Song of the South

11.Sam Arriving AtlantaLinda Burton posting from Arkadelphia, Arkansas –July was Sam Time. Sam is my youngest grandchild, born and growing up in the Pacific Northwest. He went to Juneau with me on the Journey back in 2012 (read all about it in Juneau) where we went whale-watching and dog-sledding and he got to know a capital city up and down. He flew into Little Rock last summer and spent three weeks with me in Arkansas, where we made a quick-trip into Oklahoma and Texas. But I figured it was time this boy had a bona fide real-time southern experience and learned about his roots. After all, he was teetering on the cusp of teenhood, and you know how fast that goes. I planned a full-fledged Journey through the south, worthy of a Fodor review.

I met Sam’s plane in Atlanta. His “unaccompanied minor” status required a direct flight, and we were headed for Gatlinburg anyhow, so that made sense. Did you know that Hartsfield International in Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world? 95 million passengers annually, coming into 7 terminals, exiting through 201 gates. Sam emerged through Alaska’s Gate D3 (at the far end of nowhere), a little taller than last year and wearing a Seattle Seahawks shirt. “Welcome to Atlanta, home of the Braves!” I grinned. And so began Sam’s Song of the South, Scott1stSteps66subtitled “Where Your Dad Grew Up.” I’d filled a notebook with pictures of family members he’d meet, and details about each stop we’d make. “First stop tomorrow is South Carolina,” I explained in our Atlanta motel room that night, “Ware Shoals, where we were living when your Dad was born.” I had a picture of his Dad taking his first steps, in our kitchen there on Dairy Street. My plan was to drive by and show him the house. You won’t believe how that turned out.

12 Sam Dairy StI knocked on the door, to politely let the owners know I wanted to get Sam’s picture in front of the house that his Dad lived in as a baby. To my surprise, it turned out to be the same people who bought the house when we moved away in 1967! “We raised four 12 Clemson Stadium Samkids here,” Sally informed us, “and we have great-grandchildren now. Come in, come in!” Nothing would do but a tour of the house, as she guided Sam into the nursery where his Dad slept as a baby, and the kitchen of those famous first steps. The house has changed a lot; they’ve added a spiral staircase to the basement and finished that off, and they’ve built a giant swimming pool in the sunny back yard where my kids and our dog Frisky used to romp around. Old memories for me, new ones for Sam. “How cool was that!” he said as we drove away, headed for Clemson next and a stop at the stadium of the Tigers.

12 NC TN State Line SamSouth Carolina into North Carolina; Cherokee and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Tennessee state line, and finally, Gatlinburg, the Tennessee Gateway to the Smokies. “Your Dad spent many happy times in Gatlinburg when he was your age,” I explained, as we headed to the condo. “Your Uncle Mike bought this condo a few years ago because he loved coming to Gatlinburg so much as a kid.” We settled in for a week’s stay, just two blocks off the main drag, with room to spread out and a balcony overlooking the pool. Did we do everything on the list of things to do? Egad no! “This ain’t your Daddy’s Gatlinburg,” I groused, as we sat blocked in traffic whenever we tried to go anywhere. Gatlinburg has been discovered, and the gracefulness of the mountain scenery is now decked up with Ripley’s (Believe it or Not) 14 Ferris Wheeland Magic Mirrors and Giant Ferris Wheels and the stores of Paula Deen (y’all) and Log Cabin Fiddle Shows (y’all) and Dollywood water flumes and even an upside-down Titanic (it sank, you know). My highlight was eating shrimp at Bubba Gump’s; Sam favored doing belly flops in the pool. He did go on a ranger-led hike through the woods (no bears sighted) and I gave him free rein to wander downtown by himself, where he discovered the trick to maneuvering the magic mirrors (after 12 passes-through).

18.Charlie.Sam.Margie.BettyFrom Gatlinburg to Chattanooga. “Your Dad lived here for 13 years,” I’d written for the notebook, “and played every sport known to the Y.” We visited my oldest and bestest friend who still lives in the old neighborhood – Betty, and her husband Reuben. Betty invited daughter Margie and grandson Charlie to meet Sam; the boys are only months apart in age. Charlie spent some time trying 19 Aquarium Samto teach Sam how to “speak southern.” Across the street was our old house; “That window was your Dad’s bedroom,” I said, but nobody was home to let us in. We sneaked into the side yard to see the basketball goal Sam’s Grandpa Don cemented in concrete for the kids. 1969, perhaps? We did the touristy Chattanooga things – the world’s greatest freshwater aquarium (Cool!); a ride up the Incline on Lookout Mountain. Two nights was not nearly enough in the beautiful city that nestles riverside in the Tennessee valley.

Chattanooga to Birmingham. “Your Dad never lived in Birmingham,” I explained about the next leg of the Journey, but I did, twice. We visited the Iron Man, the giant Vulcan statue atop Red Mountain, and found the apartment where I celebrated my 4th birthday – he got my picture out front, 72 years gone by.

