Smokey Mountain High


Nothing can disrupt the serenity of a misty mountaintop like a big, loud Arab family. We likely scared the deer and complicated hunting season in the Smokey Mountains.


If a mansion and a cabin had a baby, it would be our grand lodge, which housed multiple generations of our family, and comfortably. There was an indoor pool, hot tubs overlooking the Smokey Mountains, a game room and movie theatre.


If those walls could talk, our names would come up often. We had gambling marathons that went into the wee hours of the morning. There were pancake and mimosa-laden brunches. There was a rather intense Newlywed Game (none of the couples were newly-wed) that ended with an uncle who literally took a pie to the face.


Best of all, we had long talks and belly-aching laughter on those wrap-around porches. We had three stories of porches to choose from. Sometimes on the top level, the boomers shared childhood memories of Ramallah, while on the ground floor, tween cousins told ghost stories.  Whether sipping morning coffee and reminiscing, or sloshing bourbon at midnight while running away from an errant raccoon, the mountaintop views kept us on those rocking chairs outside.


I walked away thinking about how every generation improves from the last one. When my father’s side of the family emigrated from Palestine to Chicago, they had nothing. Like most of the immigrant stories you’ve heard, they worked hard so that their kids could get a formal education and a better life. We delivered on that; it’s the least we could do. To think they went from washing dishes in Cicero dives because they couldn’t speak English, to comfortable grandparents, watching multiple generations luxuriate in such accommodations.  They felt proud, we felt lucky, and the youngest generation? We’ll see about them.





Postcard from Dollywood


Dolly Parton is a national treasure. Dollywood has been on my bucket list for years, and I hoped it would be a down-home, campy place. Dolly even she knows she’s camp; everything about her looks personifies the need for exclamation points. To quote her, “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”


There were some down-home aspects, but it was anything but camp. In fact, it’s gone Disney. Not full-Disney, with obnoxious vendors selling LED-lit swords and princess paraphernalia. But Dollywood is a well-oiled megaplex. Vast parking lots, tram system, and roller coasters.

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But Dolly never forgot her roots. They do a beautiful job embracing the scrappy, Smokey Mountain lifestyle. You can watch up close, as a gristmill breaks up grain. The warm smell of cinnamon wafts through the air as ladies make cinnamon rolls from scratch, right from the flour ground on-site.


Wooden aqueducts wove overhead, showing visitors how water was transported. There’s killer fried chicken and biscuits. As sparks flew around the room, blacksmiths hammered out homemade signs and mercantile goods for folks to take home.


A steam engine train pulled guests past weeping willows and magnolias. The landscaping was impeccable, surrounding wood cabin structures throughout the park. Fiddlers sat on rocking chairs on small stages that resembled covered porches,  delighting us with the sounds of Appalachia.


It was thematic and beautiful. My only wish is that I saw a little more Dolly.