Tuesday, September 20, 2011
It was a great surprise that my sweet wife had planned for me a few weeks ago. I was told to make it home early afternoon on a recent Friday so we could head out of town on a “getaway” trip. Following direction well, I arrived home on schedule and we drove up into the Smoky Mountains, three or so hours north of Atlanta, to spend the weekend at a wonderfully secluded inn. Jennie and I have been married now more than twenty four years and it’s still such a treat for us to have some time away just for us.
Saturday morning dawned beautiful and cool at the inn and after a delicious breakfast, a plan started to emerge for a morning adventure. As a boy my family and I had spent a few summer vacations at a lodge named Tapoco deep in the smokies. It was a pretty rustic sight, with small cabins, a central dining room, the coldest swimming pool (literally fed by the mountain stream) , shuffle board, etc. The “resort” was owned by my father’s employer, ALCOA, and being an employee allowed him access and discounts for our use as a family. Sitting after breakfast a few weeks ago I got the wild idea to see just how close we were to Tapoco. Using my trusty IPAD, I realized that we were only thirty eight miles away … the morning’s adventure was set!
With box lunches in hand, we headed straight into the mountains on one of the windiest roads I ever experienced. The journey took was gorgeous, dramatic vistas of mountains and lakes, and after almost an hour and a half, we came upon the Tapoco Lodge. Many times in life we go back to try to retrace the paths and memories of our youth, often to great disappointment. Thankfully this trip was the exact opposite. The resort was under new management, the old lodge and the dining room had been refurbished beautifully. The cabins were under renovation and while the pool was closed, the stream still ran down that little valley, still as cold as I remember. It’s important to note that while I am not certain of the dates, I think my last visit to Tapoco was as a boy in the late sixties or early seventies.
I found it very emotionally powerful to walk the grounds, remember the sights and sound of the place now four decades removed. As I walked into the dining room I was blown away not just because it looked the same, it actually smelled the same! That smell brought back instant memories of the delicious meals we shared at long communal tables in this dining room; none stronger than the memory of the delicious biscuits that I enjoyed in this room over forty years ago. A quiet woman’s voice interrupted my “biscuit memories” and asked if I needed any help. Slightly startled, I introduce myself and shared that I had visited Tapoco as a boy and I was blown away by how great it looked. She introduced herself as Ann and shared that she worked at the resort now, and had actually worked there as a teenager back in late sixties. Unbelievable! Here was a woman I had just met whom could have worked in this same dining room when my family and I ate our meals here forty plus years ago. Small world??? I was standing at one end of the dining room talking to Ann and we started to share our memories of our favorite meals for “the old days.” She loved the county ham and the fried chicken, both delicious, but my favorite was the clearly the biscuits. As we compared notes she pointed just over my shoulder and said that it was funny that we were having this conversation “in front of the old recipe box.” I turned and saw the small green “treasure chest” of a recipe box (pictured above.) Unbelievable, there it was, maybe two feet away! Almost shaking, I asked her if it was ok for me to “touch” the box and she said “sure, let’s get it down!” I pulled out the first recipe card and it was “Congealed Beet Salad”, not the top of my memory parade. I glanced at the second recipe and there it was, the jackpot, “Angel Biscuits!” I couldn’t believe it, yellowed, creased, spotted by grease, was the small recipe card bearing the treasure map. I didn’t say anything, eyes filling with tears, when Ann asked if I wanted a copy, “oh my gosh yes” I sputtered and she headed to the resorts’ office.
I share this story and the recipe above as just another reminder of the preciousness of life. Here was an amazing experience that was absolutely unplanned just hours before, that has now become a treasured moment. We always need to find the ability, the time, and the emotional space to be “open” to experiences in our life; whether they are new cultures, new environments or the “Angel Biscuits” from the Tapoco Lodge!