Friday, July 9, 2010

We didn't know Jack (but now we do)

Though the Halls rose early, the sun took it's sweet time to get up. Overcast and grey, it was hard to enjoy the beauty of the Appalachian hills, but the consolation that the longer the sun was a sluggabed, the cooler it would remain, was a powerful one. A scorching summer heat wave seemed to be following the Halls into the South, so they were grateful for any respite.Mr. Hall had the flightplan fixed early, for he had flown this path before, but it was all new to Mrs. H. "We're off to catch some lightning in a jar- white lightning, to be specific," he said. Nestled in a tiny hollow (or "hollar" in the vernacular of the locals) was the quaint inviting distillery of Geo. Dickel, maker of Tennessee Sippin' Whiskey. Smaller than most distilleries, it was proud of the fact that they only made what they could control, and that quality trumped quantity every time. Wild turkeys met the Halls in the parking lot as they headed over to catch the tourguide; they were wise enough not to follow the Halls through the plant for the smell of raw mash was potent and heavy throughout. Most bourbons are distilled once, but to be a true Tennessee whiskey the potion must be twice distilled and aged in a burnt oak barrel. So dedicated to the craft are these practitioners that they supervise even the making of the charcoal that they use to filter the brew (locally grown sugar maple reduced by a controlled burn). The aroma of whiskey was so strong in the barns holding the aging spirits that the Halls emerged smelling somewhat pickled themselves. Outside it was amusing to see chairs arranged in neat rows, facing a podium. When questioned, the guide explained they were setting up the seating arrangements for a wedding to be performed there later that afternoon. ("I guess that rules out any guesses that the happy couple met at an AA meeting," quipped Mrs. Hall.)

Having found their way out of the little valley, the Halls continued on their appointed rounds through the main thoroughfare. After passing tent after colorful tent, each boasting more variety and excitement than the next, he could stand it no more. "That's it- I have to stop. I want to buy some fireworks!" Mr. Hall executed a sharply banked turn and deposited the rental in an open field. Displayed on simple tables under the red and yellow tent were fireworks of all manner and calibre. Mr. Hall purchased enough noisemakers to quell several inner childs and Mrs. H. managed to find a few to suit her fancy as well. They were just about to pull out of the field when Mrs. Hall noticed a sign advertising a Beechcraft museum close by. "I know where that is," said Mr. Hall, "I've flown into the airport right next to it a number of times." And, ignoring the GPS instructions, cut through a parking lot and went off down a series of back roads. Sure enough, the tiny airport was still there, as well as some old timers with whom to swap stories and get instructions. "If you want to get to the Beechcraft museum, jest go around the gate (it's usually open), cut through those hangers, go down the dirt road and there you'll be." Great instructions, just wrong time; the museum was closed indefinitely. They hopped back in the car and kept on moving.

Keeping with the theme of Tennessee whiskey, they headed over to Lynchberg, to see whiskey making on a much larger scale. Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel was not a large man physically,(as seen in the life-size picture of him next to Mr. Hall) but the impact he has had on the area has been huge. The Jack Daniels distillery is a major operation, not only churning out a significant amount of the sipping whiskey in this country, but they manage to navigate copious amount of sightseers and devotees of the distillate in an entertaining but orderly fashion. Again the Halls trudged through the still rooms and the aging barns and again they emerged fragrant. Happily, at the end of the tour, the proprietors were considerate enough to give everyone a glass of lemonade, to help refresh them in the heat. After the tour they scooted out to the town of Lynchberg and checked out the Red Caboose, for barbeque sandwiches and lively atmosphere. The Red Caboose does a live radio show right out of the dining room on Saturday mornings and as the proprietor will tell you, several prominent country/western singers have been known to drop in unannounced to join in the fun. Mr. Hall found it fun just to sit in its jolly train centered atmosphere, but they had miles to go before they sleep, so it was time to get moving again.

In a town not far from Lynchberg, on their way to the hotel, they encountered that particularly American summertime ritual, the small town holiday festival. All the children's games and rides were homemade, from the weighted coke bottle ring toss to the happy toddler "cow train" made of painted recycled plastic water holders. It was a cheerful testament to the power of creativity and genuine homespun ingenuity, and it made the Halls proud just to stand and watch and be a part of it.
Next episode: The road to Memphis, and some Fourth of July red, white and Blues. Stay tuned!

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