Chatta-versary

Time flies.

On this date in 2018, Bill, I, three cats and all our worldly belongings headed for our new life in Chattanooga. Our stressful, action-packed, 28-day sprint through the worlds of home-buying and home-selling would come to a close by sunset. Not a minute too soon.

We began the day in 2018 with one last stop by the Knoxville house we’d lived in for 24 years. To collect the cats, who’d spent their last night in Knoxville there while we stayed with Bill’s niece and nephew in Farragut.

We had a 10 a.m. closing at a title company a short distance away. The cats had to wait inside the car. Inside the building, we held our breath–fingers crossed no last-minute snag would pop up. This title company, selected by our buyer, had already dropped a ball that caused the original closing date to have to be postponed a few days. The movers who had already collected our furniture graciously agreed to hold it for no extra charge.

Thankfully, everything proceeded as planned. Until the end. When the Knoxville title agent presented us with a check for the purchase price of our house. Only they were supposed to have wired that amount to the title company in Chattanooga, where it would be applied to the purchase of a house we would complete in another three hours.

Woopsie. We’re sorry, they said. They promised to get the wire transfer going right away. Never mind that Bill and I already had been told that a bank typically has to be asked to do such about 24 hours before it is requested to happen. We reminded the title agent that had to be squared away in time for closing on our Chattanooga house in another three hours.

Outside, before we headed out, we thanked and hugged our realtor, Marcia Bartlett. We couldn’t have had a realtor more capable or better suited to us. As glad as I was to have the sale of our house finished, at last, I was sorry to say goodbye to Marcia.

Peach doesn’t enjoy car rides-or anything else unfamiliar and not routine.

As soon as we unlocked our car doors, three confused cats began to cry periodically. My front seat had a little more room left than Bill’s, so I put the most high-maintenance of the cats, Peach, in my front passenger seat and aimed an AC vent into his crate. He settled down pretty quickly

About halfway to Chattanooga, and about an hour down the road, I began calling to follow up on the money wire. The title company in Chattanooga had no sign of it. The title company in Knoxville said the person who handles that for them was out to lunch. But they would make her aware as soon as she returned. No kidding.

Temporary cat pad.

The weather was already hot and forecast to stay that way. I knew we couldn’t park outside the title company in the middle of downtown Chattanooga without windows and doors locked shut. And I knew the heat build-up would be dangerous to the cats, so I came up with a plan. We would carry them, crated, into my on-campus apartment at UTC, and let them stay there in that cool, quiet place while we went to Closing No. 2 for the day. Don’t tell anybody. Pets aren’t allowed in those apartments.

I couldn’t handle any more money wire drama, so Bill started making the calls. Finally, with 45 minutes until our close, he was assured all was in order, at last.

 We headed to Chicken Salad Chick downtown, ate fast, then went to become official Hamilton County homeowners. Neither of us–nor any of our cats–had ever moved into a brand-new house, but that was what worked out for us and we were excited. Our builder was the seller, and their local honcho sent us away from closing with some useful swag–a picnic blanket, large tote and some very effective thermal coffee mugs.

We swung back by my campus apartment, picked up the cat brothers, re-loaded them into our cars, punched our home address into the GPS and headed north to Hixson. As long and stressful as the day had been for us, I think it was also pretty tough on my kitties. They were hanging in there, but really starting to fade. The only way I could keep Peach from squalling was to poke my fingers through the grate on his crate and scratch his chin or the top of his head. Soon as I stopped, he resumed yodeling.

When we unlocked our front door for the first time, at last, we were both excited and really relieved. What a day–but we made it. Furniture wouldn’t come until the next day, but that was alright.

We had debated whether to spend that night in my campus apartment–and sleep in an actual bed–or to stay put with the cats and sleep on the floor. Movers were showing up at 9 the next morning, and Hixson is about a half-hour from campus at that time of day. We opted to tough it out on the carpeted floor of an upstairs bedroom, since its windows had blinds and the master downstairs did not. At least we’d remembered to bring bed pillows and a throw. Even with carpet, though, I can tell you that a floor is pretty unforgiving.

So, with nothing on hand to eat or drink except the bottle of Pinot Grigio that Marcia had given us to celebrate the big move, and no TV, wi-fi or working phone line, we did the only thing there was to do. We googled the closest Papa John’s; punched its address into the GPS; picked up our large, thin-crust, veggies-and-pepperoni; drove back to the house; walked in; opened the wine; poured it into the clear plastic cups Marcia had also supplied; and we stood at the kitchen island and raised a glass to our new chapter.

