Part 3 of the Tennessee Chronicles
Carlene loads the van with a crate of sandwiches she got at a Jersey deli and a bag of muffins the size of hubcaps. With Dinny at the wheel, the Fab Five sweeps out of the city on I-40 and when the GPS device says to turn, we head south on two-lane Route 13, a highway that rides the bare back of the ridge, with two-foot shoulders and no guardrail, reminiscent of the Skyline Drive and the Smoky Mountains. With a hand on the door Carlene, who has made this trip once before, peers into the ravine, then at the endless stands of birch. “This looks familiar,” she says, all irony intended.
An hour into the trip we stop at a store that looks like a movie-front, painted in barn red with a sign that reads “Cigarettes sold at state minimum.” We pile out of the car, eager to stretch. Inside the store we find a barrel of pickles (no tongs, Dinny notes), pigs ears, a cooler of beer and two very polite older women behind the counter. We buy a diet Sun-Drop soda for Annette and walk back across the nearly deserted gravel lot to the car. “What else would you be doing?” Carlene asks, the first of many times during the trip.
Back on the road she turns in the front seat and reads aloud an article in AARP Bulletin about a man who travels college campuses challenging students to do a million acts of kindness in their lifetimes. That equates to 50 acts of kindness a day for 55 years. We look at each other and wonder aloud if any of us will live long enough to hit the mark. But we’re game.
We drive for another hour without seeing homes or people, passing a lone car and a dog wandering up the road, then enter a small town in Harden County. All of the homes have carports or porches that don’t extend all the way across their fronts. After two-and-a-half hours on the road we cross Pickwick Dam on the Tennessee River and turn left toward the town of Savannah, less than four miles from the Mississippi border. After a quick check-in we pile back into the car and head to a small restaurant on the main street for dinner with the crew from the factory.
The restaurant is fashionably dark, a converted clothing store with alternating black and white walls decorated with pop art. We are greeted warmly by Lisa and three others from the company. They are tolerating our tardiness and brash northern accents well. We order and settle down to shop talk. The appetizer comes—breaded crawfish tails. We pause for a moment of awed silence. Then Karen says, “Anything that’s breaded and served with cocktail sauce has to be good,” and everyone digs in.
Tomorrow: the Adamsville family.