We drive into Cherokee, the Great Smokies enfolding us like welcoming arms. We can rest easy here. I fled to these mountains years ago when life was chaos and uncertainty. My sister and my mother sheltered me and nourished me. I think of other times when my brothers, at their own crossroads, strengthened me. Ancient mountains, they know the secrets and pain of the past. God provided a place of healing.
As the familiar sights come into view, I think of happy times bringing my baby girls here. They dipped their toes in refreshing mountain streams and walked beneath boughs of green forest. They were welcomed and loved strong by aunts and uncles and cousins. I've never lived here, but when we pull into the gravel drive in front of my mom's house, this is coming home. The girls go up the ramp to the door ahead of us, shy. They haven't seen their grandma in three years. She draws them in with hugs and chatter and they are immediately at ease. As usual, she lays out a huge spread: her best-ever potato salad, Kentucky ham (Mom says that's the best kind too), jello with strawberries and real whipped cream, and anything you could possibly want to drink. We fill up on food and love.
Later we walk through the shops and the museum. We've been in all these places so many times before, but it's tradition! My mom doesn't seem to mind doing it all over again. The girls, older, learn more and understand more each time. The town is slow and sleepy this day. Deserted almost. Where are the tourists? Mom says it's the economy. We note which hotel has changed hands and name, which stores have closed up. Nothing stays the same. Except for the circling mountains. Their faithful presence brings us peace.