One year ago, today.

 

Silver Celebration

Twenty-five years of marriage isn’t just a milestone, it’s a cause for celebration. And on our 25th anniversary last month, we celebrated in the most perfect way possible–for us. Not a party. Not a cruise. Not expensive gifts or travel to an exotic location. You might say we went “ranching.”

Hemphill Bald

Over the last four or five years, we discovered a new favorite hiking trail–on the Cataloochee Divide, it’s called–in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We would follow Cataloochee Divide from the trailhead on the Blue Ridge Parkway on the North Carolina side of the park as it wound through the woods and past open meadows up to a point called Hemphill Bald. A barbed-wire fence marks the boundary with private property along the last mile or so of the trail. The fence keeps cattle off park property and, at the bald, a stile in the fence enables hikers to easily access the private property and rest in the stunning beauty of Hemphill Bald. I think only heaven could have a better vantage point for taking in that part of the Smoky Mountains.

There is one tree, broad and tall, that provides shade and the music of breezes dancing in its leaves. A few half-exposed boulders give hikers something to sit on while they take a lunch break. A massive stone slab on a stone base and surrounded by well-worn concrete benches form a rustic picnic table. It’s what I saw years ago–a peak-finder set into the top of that table–that led us to celebrate our 25th anniversary where we did.

Peak-finder in picnic table

In addition to pointing out the visible mountaintops on the horizon, it points out “Cataloochee Ranch” sitting in the valley you gaze upon from your perch.

I’d never heard of Cataloochee Ranch before reading the name on that placard, and I made a mental note to look it up. When I did, I learned that it’s a collection of private cabins of varying size, a “ranch house” with varying overnight accommodations and a collection of horses, hiking trails and other soothing pursuits all set on an 850-acre paradise at 5,500 feet elevation. I also learned that the room and cabin rates meant we would have to wait for a very special occasion.

I couldn’t imagine a more special occasion than waking up in that place on our 25th anniversary.

From Chattanooga, we had a scenic, roughly four-hour drive along back roads, including a long stretch on the banks of the Ocoee River. We passed through Murphy, North Carolina, stopped for lunch in Bryson City and reached Maggie Valley about 3 p.m. The last turn was onto a twisting, five-mile ascent of 1,000 feet by the time it put us at the driveway to Cataloochee Ranch.

We checked in, picked up the key to our cabin for two and were told dinner was at 7–but we could come as early 6 for a cocktail. Our cabin was rustic and adorable. We sat back in the solid wood rocking chairs on its porch, took in rhododendron blossoms everywhere you looked, the rope swing under a huge oak tree next to the ranch house and a tractor parked with a flatbed wagon attached–that I would bet has gone on a few hayrides.

Our cabin

 

 

 

 

 

Occupancy was low as we were there the week before Memorial Day, and we were the only guests that night for dinner. Plus, meals are an optional add-on, and not everyone who stays there chooses to have all meals there. The server also was the cook, so I was able to directly thank the person responsible for mashed potatoes on our very first meal. Before the potatoes, she brought a fresh-tossed salad with just-made dressing. There was also oven-roasted broccoli, fresh-baked yeast rolls, fried chicken and baked cod. Then came “pecan pie cobbler.” I recommend it. In talking with our server-cook, we mentioned that blackberry cobbler–our favorite–was more common but no more delicious.

Dining table in ranch house
Come sit a spell before dinner

Next morning, we were joined at breakfast by three interesting and friendly couples and Judy, a granddaughter of Tom Alexander, the man who established the ranch in 1933.

Judy’s aunt, a daughter of the founder, had been our dinner hostess the night before.

Judy is a serious horse woman, with weathered hands that have held on to their share of rope, reins and saddle horns.

Actual view through great room window

She was clearly in charge of the horse stables and barn, but she also was friendly, unassuming and engaging. She asked where we were from and how we’d heard of the ranch. When I told her about the peak-finder, she said her late mother would have been thoroughly pleased, as it was her idea, partly in hopes it would bring some hikers as travelers to the ranch. A couple of Judy’s stable hands came along shortly and joined us for breakfast, a variety of meats, breads, biscuits, gravy, jams, jellies and fruits.

