Not all of the living has been extraordinary. Some of our time has been filled with such things, but much has been just our beloved ordinary. There will be, hopefully, 31 days of expounding on that, to come!
However, first it seems necessary to backtrack a bit...to where I left off last on our journey in the Land O'Lincoln and Fireflies. I have missed writing! Barely a day goes by that I don't feel a sort of melancholy as I drop into my bed at night, for having missed a chance to pour my thoughts out on paper or a screen. There are times and seasons for everything, and this particular season I've needed to content myself with a few scribbles in my thankfulness journal before
Driving through Illinois led us to Paducah, Kentucky. We really enjoyed our stay there. Our campground was wooded with towering trees. The heat felt lovely after having experienced cooler-than-usual temps all through Wisconsin and Illinois. We swam as dusk set in, and basked in the glow and wonder of fireflies. We also experienced, with some fond irritation, the loudest insects we've ever heard. But more on those later.
After a mostly leisurely journey thus far, we began to feel a bit of a press to get on to where we were going. We were needing to get on with the pesky, yet necessary details of finding a semi-permanent home and gainful employment. Sigh... details, details. Because of this, we decided it prudent to cut across Kentucky and drop down directly into East Tennessee, so we could scope that eastern region on the way down. Although our household had been shipped to Maryville, we weren't entirely sure that was where we were landing, since we had *ahem* never seen it before. Unfortunately, this route change meant we would miss out on a visit with dear family and possibly friends, too. I still have not come to grips with missing out on that.
I'm not exactly sure how to put our crossing through Kentucky into words, without sounding too negative. It felt cursed. There. I'm sure there are lots of great folks and communities all throughout Kentucky, but for some reason, we never encountered any. The road system seemed very jumbled and difficult to navigate. Folks were unfriendly, or down-right scary. The communities we passed through seemed to have no love in them--no walkers or bikers or stroller-pushers, no potted flowers on porches or beautification of towns. Grocery stores were scantily--shelved with cheap, non-nutritious foods. The general disposition of the places we traveled through felt stifling. We wanted out.
Then it began to rain. This was not what one normally thinks of as rain, but rather, rain. The heavens released thousands of buckets, and we could scarcely see the highway. This was the day we were to pass into Tennessee.
I admit to concocting all sorts of romantic ideas of how it would be for us to cross over into Tennessee. The culmination of Operation Sunshine! 5000+ miles! Our grand adventure! I pictured us with sunshine streaming down all around us and down upon rolling, green hills, as we pulled over to snap pictures by the "Tennessee Welcomes You" sign. Then we would pack back up into the Little House and drive over, Tony and I holding hands across the aisle and smiling triumphantly at one another. Goodness, I even had the song that would be playing at that moment picked out.
None of that happened.
What actually happened, is we stopped just before the border to grab some groceries. As we often do to save time, Tony stayed in the RV with the boys while I ran into the store. I grabbed our items as quickly as possible, and then headed with my cart out into the parking lot just as the deluge began. Despite running through sloshing water with my cart, I was completely soaked, along with all our groceries. We hurriedly packed them up into the RV in the midst of tired-picky-irritable boy noise. My headache began to throb a little more. We pulled out back onto the highway, at lease I think it was the highway, because we couldn't. see. a. thing. I remember racing along one of the craziest highways I've ever been on, along with semi-truck after speeding semi-truck. We couldn't see the road, and we definitely couldn't see any scenery. I think I may have caught a glimpse of a blue sign, "welcoming us to Tennessee."
We maneuvered through the mess and after awhile, pulled out into Clinton, TN. Hungry and irritable, we decided to go to Cracker Barrel for lunch and try and reset. I think in some ways, we were also trying to re-create our good feelings from our first Cracker Barrel lunch, but that was not to be. We needed to wait quite a long while to be seated, and so headed to the infamous front porch. This would have been fine, except everyone else waiting on the front porch was puffing away on their cigarettes. There was no breeze to be had, and the humidity was miserable.
After what seemed to be a long time, we were seated and had an ok lunch. Things always seem more bearable after a rest, a meal, and a lot of sweet tea, so we headed out to our Little House to continue on. Upon entering, I went to feed the kitties their meal. When I poured the food, only one cat came. You must realize, that when we pour the food, TWO cats ALWAYS come running. I immediately began to panic. Lilikoi was missing. Chaos immediately ensued, as Kaleb began to cry, racing outside to look for her, and I began flopping through campground information packets with tears streaming down my face. Everyone combed the camper and prayed for us to find Lilikoi, as I called what I thought was the phone number for the last campground. I was sure we had left her in heaven-forsaken Kentucky. I began bawling harder thinking that she was most likely left there and that we'd have to go back there to hopefully find her. This went on for ten or so minutes, when I saw Noah reach to open up the rear bed compartment. I shook my head at him and said, "Honey, she'd never be in there." The bed lifts up on hinges to access our fresh water tank. The tank takes up the entire space, except for room to squish laundry detergent in one corner. Just as I shook my head, Noah lifted the bed, and out popped that sweet little calico head. I couldn't believe it. She must have jumped in there when we filled the tank in Kentucky.
There is much to tell about those next two weeks. Much of what there is to tell involves low-lying depressing clouds, rain, towels and clothes that won't dry out due to humidity, headaches, and tears. Oh, and a tornado.
We had managed to make it on to Maryville, after getting lost in the maze they call Knoxville a couple of different times. We also found a wonderful little campground south of Maryville, in Walland, as a home base during that time. We had great deal of trouble finding a couple of other little details, however, namely a house and a vehicle other than our 30-foot motor home, which we were packing up and driving everywhere through narrow, crowded, unfamiliar streets.
Despite there having been numerous, appropriate houses for us to rent for the prior 6 months, there were none to be had when we arrived. Every place we called on was already filled or in the process of being filled. Every day we worked on researching, calling, e-mailing, and praying for a place, to no avail. Finally, a property manager explained to us that there would probably not be anything suitable for us until September or October, as the housing market was saturated at present due to school beginning. Of course.
Honestly? I didn't like Tennessee at all at this point. None of us did, really, as home sickness and culture shock hit us like a bomb. And things did not seem to be lining up for us, despite all our effort. We began talking and praying about other options. Wisconsin. Or going back West near Yellowstone River, which we all loved so well.
As this is already a very lengthy post, I'll just say we had another rental completely lined up in another state. We were just waiting for them to receive our application fee and run our background check, and then we would implement our Operation Sunshine Plan B. Despite this plan, we had this nagging feeling like we'd always feel disappointed we didn't give Tennessee a fair shot. We needed wisdom, and we prayed for it. And then, a property manager called us from Maryville to see if we were still interested in a property we'd called about which had been filled. He said the applicants never showed up with the money and it was available if we wanted to see it.
I remember getting that call as we were picking up some needed articles at Target. We raced through Target, headed back out to the Behemoth we'd been driving everywhere for errands and otherwise, and headed out to view the rental. We drove out past our campground, as the place was located in the Walland area. We twisted and turned down the beautiful countryside on narrow, country roads, which we now know to be so characteristic of East Tennessee. The roads became narrower and narrower, until we found ourselves seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We stepped out into the steaming air and dispersed out upon the property to have a look.
In the next 31 days, I'm going to attempt to share some of the great things about living in such a place. I hope you'll join me (and nag me if I start slacking.)