A Tale of Two States Pt 1: Tennessee

On October 2013, I got invited to visit my longtime friend, Brandie, in Tennessee. I accepted, and contacted my cousin Martin, who lives in Texas, about whether I could add on a trip to see him too. He said yes, so I bought air tickets. This was a solo trip, as Mr Madnad not only detests flying, but also doesn’t know Brandie. He doesn’t really know my cousin much either, as Martin has been living in Houston for a good while now. My dearest friend offered a room in her home, and my cousin said I could stay with him, so everything was set.

There was a mad scramble for an appropriate suitcase at the last minute (who knew that you can’t buy luggage in October), but finally the day arrived and I was off. It was a bitter sweet parting as my coach to Heathrow left my husband in Nottingham. I was sad at leaving, but also excited about my trip.

My flight was leaving Heathrow at 7:30am, and so check-in commenced at 4:30. Unsurprisingly, the airport is dead at this time. Check-in is all automated now, so once I had handed in my checked luggage and passed through security, I was free to roam the departure area until my flight left. First things first, I got an over-priced bacon roll, and an over-priced orange juice to stave off the hunger pangs and then bought a cup of tea in a failed attempt to wake me up.

I finally boarded the plane, which seemed huge. The seats were in a row of 3 and 3. I had already requested a window seat and seated in an exit row, which I didnt realise at the time was a good thing, as this gave me way more leg room. An exit row is really only a burden should the plane suffer any difficulties, which fortunately it didn’t, as you have an obligation to help fellow passengers off the plane. I wasn’t as freaked out by the take off as I thought I would be. I don’t particularly enjoy flying either, but it’s more of a claustrophobic thing, so the roomy cabin actually helped enormously. Before I knew it, I was watching a movie, and enjoying (I use that term loosely) an inflight breakfast of rubber egg, rubber bacon, and a limp waffle. I watched Chef, which was a funny little movie. Having worked with chefs, I could relate to some of the inflated egos the movie featured. I started to feel sleepy then, so attempted to sleep but no joy. I gave up and watched a second movie, Robocop. It wasn’t great, but not as truly awful as I had been led to believe.

I was too tired to concentrate on another movie, so I switched the small screen over to flight plan, and tracked the plane through the rest of my journey to Washington. I was pleased to note that the first part of the US that I flew over was Maine. Sadly, we were at over 30,000+ feet, so all I could see below was cloud. Booooo.

Eventually, my plane landed in Washington, and the part of the journey that I was most nervous about commenced – US Customs. As it was still fairly early in the US, it wasn’t busy, and I actually sailed through, glowered at by the grumpy faces of the TSA, with relative ease. All done in 30 minutes. I had another 5½ hours to wait for my connection to Knoxville. Oh joy.

Washington airport is vast. I mean, hugely vast, and I was tempted to explore but I was so tired I had a headache, and first thing I bought on US soil was some Tylenol. I was however, able to connect to their free wifi so was able to let Mr Madnad know I had landed ok. I passed the time by watching Netflix or reading on my Nexus. After a few hours, the exhaustion was really getting to me. I had been awake for almost 24 hours after a poor nights sleep. My eyelids felt like rough grade sandpaper. I needed a coffee.

The problem here was I don’t drink coffee. I have tried on a handful of occasions to develop a taste for the rich dark liquid that so many seem to be unable to live without, but have always found it way to bitter for my delicate palate. I really love the aroma, so I have always felt that I should like it. I decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. I went to the nearest coffee stand and asked what was the sweetest coffee they served. “That would be a white chocolate mocha, ma’am”. After getting over the horror at being called ma’am like I was 73, I ordered said beverage. I added two sugars. It was not only drinkable, but I actually enjoyed it. I am still not sure if it was the exhaustion that helped or if the vast quantities of sugar and chocolate syrup helped, but the medicine went down and I briefly felt better. Twenty minutes later, I ordered another.

There was a mad dash across an airport the size of Luxembourg just prior to boarding due to a late gate change, but finally I sat in my Fred Flintstone-esque plane to Knoxville. Compared to the last bad boy I was on, this plane looked like I may have to peddle it. Touch down in Knoxville brought a sense of relief that my flights were over for a week, but I then got suddenly nervous about meeting Brandie.


