I grew up in—and still live in—Knoxville, a small city in the eastern half of Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. Whenever I travel I am always happy to “come home” to Knoxville again—the place I love, rich with beauty, and filled with good memories. Like the Wizard of Oz line, for me “There’s no place like home.”
Coming back from our vacation to the beach in late April, I felt a lift in my spirits as soon as we saw the mountains and hills of Tennessee on the horizon, and I smiled to see the sign: Welcome to Tennessee as we drove over the mountain toward home. Someone at the beach in South Carolina asked me, “What do you like so much about Knoxville and East Tennessee?” I offered several ready answers, but I’ve thought about that question often since.
What do I like about Knoxville? First, I love the diversity of the seasons. In East Tennessee, we experience four distinct seasons—a crisp fall rich with gorgeous color, a winter not too cold but offering a few snow days, blanketing the world in pretty white, but melting away quickly. Spring in Knoxville comes far earlier here than in cities up north, bringing with it a burst of color after the gray of winter, along with the return of green grass and leaves and an array of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs. The flowers I love so much return, too—crocus, daffodils, tulips, azaleas, and more. The fields and mountains awaken with wildflowers everywhere, including many varieties of mountain trillium like in the photo. The green then deepens and thickens as summer begins to arrive, the days growing balmy and lazy. With the air and water warmer, shorts and flip flops are the perfect daily wear, the days usually hot enough to run barefoot through the sprinkler, lie in the hammock and read, swim at the pool or lake, or wade in the cool mountain streams of the Smokies. Each month of the year holds its own beauty.
J.L. and I cherish our links into East Tennessee’s history and past, too. I grew up here in Knoxville, J.L. not far away in Athens, and both of us went to college at the University of Tennessee. Those years hold good memories for both of us as we met at UT, and after our marriage lived in an apartment near campus so I could walk to classes and finish my degree.
Both J.L’s and my families were early settlers to East Tennessee, too, tucking this region into our bloodlines. They came to this Appalachian wilderness in those early years to farm the land and help to build new towns and communities. J.L. and I were both told many fascinating stories about our early Tennessee ancestors. My mother’s stories were especially rich ones, as she grew up one of twelve children in a big two storied farmhouse. Childhood visits for both of us often took us out into the country to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles—giving us a chance to roam the fields, hike, and explore the out of doors, which we still love to do today.
Growing up in rural South Knoxville, I carry happy memories of my early childhood years. A treat when I was a girl was to take the bus into downtown Knoxville on Saturday or a warm summer’s day. In those years shopping was centered in downtown Knoxville before outlying malls and big shopping centers developed. Downtown with girlfriends I went to the movies, poked through the department stores, dime stores, and bookstores, went to the library, and ate lunch at Woolworths, the Blue Circle, or, when shopping with mother, at the S & S Cafeteria. When my first book published in 2009, J.L. and I held my Book Launch on the Star of Knoxville Riverboat downtown, and over 250 friends joined us to ride down the Tennessee River to celebrate my first published novel The Foster Girls. Whenever I see that old riverboat downtown, it brings a smile of remembrance of that good day.
Knoxville hosts many joyous and fun festivals year round, many centered around the old Market Square downtown. I remember shopping with my mother here as a girl, buying fresh vegetables or flowers from the farmers set up on the square. At festivals like the Dogwood Arts Festival, the vendors and crafters turn out to share their work, just like in the past. Often during the Dogwood Arts Festival Market Days, J.L. and I did a street signing in front of Union Avenue Bookstore for Flossie McNabb, talking to people as they walked to the Market Square. We attend many festivals around the area as visiting authors, helping to support events both in Knoxville and nearby. There is nothing more fun than a festival, and in Knoxville and East Tennessee people are warm and friendly, too—making these events even better. We’re already looking forward to the festivals on our schedule for this year. And maybe we’ll see you there!
Knoxville has won a lot of awards over the years and it’s easy to see why. In recent years it’s won awards as the “Nicest Place in America”, awards for “Best Places to Live” and “Best Places to Retire, a “Most Fun City” award, a “Best College Town” award, a “Summer Travel Destination Award,” and many more accolades. I know I’m prejudiced, but I can see how special Knoxville is. I can see why people want to buy homes in our part of the world, too. In traveling, I’m often shocked to see how homes are crammed so close together in many towns and cities that you could shake hands with your neighbor out the window! I’m grateful that here in Knoxville, most all the homes have spacious yards, lovely trees, shrubs, and flowers. Our home, where we’ve lived for over forty years, has a large yard and sits on a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood. I love living in a place where I can happily and safely take a long walk every day, stopping to talk to neighbors or to look at the flowers blooming along the way. Good neighbors and a happy home are blessings so many do not enjoy… but in Knoxville they are more common than in many other places. Or at least, it seems so to me. A sweet quote about home says: “Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends always belong, and laughter never ends.” Our home here in Knoxville is that for me.
Happy May … See you next month!
Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Several photos in this blog are free photos from dreamstime.