In April 2013, Dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a crushing blow, but thankfully, I had already planned a June trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia to visit friends at their vacation home. The day I left for the 450-mile trip dawned mild and pleasant for a June day on the Gulf Coast. I took turns driving with my best friend and the long trip up I-65 reminded me of the many trips I had made to see my folks who lived 300 miles north of me in Birmingham. As we crossed into Georgia and neared sprawling Atlanta, I thought of the hundreds of times my Dad drove through there on business trips. I imagined how lonely he must have been as he traveled week in and week out without my mom who was his best friend.
As we left the city behind, the landscape slowly began to change, and the sorrow that had settled like a fine layer of volcanic ash on my soul began to lift. Subtly, the land rose upward as we grazed the edges of the lower Appalachian mountains which all good Southerners refer to as “the Smokies.” The curves in the roads sharpened some and rose and fell with the undulating foothills. Four-lane highways dwindled to two-lane roads and at times, our only companions were the vibrant trees which jockeyed for real estate with the asphalt.
It took the better part of a day to wind our way into the tiny hamlet of Young Harris, Georgia, where our friends’ house sat perched 3000 feet in the air like a sentinel overlooking the lush valley. After a delicious homemade supper, we sat on the wrap-around porch and watched the fireflies flit around in a darkness so complete they looked like a synchronized orchestra of camera flashbulbs popping. For the next several days we roamed around the nearby towns and traveled to Brasstown Bald, which at nearly 5000 feet, is touted as the highest point in Georgia.
On the ride to the bald, towering fuchsia rhododendron and delicate, pale pink mountain laurel flanked the roadside. As we climbed the narrow, winding road to the visitor’s center, the damp air grew cooler and the mist which perpetually shrouds the mountains descended on us. Eschewing a hike, we rode in a van to the peak where the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. When we reached the top of the mountain, the sun peeked out and the mist blew away. Our guide said it was the first time all day the weather had cooperated to reveal the mountain’s breathtaking 360 ̊ views.
I leaned against the railing, squinted into the sun and watched tiny chimney swifts flit around below me. As cotton-ball clouds drifted by, the only sound I heard was my breathing. No traffic. No sirens. No mental white noise. Just the hushed intake of cool, refreshing mountain air. In the silence of that brief moment, I felt a peace come over me. A few days later, my friend and I traveled northwest toward Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Parkway afforded more spectacular views of nature’s gifts. Dad was constantly in my thoughts during the trip and I wished I could regale him with stories of my vacation as he had shared his travel stories with me. But I knew he wouldn’t want me to be sad and if he were still here, he would’ve wanted me to go on the trip and enjoy it. For Dad, travel had always been a part of business, but he still found joy in the places he visited and the people he met. For me, travel had always been for pleasure. But this trip offered much more. It provided healing and peace and gratitude for a dad who taught me to persevere through difficulties while embracing all the beauty life has to offer.
About the Author: Christie Lovvorn makes her home in Mobile, Alabama where she is a freelance writer and an English adjunct lecturer. Last year, her short story “A Stormy Wedding” placed in the top ten finalists of the Familyfiction.com Create Romance contest. Follow her on her blog.