Vacation, Brown County

by Mark Blackwell

It takes something in the nature of a stick of dynamite to uproot me from the Hills O’ Brown. But a few weeks back there was a convergence of circumstances that convinced me the time was ripe for a road trip. A good friend of mine urged me to attend a music festival over in North Carolina. I hadn’t been out of these parts for five or six years and I am a music lover, so that sounded like a fine idea. Then I got an invitation from my daughter to come down to Chattanooga, Tennessee for a visit. She’s been living in down there for several years and it is a fatherly duty to look into the welfare of my progeny. A trip to Chattanooga sounded like a fine idea as well. Combining a visit to my daughter with a side-trip to a music festival was irresistible.

I explained the situation to my wife, Jeanie. She liked the thought of going on a trip until she took a look at a map.

Although North Carolina and Tennessee are in a southerly direction from here, the two states aren’t on a convenient route. We would have to make two mountain crossings and add about six or seven hundred miles to the trip to make both destinations. With the price of gasoline being what it is, our budget discouraged us. We stewed about it and I was ready just to make a run down to Chattanooga and forget the rest of it when my wife came up with an alternative plan.

She mentioned that she had never been to Nashville, (Tennessee, that is). As I said before, I am a music lover, especially good old-time country music and for me Nashville, Tennessee is Mecca. It was a long way from North Carolina but I warmed up to the idea in record time. And just to sweeten the pot, Jeanie said we would drive through Nelson County, Kentucky, the Bourbon capitol of the world.

My wife and I both don’t like to drive on the interstate highways. When I get on one of those things I feel like I am harassed, bullied, and abused. I plotted a route that took us on a series of old highways. None of the roads were any more of a challenge than our own State Road 135. When you travel on the backroads you get to experience small towns and attractions that you zip right by on the freeway. The drive was leisurely and the discoveries were delightful.

The first day we got into Bardstown, Kentucky we found an “adequate motel,” stowed our gear, and went out for dinner and a walk around town. Bardstown is the second oldest town in Kentucky, about 50 years older than our own Nashville. But, like Nashville, it has retained a good deal of its history and charm. It was a pleasant evening, all in all. The next morning, a little groggy from listening to too much late-night TV coming from the adjoining room, we packed up and traveled down a maze of county roads to the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto. It was a gorgeous place, set back in a big ol’ holler and steeped in history. After a nice tour and conversation with some of the folks there it was time to hit the trail to Tennessee.

I hadn’t been to Nashville in over twenty years—things change. With a whole raft of new landmarks and old ones refurbished, I had a hard time being a tour guide. But we found our way around; saw the Ryman, Ernest Tubb’s Record store, the Parthenon, and a plantation mansion. We heard some good music at the Station Inn and ate southern-fried everything with grits and gravy. And then it was off to Chattanooga.

It was my first trip to Chattanooga, although I had been meaning to go there for the past 50 years. The intention was planted when I spotted the first of many barns I was to see inviting me to “SEE ROCK CITY”. When I was a kid those barns were as ubiquitous as Uncle Johns’ cider stands. My folks would tell me “ROCK CITY” was just a tourist trap and wasn’t worth seeing but I still yearned to visit. Now I was closing in on Chattanooga and “ROCK CITY” was just outside of town on Lookout Mountain.

When we arrived my daughter was the very model of hospitality and our visit was a delight. The time went by fast and we were on the road again.

We zipped through middle Tennessee and Kentucky and were back in Indiana in less than a day. On the way I thought about all the things that I had seen and done and as I ticked them off in my head I realized that all I really did was increase the scale of my ordinary doings.

I saw mountains that were just exaggerated Brown County hills. I climbed over and through weird rock formations—but we have weird rocks on Browning hill. I listened to some great music in Nashville, but I play music about every Sunday with my band here at home. I ate good southern cooking but I can get that up at Bean Blossom. So, the only things that changed a whole lot was that I had a chance to be entertained by my daughter and I missed my dog. Oh yeah, and I did get to “SEE ROCK CITY”.