Beautiful Brandie

I met Brandie through the Michael Sheen website I created back in 2009. She was one of the first people to participate in the short lived forum I had on there, and a big supporter of the site as it has grown. We became Facebook friends, and I have never looked back. For many years, we have communicated on an almost daily basis. I tell her things I can’t tell anyone else and, other than my husband, she probably knows me better than anyone in the world. She has a mad sense of humour, much like my own. We laugh like drains at the silliest things. She is beautiful, strong, smart and super caring. I love her to pieces. Over the years we have laughed together, cried together, and now we were finally going to meet. I had a panic that I would be a disappointment to her. I need not have worried. Brandie came to the airport with her mother and father, Shea and Randy, who I also know on Facebook, and you couldn’t meet two lovelier people. Within minutes, I felt completely relaxed in their company. These were old friends, even if we had only met mere moments earlier.

I spent the week hanging out with Brandie and her family. They have become my family and I adore them all. They are wonderful, honest, hilarious, down-to-earth, generous people. I honestly could not have asked for anything more. They made me feel at home, relaxed and part of their weird and wonderful family.

During my week with Brandie, we spent a lot of time in the small town of Middlesboro, which despite being less than 30 minutes away, is actually over the state border into Kentucky, and is the town where Shea and Randy live. I ate my first biscuits and gravy in Cracker Barrell there.


Shea and Randy

I went shopping at the mall one day with Shea & Brandie, in the hope of catching a glimpse of a Jason Momoa look-a-like. I personally feel the similarity to Mr Momoa was exaggerated, but he was still very handsome. I was delighted to pick up some Halloween moulds in the Dollar Store. Shea is the sweetest and kindest woman I have ever met. Randy is an avid amateur geologist, and generously gave me some delightful fossils and stones. He also gave me something called sorghum syrup. It’s a rich dark syrup, not dissimilar to maple syrup but made from a grass. It is not as bitter as molasses, but not as sweet as maple syrup. Its rich taste falls somewhere in between. I am considering making some toffee with it. He also made me drink moonshine, so I can cross that off the bucket list! It wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but not something I would be inclined to drink often. Maybe clean paint brushes with, perhaps.

As for the rest of her family, there was an all too brief visit from Brandie’s brother, Blake. He is a tall, handsome and very softly spoken man, with a wicked sense of humour that I would have liked to have gotten to know more. Brooke, Brandie’s eldest daughter, and also a mother herself, was just as delightful and fun as I had thought she would be. Her beautiful baby son, Ethan, was one of the best natured babies I have ever held. I am grateful to Brandie’s son, Nicholas, for loaning me his bedroom. He is super smart and has a great sense of humour. I admired him enormously as unusually for a young man, he had considered the options and looked at the facts and chose to be an atheist, which when you consider he is living smack in the middle of the bible belt, I applaud him. His life could potentially be made more difficult for the very fact he found reason. Nick’s twin sister, Bryanna, is a quiet, creative, funny and sassy girl, who is already a beautiful young woman. The two youngest children of Brandie’s, baby Shea and Everly, are lively and spirited girls, and are going to give their family a real run for their money as they grow. I sadly didn’t get to meet her eldest child, Bradon, as he lives with his father in Georgia. Maybe next time.

A cute B&B in Cumberland Gap Town

A cute B&B in Cumberland Gap Town

Brandie lives in an extremely beautiful part of the world near the Cumberland Gap.  The town of Cumberland Gap itself is quite possibly one of the cutest little places I have ever seen. It was the film set of Sleepy Hollow come to life. I half expected a headless horseman or something to come riding through any second. It didn’t seem real at all. The houses were so cute, and all decorated for fall and Halloween. If I was ever to move to that part of the world, I want to live in that town.

We also visited Cumberland Gap National Park. The Cumberland Gap is at the beginning of the Appalachians, and has a certain point where you can stand in the three states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia all at once. The scenery was jaw-dropping. Soaring mountains covered in trees, all wearing their autumn finery. The range of colours rivalled that of New England.




Cumberland Gap National Park

Historically this area had a large native population, and I was kinda hoping that I would be able to absorb some of the culture of the first people. Frustratingly, a Native American story teller was due to appear at the national park the day I was due to leave *sigh*

Leaving Knoxville to fly to Houston was again a bitter sweet moment. I was looking forward to seeing my cousin, but it was heart-breaking to leave my dearest friend and the family who had made me so very welcome. I miss them all so much, and wish daily that they were not so very far away.




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