CAN THIS BE ME?
Looking at my reflection in the restroom mirror, I could scarcely believe that the dirty, disheveled image looking back was me!! How did such an innocent adventure cause me to look so disreputable?
On a July day morning, we had driven across the Southland in a steady rain. About noon, the clouds parted and the sun shone brightly. We were on a scenic trip through the central part of the United States having recently purchased a brand new automobile. Our previous day was spent visiting Graceland in Memphis. On this morning, we crossed the Tennessee River into Chattanooga, the site of many Civil War battles and a strategic railway center. The Cherokee Indians had given Chattanooga its name.
The famous “Chattanooga Choo Choo” popularized by Glenn Miller’s band could be seen at a downtown restored rail terminal museum, along with other antique trains. An original car and engine from the famous track 29 was on display. We very much wanted to see the exhibit, but the rain had made the day hot and sticky, so we decided against stopping there.
After checking into our motel, and unloading our luggage in our room, we were at liberty to explore. We were informed that at the top of “Lookout Mountain” was a cog railway that sold roundtrip rides. Fran drove our car up the steep, narrow, winding road to the top of the mountain. When we reached the summit, the terrain leveled out as if it had been flattened especially to accommodate a small settlement of houses. The elevation was only 2,126 feet, but a person’s view could extend to seven states from the mountaintop.
The first site we came upon was an entrance to the Chickamauga Military National Park. It contained the remnants of Confederate buildings. We decided to explore. After touring a log cabin, containing rustic furnishings, as well as an office for the Park Ranger, we came out onto a large, flat area of mowed grass in front of the cabin. It probably had been a parade ground for the military.
About a hundred yards away, I spotted a Civil War monument; along side of it were some old cannons. I enjoyed taking souvenir pictures, so I mentioned to Fran that I wanted to get a closer view. As I began to run across the parade ground, Fran cried out for me to STOP! It was too late. The morning rain had not had a chance to soak into the ground. There was still about an inch or more of water under the grass, which I failed to notice. Frantically, I attempted to reverse my steps, but the ground was too mushy, making it very slippery. It became impossible to hold my balance. I fell with a splat on my back. I could feel my clothing begin to soak up the morning rain. People milling around saw me lying on my back in the muck, but were hesitant to help me get back up. Fortunately, I managed to hold the camera up in the air, so cautiously Fran came over and rescued it from my hand. He was concerned about my condition, but hesitated to get stuck in the mud too.
Just then, a lovely woman stopped and spoke to me. She said she was a nurse, and that I should take my time standing up. My body began to register the pain of the fall, so her advice was appreciated and well taken. But the more I struggled to get up, the more I stirred up the muddy water. Fran gave me his hand, and I finally arose to my feet. The Park Ranger came over to inquire about my condition. Then the nurse said “Show a little Southern hospitality, and allow this lady to get cleaned up in your washroom.” He eyed me dubiously, since I was dripping mud, but with a bit of reluctance, he gave his approval.
A private washroom had been dug out underneath the 150-year-old log cabin. Cement stairs leading down to it were moist and coated with green, mossy slime. The place resembled a dark cave. It was crudely built, but along with a dilapidated toilet, I was happy to see a small sink hanging on one wall. Hanging from the ceiling was a bare light bulb with a pull chain. The room had a musty odor, with a strong smell of mildew. The doorway offered the only ventilation.
I removed everything except my underwear. It was soaked too but modesty prevailed, since I didn’t know who might wander through the doorway. I vainly tried to wash the dirt off of my clothes in the sink. Wringing them out the best I could, I hung them on a hook on the wall. Attempting to clean the dirt off of my arms and legs was difficult because there wasn’t any soap and only a few paper towels. My wet and soiled garments felt clammy as I put them on again. Even my shoes were filthy and soggy, but we had no change of clothing with us, because we had not anticipated such an accident.
As I emerged from the cellar still dripping wet, I felt embarrassed to have my husband, who was patiently waiting, see me. Fran found an old towel in the trunk of our car. He placed it on the front seat for me to sit on, and put down as many newspapers as he could find to put my feet on. I made a supreme effort not to lean back and soil the car’s seat cushions.
Several miles up the road was the cog railway station where I now hoped to tidy up a bit more. The train ride would take about an hour to complete the round trip journey. The one-way fare was $4.00 each and $5.00 for a round trip. Considering that the incline of the track was over 72 degrees, it was difficult to conceive how anyone would want to save a dollar climbing back up the mountain on foot.
In the station’s restroom, I used an electric wall drier to help me dry my clothes. While I was standing with my back to the wall, holding my wet skirt up over my head, blowing the hot air that made my skirt look like wind in the sails of a ship, a woman came bursting through the door. She let out a gasp and quickly backed out the door in a panic, obviously forgetting her need of the toilet. Undoubtedly, she fled to her husband to relate the bizarre apparition she had just witnessed.
I emerged from the ladies room feeling a bit drier. When I told Fran about the woman's reaction, he began to laugh. That started me laughing too, and I felt a bit better. The entire afternoon now seemed silly, as well as painful and embarrassing.
Fran and I stood at the top of the railway station, and enjoyed the spectacularly beautiful view of the Tennessee Valley below. We abandoned the idea of taking the ride on Chattanooga’s famous Cog Railroad. Our journey to the top of “Lookout Mountain” was over. Now, all I wanted was a shower and some clean clothes.
”Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”
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