Yesterday, I left early in the a.m. with our church youth group to drive down to Wears Valley, TN and a service project we do every year. I came along this year, to get a free ride down for work as I have to drive over to Athens, GA and down to Asheville, NC and other place, but I do get to be with the teens for a while so, it works out nicely.
I had a larger SUV yesteday with a lot of luggage and three of the high schoolers. We had a pretty great time driving down through Indy and Cincy and then over to Lexington. We sang and laughed and had some good times. After the Man O'Way exit in Lexington, it starts hitting a little more "southern" with the mountains and such. Its beautiful and our family used to drive this exact route down quite frequently as we've always had a lot of family at school in SC. It brings back great memories.
The most recent time I've been back this way was last spring, for the oldest nephews college graduation in SC. Actually, the service group that came to Wears Valley last year had left a few tools at the Ranch we work at and so I had volunteered to stop on the way down to the graduation so we could pick the missing items up.
Dad hadn't been doing well around that time, but both he, and I, were determined that he would see his oldest grandsons graduate from college. So, I bundled him and mom up in the car and we drove down, with the agenda to stop overnight in Pigeon Forge and then head over to Wears Valley.
I've been going to Wears Valley for many years and I was excited for mom and dad to finally see the Ranch as its absolutely beautiful and a complete miracle for a lot of kids from really bad homes. God has completely made it possible and so its an exciting place to be. FYI, check out their link... http://www.wvr.org/
The parents and I drove down and came to Pigeon Forge and stopped the night. We passed through all the mountains and ate at the Olive Garden, per dad's request as he hadn't been tempted much by food towards the end. It was great to see him actually want to eat somewhere. Then, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn next door and in the morning, we packed up and headed up the mountain to the Ranch. I got to introduce him to Seth, a great guy we work with every year. We picked the tools up and then Seth told me to take dad and mom around the Ranch and show them the place. We drove around and I got to tell them about the Ranch and show them the kids' houses and the horses and the science lab and all. Dad was really impressed and thought it was beautiful, although, I do remember, that he didn't have a lot of energy to show massive excitement, but he did wearily snap some pictures out the car window.
As we drove down last night, right after the Merchants Dr exit in TN, which is about an hour from the Ranch, something completely hit me and I just started crying. It wasn't loud blubbering but the "kids" in the car definitely knew something was wrong and Alana, a youth grouper as well as a friend of mine, was so sweet. For some reason, this all just made me think of dad and how we used to come down and how this had been the last trip I took him. And, like all the other trips I did with them towards the end, I'm so completely glad that we did it! So, maybe it was a little happy cry too as he really did enjoy it and he was so proud of the grandsons! I passed the hotel and the Olive Garden and I just saw dad and him struggling to get into the car and struggling to eat half of the plate of food that he always loved at Olive Garden.
It also makes me sad for all the other grandkids, that he won't be able to experience their graduations. At least mom is still there! Thats a good thing.
I guess, more and more, over time, you remember people and things and even though its sad, those memories are happy in that its a memory of someone you loved.
SOME OF DAD'S PICTURES FROM THE TRIP
SOME PICTURES OF DAD FROM THE TRIP