The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Budd McLaughlin

January 9, 2013

Long journey provided warm holiday memory

— For better or worse, the holiday season presents a cornucopia of opportunities to spend time with one’s family.

Aside from Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s festivities, there is shopping, church services, random food gatherings and the ever-popular family vacation.

While some studies would likely back up my assumption that there is a direct correlation between holiday family time and domestic disputes worthy of being on “COPS,” I’ve gotten to appreciate the familial holiday experiences as they present themselves.

My own family, like yours, isn’t exactly worthy of a Norman Rockwell portrait. No families are. The families who pass for perfect are made up of a bunch of liars.

As I construct this piece of commentary by lamplight using only my quill and a few simple thoughts, my mind harkens back to a memory of old. It’s a recollection of the time my family and I traveled to Nashville to see the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” featuring the famous appendages of those fancy dancers The Rockettes.

Go back in time with me, all the way back to Dec. 5, 2009 — almost three years ago, to be exact. It was on that cold December day in which the Smith family, plus my fiancée at the time, Lensey, set forth on a long and treacherous journey through the flatlands of North Alabama and on north to the rolling hills of Tennessee to the little town of Nashville.

It was entertainment, yes simple entertainment, that led us to hitch up the mules and traverse the cold countryside to Tennessee’s capital city.

It was a dark, gray day and snow was still fresh on the ground. Paw had decided to stay at the homestead and hold down the fort. He had not made a family journey in several years, at least not since the last journey to Tennessee.

It was on that journey that my sister Sara had declared there was a foul odor emanating from my cap. I was crestfallen by her accusations and Paw swore that would be the end of his traveling days. He would be satisfied to look after the homestead, feeding the animals and resting.

This journey to Tennessee would be one of much hardship. Out of six in our party, three had been consumed by the virus. There was much coughing, sneezing and wheezing as the two wagons departed. My beloved Lensey and I were in the lead wagon as we had the luxury of a map. Sister, Maw and my two nephews Kaleb and Chase were in the second wagon.

Before the long journey, I had procured rations of trail mix and tobacco. Lensey’s knapsack was also packed with ointments to comfort her ailments on the journey.

By 1:30 p.m., the travelers were growing weary and had amassed a powerful hunger. We stopped in at a general store in Columbia, Tenn., called the Cracker Barrel. The staff was sparse and we waited for nearly a fortnight to dine on chicken and dumplings and grilled chicken tenderloin. Lucretia, our waitress, offered few apologies as we found the food to be as cold as the Mississippi River and tasteless as a cowpoke’s humor.

An hour and a half later, the wagons were moving again toward our destination. We arrived at our quarters, known as the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, at about 3:15 p.m. The weather was no warmer and the travelers were weary from traveling, but excited about the evening’s entertainment.

The end.

Oh, you want more? Well, fine then.

I had never been to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel before. It was an elaborate spectacle, to say the least. Staying there reminded me of the fact that a buddy once told me to never Google Gaylord because the results could be unpredictable.

At 4 p.m. or so, we made it to the shuttle which went approximately two blocks from the hotel to the Grand Ole Opry for the Rockettes show. My mom, who was almost literally coughing her head off, sat next to me on the bus behind a married couple.

I mentioned something about her “having swine flu,” which of course she didn’t have. However, it got the attention of the couple in front of us, who immediately exchanged worried glances. When the bus arrived at the Opry, I believe they were the first ones to depart.

The show itself was an amusing spectacle. I enjoyed the high leg kicks, but enjoyed them even more after I discovered the Opry’s Christmas spirits vendors were open for business. ‘Tis the season to be merry.

Throughout the evening, Lensey conducted checks of the SEC championship game on her phone, as it was happening at the same time. Every once in a while, the disgruntled husbands sitting behind us would lean down to ask us if we knew the score. I was unconcerned about scores. I was full of Christmas cheer and watching high leg kicks.

The brief family sojourn ended the next day as we hitched up the wagons and came back south to Alabama. It was a wonderful respite and an enjoyable family outing that did not include in-fighting or yelling about the stench of my ball cap, which I still say did not, in fact, stink.

It was a holiday memory that will forever stick in my mind, kind of like a Norman Rockwell painting. I encourage all of our readers to do the same. Spend a little time with your family and do something out of the ordinary.

You’ll be glad you did.

— Managing editor Adam Smith can be reached at

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Budd McLaughlin


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