Monday, October 3, 2011


Chattanooga, Tennessee holds dear memories for me.  Around forty-five years ago, the parents of my friend, Helena, took me to Chattanooga for a fun time. Our goal was Rock City.  If you have ever traveled in Eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia or anywhere near Chattanooga, you have seen the bird houses that are made like little red barns with their black roofs imploring you to "See Rock City." We were going to ride the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain and were going to "see Rock City." 
View of the top of Incline Railway, Lookout Mountain, Georgia and Tennessee
Our car was full. Besides Helena, her parents and I, we had Helena's two cousins, Becky and Tommy. Our car was full of love and laughter.
Overlook and upper track as Incline cuts through the rock
Much of the laughter was due to the antics of Tommy.  I was in fifth grade, I think. Tommy was in the sixth grade and was hilarious. His jokes, imitations and ad lib one-liners kept us in stitches. Hilarious!
I love my life-long friend, Helena but for two weeks that summer I loved her cousin Tommy.  Besides the fact that he was much older and more experienced than we were, his explosions of humor made him a superhero.
That beautiful day in 1960 saw us roll out of the car onto the parking lot of the Incline Railway. Mr. Martin then spent a fortune on tickets and we found our seats on the trolly-like car. There are two cars hooked to one cable.  As one car climbs, the other descends. We climbed.  I was brave then, unlike last week when I took the same trip. 
 That day, like most days, Tommy kept us laughing too much to be afraid. I was more afraid a few days later when Tommy gave me my first kiss. There was only the one. 
Very close to the top, the point at which in 2011 I closed my eyes.
The romance was very short-lived.  I was far too young for such a worldly man.  That was alright, though. We worked much better as friends.  
 The incline was just the first of our adventures that week. We explored Rock City, a fairyland of stone paths, bridges and small rock buildings inhabited by gnomes and Disney characters.
House on the edge of Lookout Mountain. I would not mow the grass of that yard!
We rode the elevator down to Ruby Falls where rose-colored lights illuminated stalagmites and stalactites and narrow paths took us past etherial rock formations.
Looking down at the plane from the overlook once we disembarked the Incline Railway car
 We went to the top of a mountain in Maggie Valley to watch cowboys shoot it out in the wild-west streets of 
Ghost Town in the Sky.
Tommy was there as I rode the tired, sweaty horse along a trail.  Along with Helena and Becky, he turned to watch as the horse lay down and rolled in the dust. Unlike Becky and Helena, Tommy was unsympathetic.  He saw as it was a good opportunity to make jokes. It was funny once it became a memory.

Chattanooga from the top
Our backward view is gentler than what we see as participants.
Our trip with Tommy and his sister  continued to Gatlinburg and to Smoky Mountain National Park. The vacation couldn't last forever.  Little does. 
Riding back down Lookout Mountain while gripping my seat in one hand, camera in the other
 Even the best of times end. There are times when we must quit laughing. Like many old friends, Facebook allowed Tommy and I  to reconnect after forty years. He was still funny.  Interestingly, he grew up to look like Robin Williams. He spoke fluent Spanish. It was while translating in South America that Tommy became the host to a powerful infection.  It battled with his immune system until his body was overcome. First a hip replacement was needed then came the coma. Then he was gone. 
I cried for my old friend who had become new. 
He was no longer in pain. 
Now the pain was with his friends and family.
He is missed.
View of the Heavens and the Earth through the roof of the Incline Railway car
But the memories remain. All it takes is a quick trip up a very steep hill to remind me of cousins and friends; of childhood,
 laughter and love. 
My ride, last week took me further than merely to the top of Lookout Mountain.  It took me back forty-five years to where I could remember a kiss, a laugh, a friend.


Andrea said...

What a lovely post, do you know that I had teary eyes when i reached the end! It was very nicely written and very, very touching. I am sure Tommy is still here reading it and laughing again, still making jokes. He surely appreciates it, i guess! And he is now in peace with the Source. He really looks so endearing in that picture.

Beyond My Garden said...

After sharing the blog link on tom's facebook page I read where his ashes were scattered in the Smoky Mountains where I wrote about here.

Out on the prairie said...

Wat a nice memory to share.Had me thinking of Moon Pies and lovely roads I traveled not too long ago.

Sandra said...

thanks for the memories and the revisit, it has been many many many years since i took the trip up the mountain. i would love to see it again, and just did

Esther Montgomery said...

What a painful post! I'd be frightened with heights and views like that. He must have been clever to take your mind off your apprehensions. A great tribute . . . if only it hadn't been like this though.

mary said...

Nice, Nelle. Did Tommy die recently? Mary Nelle and I went to Ghost Town in the Sky. It was a turning point for both of us. MN realized she was old, and enjoyed "adult" rides, and I realized I was old and did not.

Rose said...

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed these memories--I am so sorry to hear of Tommy's death. That part came as a surprise. Heck, this is not worded right...but don't know how else to say it.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Ahhhhhh----you were near us. In fact, I have a son who lives in Chatty... Neat little city... IF you ever get back this way, let me know!!!!

Rick said...

What a beautiful story, Nellie, accompanied by wonderful photos and recollections of a fleeting moment. You let the memory of Tommy live on and now he's enriched more people's lives. Thank you for sharing.