My Love Affair With East Tennessee

Beyond the borders

Close connections between here and there

Sometimes it requires the ability to put some distance between you and the thing you love to really appreciate it that much more. What’s the old adage? If you truly love something, then let it go … ? Frankly, I never put a lot of stock in that. Why would you deny yourself something that means so much to you?

Consequently, I would never do that intentionally. But when I vacationed recently in the United Kingdom, I sensed a correlation between Great Britain and East Tennessee that made me feel that much closer to this place I love. It wasn’t so much a matter of absence making the heart grow fonder as a situation where I found a connection, one that reminded me of just how precious this place is.

It may seem odd that being overseas brought thoughts of home. But the fact that there are links between there and here is more than mere coincidence. As anyone who knows will tell you, many people who live in East Tennessee trace their origins back to the British Isles, particularly to Scotland and Ireland.

It also is apparent why these immigrants set their sights on our environs. As I have observed in my travels, there are distinct similarities between our two cultures. Looking out from our tour bus as we journeyed through the Scottish highlands, suitcase full of dirty laundry aside, I felt as if I was home, particularly as I observed the green rolling hills and farmland populated by grazing cows and dotted with rolled bales of hay. It’s a beautiful sight, and, looking at the landscape, I could not help but to feel grateful that – as lovely as it is – it had nothing on the place that I call home.

Likewise, the people that I met reminded me of the folks that live here, as well. They’re warm, gracious and friendly to a fault, and they possess an accent as distinct as our Southern drawl. There was nothing they wouldn’t do to make their visitors feel at home, and, here again, I felt an instant bond. Despite all the turmoil and conflict we often encounter in this world, I came to realize that most people are kind, considerate and only too willing to lend a hand when needed, without expectation that they will receive a reward or reciprocation in return. It could be a gesture as simple as a hotel employee breaking into song and entertaining us in the local pub – he was terrific, by the way. Or it could be a manager of the property treating us to bottled water and refreshments as we chatted back in the lobby, all in an attempt to make us aware that he was quite content to cater to our every need. In each case, it was more than the obligatory offer; as we got the sense that each of these individuals truly cared about our comfort and wanted to make us feel at home.

There were other cultural connections, as well. There is great history in the British Isles, and we had the opportunity to explore any number of magnificent castles where we could walk in the shadows of kings and queens who lived in these lavish abodes hundreds of years ago. It’s an amazing feeling to experience history firsthand, and the majesty of these ancient dwellings is daunting, indeed. Of course, we’re no strangers to the ongoing presence of the past here, either. Our legacy may not extend as far back as it does overseas, but it’s also rich in its own way. Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and the settlers that first populated this place, those hardy individuals who carved out their homesteads in places like Cades Cove and the mountains that marked the farthest reaches of the wilderness made their own history in ways that inspire us even today.

Finally, there’s another thread that may be the most obvious of all. It comes in the form of the music: the fiddles, banjos, mandolins and other vintage instruments that formed the basis of folk music and the traditional trappings that are indigenous to those environs. Remarkably, it’s strikingly similar to the folk music played in Appalachia, no small surprise considering that those early immigrants brought their instruments with them, creating the seminal sounds of bluegrass, folk and country music – melodies that are evident still in our communities and which remain as essential as ever.

There’s one more common connection, as well, and that’s the love of beer. Yes, the Brits love their brews as much as we do here. Beer and good cheer: That’s an axiom worth repeating, and no other three words better sum up that unbreakable bond.

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