We were fully carb-loaded for the hike up to the bald. Because they will come looking if you go missing, the ranch staff asks you to tell them your plans before you set out and to let them know when you’re back. Hemphill Bald is only about 2.5 miles UP from the ranch, so I couldn’t imagine getting lost, but it was a nice feeling that they wanted to ensure your safety.

The weather that morning had to have been God’s gift for our anniversary: sunshine, low humidity, a light breeze and the most comfortable of temperatures. No traffic to drive through, ringing phones, email to answer–just peace and quiet, interrupted at just the right times by birdsong or the swoosh of a breeze through the tall grass.

Heaven, as it appears on earth

Once at the bald, we were joined by a couple of people in the role that had always found me there previously–hikers who’d come through the park. When they found out we had come from the ranch, they asked how we knew about it and we pointed out the peak-finder in the picnic table.

Back at the ranch house for dinner that night, our breakfast companions joined us again. When the server-cook brought dessert–individual dishes of fresh-baked blackberry cobbler–she winked at us and the rest of the dinner table oohed and aahed. I gave her a hug when she came back to clear the dishes.

That night, same as the previous, we put on long sleeves to take in the cool breezes on our cabin porch and the starry sky overhead. We sat back in the rocking chairs and listened to a frog chorus coming from the fishing pond about 1,000 yards away. The cabin has no air conditioner, and we slept soundly under a comforter.

The next morning after check out, off to our next adventure, we had an unexpected encounter with some of the ranch’s beautiful horses. A group occupying the gravel drive made it necessary for Bill to stop the car. Their representative approached and spent a few minutes poking his head in the windows and–I am serious–licking the hood of the car.

As we headed for the road back down the mountain, that place is so perfect that I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn back and see a horn on that horse’s forehead. It had been just that kind of a unicorn-magical way to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

Looking Back at 25

Bill and I met in 1993, when we both worked at the Knoxville News-Sentinel. He in circulation, me in the newsroom. About 18 months later, we were married. I don’t know if–in the swirl of finding and buying a house, planning a wedding and a honeymoon–lots of marrying people imagine a future when that marriage will be decades old, but I didn’t.

In our case, it seems 25 years later came a lot sooner than I could have imagined.

Just like all married couples, we got busy working our jobs, handling family matters and living our lives. The “busy” part–I think that’s the key to the years slipping up on you. On our anniversary this year, May 22, 2019, we counted 25 years gone by.

Bill taught me to appreciate baseball. I taught him to appreciate hiking. We both really love to travel, and we have thoroughly enjoyed doing a lot of that, often in pursuit of another of Major League Baseball’s 30 parks or another of the National Park Service’s 59 national parks.

While he plugged away at one employer throughout his life–the News Sentinel–until retiring in 2008, I pursued another opportunity in healthcare public relations, then another in higher ed communication, and the latest, where I am now at UT Chattanooga. Meantime, I also entered grad school and finished a master’s degree while working full time.

Karie (left), Kasie and I graduated in 2007. They from high school, me from UT.

That was one of the most-demanding goals I ever set, but I made it in 2007.

There have been births, weddings and funerals. Both of Bill’s parents, his brother and two of his three sisters have passed away since we’ve been married, and I have lost both of my beloved grandmothers.

Hiking with members of our beloved Knoxville church family.

We were part of an absolutely beloved church family for more than 20 years. Denominational policy changes led a majority of that group to form a new church that we were part of until we moved from Knoxville to Chattanooga in 2018.

Looky who made the Jumbotron for my UT System going-away party!

Oh yeah, and after living in the same house for the “first 24” years of our marriage, we sold it and bought one in the Chattanooga suburb of Hixson.

Bill’s had three major surgeries and I’ve had two. Otherwise, we’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed good health. To help people survive leukemia–after we came to know friends who lost a baby girl to leukemia at 18 months old–we both got heavily involved for several years as bicyclists and fundraisers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Training, fundraising and long-distance bicycling in honor of leukemia patients still stand in my mind as the best and most important things I’ll ever do.

All in all, we’ve been fortunate to walk through life and the milestones it brings together, happily and within a cherished circle of family and friends.

Forty-four states, 22 MLB ballparks, 21 national parks, 18 foreign countries, thousands of miles on bicycles and hundreds of miles in hiking boots–we packed a lot into our first 25 years. They haven’t all been perfect, but mostly, they’ve been really good.