Friday, December 23, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #8

Russ and Helen's new home. circa 1949/50
Russ took a photo of Helen in front of their new home
He was a blue-eyed veteran back home from the Navy and World War II. She was a dark-haired waitress at the bus stop counter, a Sevier County farm girl still a teenager who had moved to the resort town to earn a living.

She would have nothing to do with his flirty way. She had been told about sailor boys. But he persisted and they courted, it went well and in time they eloped to Clayton, Georgia.

And Helen took a photo of Russ
The he was Russell Homer Bales. The she was Mary Helen Bales, nee Latham. It was 68 years ago today that they were married: December 23, 1948just two days before Christmas

A house was built on the hill for them with materials bought by his mother Pearl. It was a big house, oak hardwood floors, knotty pine paneled walls with six bedrooms and two baths. 

Perhaps, Pearl expected a gaggle of grandchildren, that was the way in the mountains but Russell and Helen decided two were enough, a boy and a girl. Darlene Bales Brett was the second-born, and me? I was the first. 

Russ and Helen spent their entire 60 year marriage in this one home. 

For decades this house and two seasonal rentals below it were the center of the family's universe. The absolute center. And times were good. It was a happy family that celebrated over 50 Christmases in a big way in the living room that looked out on the rest of the world.

Russ with squirrels
Dad was a bridge between the old ways and the new. He was an apiarist and kept as many as 20 beehives on the hill behind the house. There was always fresh honey on the table and he sold the extra for two dollars a quart to the tourists in the summer. He also hunted during squirrel season in the fall for fresh meat for the table, carrying on the hunter-gatherer ways of his father. While at the same time, early on his day job was a carpenter, working on many of the new buildings being created for the booming tourist industry. And he was never without work. Today, his naturalist son chases squirrels away from the bird-feeders but he wouldn't think of eating one. That was then. This is now.   

But on Monday evening, November 28, all the homes and support houses in this story and in the photographs along side burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Such an inferno, even the grass was charred away.

All of it gone.

The detritus that's left? Only ashes, cinder blocks and cobblestones carried up from Baskins Creek, our hereditary water. 

But this is but one home and the one story that it contained. Hundreds of homes burned to the ground that horrific night in Gatlinburg and Sevier County. Other families lost so very much more. Feel for them. Help them. We lost the touchstones to 100,000 memories, but the memories are still there only the touchstones are gone. 

We miss you Mom and Dad. Happy anniversary.

So many pictures taken on those steps. This with Latham cousins, 1958
Winter snows, left 1966, Darlene right 1965 

Left 1965, Darlene and friend Donita right, 1962  
The last time I saw the old homeplace standing, November 2015

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1969" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

For links to other Gatlinburg history posts click:

No comments: