"The first 18 years really shape you forever. It's like a glass of water filled with mud. You can pour clear water in until it appears clear, but there's still mud there," said Bruce Springsteen recently. And the mud that's in my blood washed down the north slope of Mt. LeConte. Once known as Bearskins Creek because Ursus americanus blood was also spilled into its waters, Baskins Creek was the center of our kid world. We walked it, waded it, fished it, swam it and watched it flood its banks, muddy and mad.
|Homer Daniel Bales|
Spending his boyhood at the Jim Bales homesite on Roaring Fork, he hopped the ridge and moved down Baskins. As a former logger, he was used to uneven terrain, granddad Homer was a mountain man. He made the most of what he had. He could be rather stoic and taciturn but what he understood was what he could build with his own two hands. That was real. Like the trucks he always drove, he was built Ford tough living just shy of 100 years (5 Jan 1899 to 3 Jan 1998).
We were one big extended family. Guests came every year from all over the southeast listening to Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney on the Motorola car radios. See Rock City signs were everywhere including birdhouses. Men wore slacks, narrow brimmed straw hats called pork-pies or caps and short-sleeved shirts of scratchy rayon or maybe simply plain white tees. They came to the creek to relax. The women wore Bermuda shorts and flip-flop sandals in the latest bright colors: chartreuse, turquoise and saffron. America had found a bright palette once again after the drabness of war. And everyone smoked, everyone except granddad Homer, either Lucky Strike, Camels or Pall Mall, the Marlboro Man came later. All the rentals had multiple ashtrays, they had to.
Granddad Homer even built a concert dam to hold back the water creating a manmade swimming hole, a kid haven. Who needs a heated pool when you could swim in creek water like Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan? It was an atypical childhood growing up in Gatlinburg.
|Sister Darlene standing in|
flooded road. 1966. © Bales family archive
For many, many years, Baskins Creek and those cloistered little cottages were my cosmos, my all and everything. But on Monday, November 28, the cabins built by Homer Bales depicted in these photos burned to the ground in less than an hour. It was Old Testament wrath or as close as I ever hope to come near it. Everything is gone—My Wonder Years—only ashes remain and the fire muddied the creek that flows through my veins yet again.
I'm a child of the creek. I'm a child of that creek, the same creek of Baskins Falls located three miles upstream where Grandmom Pearl once took her showers.
At some point you realize that everything you knew and loved is gone. And you're all alone.
© 2017 From the upcoming book,
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