my Love, my awesome husband.

My early life experiences so deeply intertwined with music molded me. Music is a constant, a calming balm, and a passion.

Everywhere was a Stage

Music and performing have been a part of my entire life. When I was young, everywhere was a stage. My sister and I had a small play piano in our play room. Jennifer and I pretended to have church services and lead songs. Then we performed shows. In our bedroom, we played Shawn Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Andy Gibbs, and ABBA on our small record player. Even to silly songs like, “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater” and “Disco Duck,” we sang and danced to an audience in our dresser mirror.

Outside, our small front porch was the stage. We practiced cheerleading. Jennifer loved to cheer.  She could do cartwheels; when I tried, I landed on my head and flat on my back. Jen did splits and jumps, and I just yelled loudly. No matter what, we performed outside cheering our Macedonia Wildcats to “Gimme a V, dot the I, curve the C, T-O-R-Y!”

The best stage award goes to Grandma’s outside marble table. My Grandpa had bought the marble and built an outside picnic table about eight feet long and four feet high. Yes, we had picnics and lots of watermelons on the table. However, we utilized it mostly as the grandest stage ever!

We climbed up and performed the most magnificent shows: Disco-Saturday Night Fever, HeeHaw, Greatest Gospel Hymns, Alabama. We enjoyed all kinds of music. We made up entire shows with introductions, singing, and dancing. Sometimes, our cousins joined us. I loved singing, “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy,” by John Denver with them. That song personified our times there on Grandma’s farm. In my mind, “We are Family,” by Sister Sledge, became our anthem, often ending our shows. There on that marble table, I knew I wanted to be a rock star, or Dolly Parton, when I grew up!