I’m home alone, after a great week in the Smoky Mountains with Peter from Amsterdam. I have a lot to clean up from his three-week visit, but the timetable is mine alone, to do as I feel like. It’s good to be home and in control of my life again, without any pressure to get him to O’Hare on time. Instead of spending Gay Pride Day “40” at the parade in Boyztown, we were stuck in traffic on the expressway. I suspect the Taste of Chicago is deliberately timed to compete with Gay Pride Day.
Today the weather is coolish and windy; thunderstorms are rumored but the radar is clear, so the cold front is treating us gently. I plan to grill a thick pork chop for dinner, then sit on my side porch watching the trees sway on my Street Without Any Traffic.
Coming home from vacation is a time to consolidate one’s gains. We had dozens of wonderful experiences that will live on in memory; the Roaring Fork Motor Tour through Great Smokies National Park was my favorite of all, plus we discovered a new-to-me town that would make a good destination in the future. It’s Sylva, North Carolina, which has a progressive flavor. We ate a great meal at 553 West Main, where Ross Lorenz is the chef and owner. He had a live band outdoors while we listened to jazz inside, and the food was worth every penny.
Over the years I’ve returned repeatedly to the Smokies, but each time I’ve stayed in a different town. Gatlinburg, the most famous one, is an overcrowded tourist trap; years ago I stayed in Pigeon Forge, which in those days was a sleepy little nothing. Then native daughter Dolly Parton decided it was a great place to make money. I greatly admire her business acumen; she was absolutely right to turn it into a gold mine, creating thousands of jobs in what formerly was a piss-poor place. But I have no interest in “family entertainment,” so Pigeon Forge is out.
So is Sevierville; I stayed there once too, but that whole area on the Tennessee side is “so crowded, no one goes there anymore.” Hat tip, Yogi Berra.
Next time, Sylva. It doesn’t have a single T-shirt shop, fudge joint or wax museum, and you can actually get a fine meal there.
A few noteworthy things about Cherokee, NC:
• The casino has empowered The People, who finally voted in alcohol a couple of weeks ago to keep the cash flowing. Some are predicting increased crime and social problems, but that check the Nation sends to each enrolled member every six months does come in handy.
• Even though the Qualla Boundary is a reservation, real estate is privately owned; the American Way, imposed by the Federal government, is the opposite of the Cherokee Way, and their culture still suffers from capitalist exploitation by outsiders. I wish the tribe could bulldoze every last moccasin shop and two-bit wigwam in town. The Cherokees lived in proper houses when the White man arrived; thanks to Sequoyah, The People were soon more literate than their White neighbors. Casino-funded progress is obvious, but the spirit longs for The People to control their own place.
• We ran into something weird at the Best Western: internet censorship, like freakin’ China. Anything Gay is verboten; Peter couldn’t open half the e-mails on his Google account. I tried visiting Gay.com to see if news was allowed, but I got a censorship screen instead. I cannot recommend staying in Cherokee, though I do endorse the Museum, Oconaluftee Indian Village, “Unto These Hills” and especially the Qualla Mutual Arts and Crafts store. Visit Cherokee by all means, but don’t stay there unless giving your money to one-armed bandits is your idea of entertainment.
• This was personally important for my novels: I asked about the Cementation Ceremony at Talking Leaves Bookstore, and the owner had never heard of it. (I believe it was an annual Gay male wedding ceremony.) Artist and author Thomas E. Mails (The Cherokee People) described it in loving detail as one of the Nation’s principal feasts, but The People are now so Baptist-brainwashed that they’ve censored their own culture from themselves; though they love to complain that their losses are all someone else’s fault. It’s just human nature, I guess, but Gay Cherokees could use the reminder of their central place in the old religion.
I am glad we went to Cherokee, the Agency town; but I doubt I’ll ever visit there again. And we never did figure out what “rat cheese” might be.
Among the gains I’m consolidating along with the memories are some neat things we bought. I now own a communion set, a blue chalice and almost-matching plate I got from Teresa Cole, a potter in Berea, Kentucky showing at Gallery 103 on College Square. I set the chalice on the paten in the middle of my dining room table; I’m not a priest, so I don’t suppose I’ll ever host a Eucharist in my home, but if the chance ever arises I’m ready. They are already dear things to me, and I recommend something similar for every Christian home. Just the sight of them is a good reminder of what’s important.
At Qualla I bought something inexpensive but hand-carved, a little canoe and paddle with the artist’s initials on the bottom; I love being on the water, and I very much enjoyed the mini-demonstration of canoe-hollowing at Oconaluftee. (Besides, the kid was cute. Did I mention he was the Principal Dancer that night at the amphitheater? In a loincloth?)
I bought two things for my beloved side porch, which I’m gradually turning into a summer kitchen. I got a 3-bulb lamp in New Harmony, Indiana, an unusual piece of vertical, rectangular ironwork with stained glass tulip globes; it fits wonderfully in the space I had in mind, and we’ve already enjoyed its soft glow when the sun goes down. In Asheville, NC, I bought a 15-inch square metal sculpture to hang on the exterior brickwork of my living room fireplace. I looked at much more expensive sculpted pieces in another shop in the same arcade downtown, but then I got worried about whether my bricks were wide enough to hold them, only to discover once I got home that the chimney is six feet wide and I’m an idiot. I guess in all these past five years that I’ve owned this house, I’ve never really looked at that brickwork from the outside; I knew it needed some visual interest and sculpture would work well, but I always sit facing away from it, looking at the Street With No Traffic, and never staring directly at it to know it’s a big frickin’ chimney.
Even my little piece of stamped-out steel would give dinner guests something to touch and enjoy, but I’m amazed to be this dumb a blond.
Peter bought me an Indian serving tray, showing snow-capped mountains and horses; I wish he hadn’t, but I admired it, and before I knew it the saleswoman was wrapping it up. It’s probably Sioux, Navajo or Ute, not Cherokee, but I’ll enjoy carrying food on it for my porch guests.
Meanwhile my house and garage are intact, didn’t get blown apart by a tornado, and the garden is thriving; the tomato plants are a foot taller, the cherries are ready to go, the flowers are beaming and the herbs scent the air.
I have plenty of weeding to do—we got two inches of rain while I was gone—but life is good, happily predictable, everything’s under control. Do the laundry, throw out Peter’s junk he left behind, clean out the refrigerator; welcome back to normal life on a pretty porch, where pork chops sizzle.
Three weeks I think is too long a visit anymore for a guy who lives alone and is used to arranging the towels a certain way. Back when travel was difficult, family members visited for long stretches; I remember two weeks in Kokomo as a kid with my mother’s Aunts Leatha and Hazel. But now I’m too set in my ways, an odd discovery to make at 58. When did my way become the only way?
But in truth it always was; I’m the Gay son of a control-freak mother. Who’s kidding whom? (Randy, Eddie, Frankie, John, Avon, Jack and Steve, your snarks will be deleted!)
Peter is an often-thoughtful guest, a generous person who bought a total stranger in Cherokee a $50 gift certificate to Restaurant 553. We had a fantastic vacation. Still, the more I age, the more comforting routines become, so I’m glad to be Back Home Again where I belong. At 12 noon it’s time to do tomorrow’s Daily Office for our troops in Afghanistan, Korea and Iraq, but it’s hard to maintain the discipline at a Best Western. Without the daily prayers I’m pretty much adrift; and ditto without my Mythos Man.++