21.Sam.OrganBirmingham to Jasper, my birth city, where we spent the night with my step-mom Opal, in the house my Dad and Mom built back in the 70s. “This was your Great-granddaddy’s organ,” I showed Sam, “he loved music! He played alto sax in the high school band, and he also sang in a quartet. They traveled the countryside in a Model T.” After a rest we drove downtown to the city square. Burton Manufacturing was here, facing the square. “It’s where the finest leather golf bags in the world were made, back in the 50s. Your Great-granddaddy was 20.Anita.Jim.Kathi.John.Samvice-president, and I had my first job in this very building.” The building looks like it did back then, though now it houses a restaurant and some offices, that old familiar leather smell long gone. We met my first cousin Jim, and his Anita; and my second cousin Kathi, and her John (Jim is the son of my Dad’s brother Carl; Kathi is the granddaughter; which makes Jim Kathi’s 20.Opal.Samuncle, if you can track all of that.) Kathi and John live in California so it was just good luck that we were in Jasper on the same night. A raucous good time was had by all over a dinner of Mexican tacos (no fried okra tonight!). Breakfast with Opal at the Cracker Barrel the next morning was more sedate. Hugs and goodbyes, then visits to cemeteries – all the Burtons, and all the 21 Sam Cemetery Dutton HillShumates, great-grandparents, and great-greats. “These are all your kin,” I explained, as Sam wandered from grave to grave, family tree in hand. We drove on to Beaverton too, where my mother was born and her parents are buried; more cemetery stops as Sam ticked off every name on his family tree, four generations back. “You didn’t realize you had so many relatives, did you?” I laughed.

21 Craig SamNext stop Northport, and my brother’s house on Lake Tuscaloosa. Craig had an Alabama cap for The Biggest Alabama Fan in Seattle, a gift that brought big grins from Sam. We’d planned a boat ride on the lake, but a thunderstorm intervened. Next day we hit the 22 Bryant Denny Stadium SamBear Bryant Museum, and then the long-awaited Tour of Bryant-Denny Stadium. Jeepers creepers it’s a big place (seats 101,821) and a big money-making machine. The tour took us from locker rooms to sky boxes and lastly a walk right beside the field (nope, didn’t get to romp around on it). Pictures out front with Bear Bryant’s statue, and Nick Saban’s too. Goodbye to Uncle Craig and hello to 22 Sue SamAunt Sue, another hour’s drive on to Demopolis. “Craig is my brother,” I explained to Sam. “Sue is your Grandpa Don’s sister.” Both sides of the family tree. Sue and her husband Terry live on a farm. She had her grandkids out in the “mule” so Sam jumped out of the car and rode 22.SarahWaid.Heather.Jackson.Samthrough the fields with them, visiting the cows and horses. A fun night with cousins he didn’t know he had, pizza at a fever pitch, excitement off the scale. “You don’t wear hats in the house in the south,” they explained to him; he winked and laid it in his lap but never let it out of his sight.

23 Capitol Jackson SamNext day, Arkadelphia was the destination, which meant crossing the entire state of Mississippi, a sliver of northeast Louisiana, and a good chunk of Arkansas. We took a long break in Jackson, with a capitol visit for Sam to add to his list. I thought he’d want to bypass the tour, but I was wrong; he was awed by the magnificent building and didn’t want to miss a word of what the tour guide had to say. (Thereby proving my theory that ALL KIDS LOVE CAPITOLS and should be taken inside them whenever possible.) Then west of the Mississippi (“When your Dad was 12,” I told Sam as we crossed the bridge, “he came to 23 Sam Soybean Fieldme with a map in hand and complained that he’d never been west of the Mississippi. Now he lives in Seattle!”) Northeast Louisiana is crop-growing delta land; miles and miles of soybean fields and train track to haul the crops away. Sam wanted to stop in a field and look more closely at the leaves. “But why are all the railroad cars tankers?” we pondered. Something to check out.

Arkansas at last. Arkadelphia at last. And what do you think awaited us at our final home base? “Let’s run in and use the bathroom,” I said. “Then we can unload the car.” We never brought the suitcases in; we turned around and headed for the nearest Best Western. Why? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy bathtub was crawling with fleas. FLEAS! And me with nary a pet. I remembered hearing a critter under the house (and seeing all the groundhogs and raccoons in the yard); did they bring me a gift? The next morning the house was sprayed, but who wants to sleep in poison fumes? Another night at the BW, and on top of THAT, son Mike and his Brenda and her Michael were stopping on their way from Colorado back to Florida. We got them a room next to ours and tried to laugh it off, swapping stories of adventures in Colorado and in Tennessee.

28 gadgetsSam had a few more days before his scheduled flight back home (from the Dallas airport, this time). The fleas were slowly dying in the bathroom, only moderately affected by the exterminator’s heavy guns, so we doused ourselves with OFF when we needed to go in. With a Heat Index hovering around 114, we were both mopey and drained of energy. “Can we just stay in,” Sam pleaded, and I heartily agreed, glad he’s hooked on gadgets now. His phone, my old phone, and a Kindle kept him entertained. I napped a lot, and waited for more fleas to die.

29.Sam Departing Dallas“Just think,” I said, as we awaited his boarding time at DFW (world’s 9th busiest airport, 63 million passengers a year; 5 terminals; 165 gates), “you have now been to every southern state, and met all your living southern relatives except for Uncle Hal, and visited the graves of all the rest. Do you feel a little bit southern now?” “Well, I think I’ll name some of my kids Burton someday,” he answered. He left wearing a Seattle Mariners shirt. And his Alabama cap.