20. Tennessee

If you find yourself in Justin Timberlake’s hometown, in his hood, make sure to head to the famous Shelby Forest General Store for breakfast. Okay, maybe it’s not so famous, but we loved this local hangout just outside our campground– Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park–nonetheless (even though Justin did not show up–much to Wendy’s chagrin). During our first visit, we met the owners and eavesdropped on the “old guys'” conversation at the next table. Our favorite local sounded just like Forrest Gump. Seriously. Just like him. It was uncanny.

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Where it all happens.

Jason returned a couple of days later and was greeted by name, brought into the kitchen to meet the high school girl who was cooking (because she had a Polish last name, and the word on the street is that he lived in Poland), and was scolded good-naturedly for almost leaving town without saying goodbye.

Love, love, love southern hospitality.

Graceland

I’m going to Graceland
Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
I’m going to Graceland

~Paul Simon, Graceland, “Graceland”, 1986

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Where else?

Really, this was a fun tour. First of all, it was narrated by Uncle Jesse (John Stamos, not Denver Pyle). The house was kitschy, as was to be expected, but, as we shuffled room to room with our headphones and ipads, we learned a lot of interesting and weird facts about the King.

The biggest takeaway was that Elvis sounded like he would be an awesome guy to hang out with. We know he would have been a very, very good friend–whether we were riding horses or playing raquetball or just lounging on the green shag carpet in the jungle room together. Between his music (both rock and gospel), military service, movie career, and little publicized charity work, he certainly led a remarkable life.

Other highlights

There was so much to do in our three days in Memphis. One highlight was a visit to the Civil Rights Museum located at the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed. The museum was incredibly well done; moving, gut-wrenching, and educational all at the same time. A must see if you are in Memphis.

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Amazingly, between eating at mind-blowing barbecue joints, tasting local brews, browsing bookstores, and doing our laundry, we still had time to take in a few more sights.

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A tour through the Gibson guitar factor (photos inside not allowed) to help inspire our aspiring guitarist. After seeing all the craftsmanship that goes into these guitars their price tag becomes much more justifiable.

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An unexpected treat was getting to go to a Memphis Grizzlies game. To help spike Indi’s interest, we bet on the outcome. If Jason won, Indi had three days of doing the dishes; if Jason lost, a new book for Indi… we stopped by the bookstore the following day.

 

 

 

Our next stop was Nashville, but to break up the drive we made camp at the Natchez Trace State Park near Lexington.

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Not a bad camp spot for the night.

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We didn’t have much time to explore this area, but an evening trip to the local bowling alley proved interesting. Wendy and Indi both got an impromptu bowling lessons from a helpful employee, who looked a lot like Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies. Once they got over his lack of teeth (he had four) and neon yellow, blood spattered bowling shirt (!?!) he proved to be a good teacher. Indi bowled a personal best and Wendy edged out Jason 127-125.

Nashville was our next stop to see another of Jason’s cousins Sarah Wright, her husband Matt, and boys Thomas and Jack. Also, while in town, we were able to reconnect with Wendy’s cousin Tiffany, her husband John, and son Drew (once again, we failed to get a picture–aargh!). Had so much fun catching up with both cousins and their families.

Must be about time for a family reunion.

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More family opening their home (and bottles of gin) to us.

Sarah and Matt gave us a great tour of Nashville, teaching us the cultural significance of Nashville’s infamous bachelorette party scene (we encountered several groups of drunken young women at 10 in the morning), peddle taverns and party barges.

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Thanks to our tour guides, we are also, now, conversant in hot chicken. After a long wait for a taste of Hattie B’s, it was all worth it after that first bite of poultry goodness.

Seriously. If you come over for dinner this summer, it will be on the menu.

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Our last stop in Tennessee was the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Unfortunately, we had a sick child who wasn’t up for hiking, blustery weather, and admittedly unrealistic expectations after the barrage of dramatic national parks we were treated to out west.

Also, we didn’t heed the sage advice of our cousins and ventured into the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park–but more like the gateway to hell, aka Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. If you like things like the Smoky Mountain Opry, the Dixie Stampede, miniature golf, or Dollywood, you should make your way to one of these cities. As for us? We couldn’t drive away fast enough.

So we’ll just say the jury is still out, which means a needed return trip sometime in the future, to more fully explore the most visited national park in the U.S.  Perhaps when we  get around to hiking the Appalachian Trail that runs through the heart of this park.

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A scenic meadow near our camp spot at Cades Cove.

So much to see and do in the great state of Tennessee.

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