Our Smoky Mountain cabin has been blessed with bookings for the next few months. You’ve heard the quote “The mountains are calling, and I must go”, right? They been hollering, y’all. And when I realized there was a 2 day opening, well, with our current stress levels, need for mountain air and homesickness for the cabin, we weren’t gonna pass those days up.
He’s gonna kill me, but I took this about 10 minutes after we arrived. Folks love the Smokies for a lot of reasons. The dinner shows, the stores, the mountains, the strip. The good food and restaurants. But not us. We love it for the chance to just “be”. Sitting on the couch watching TV, sleeping in, maybe even wearing your nightgown all day (I won’t confirm whether that did or didn’t happen yesterday 😬). No agenda, no hurry up and get here or there. Just peace. Blessed peace. Yes, there are calls and texts and responsibilities back home. Our home A/C quit working while we were gone. Sorry, Dylan. Really.
We had some good friends checking out the day we checked in, and she left her groceries there for me. She knows how much I love to cook and plan meals at the cabin. I was like heck yeah, adjusted my menu and the rest is history. The husband likes to sleep. And rest. And I like to cook. It soothes my soul. I can just hear my Momma laughing now. Saying, “But you’re not gonna be like me when you grow up”….I can also vividly remember her standing at the stove. And the plates I ate and filled without a true appreciation for the hands that fixed them. And taught me how even when I didn’t realize it.
Michele is one of those friends I’ve known forever because as a young bride of 20, I married into a family where my mother in law had a huge church family. Small community, everybody knew everybody (and their business) and my MIL ran the local funeral home. So when I say she knew everybody, she knew eeeery-body. And their momma. Michele went to church with my MIL, and I can remember always thinking how pretty she was every-time I saw her. She was a little older than me and we were just the kinda friends who say “Hey, girl” when we saw each other. It’s funny how life uses tragedy and joy and sorrow and happiness to not only send us to our knees, but to bring us closer.
See, earlier this year (way before we ever thought about buying this cabin), my friend Michele lost her 26 year old son in a boating accident. He was just a little older than my Dylan. And loved beyond measure just like I was by that community and church family out on Grant Mountain. And while we know that we will see Jaron again someday, my friend has a mother’s heart that is broken beyond repair. My friend that I hardly ever saw or thought about went to one that I prayed for. And railed at God for. Said, now listen here God. There you go with that not fair business.
So, when she messaged me that she was going to be our first guests at Blessed Nest, well, I was ecstatic. I knew by her fb posts she hadn’t been sleeping and for lack of a better word, she was just existing. I prayed blessings over her trip like I had never prayed for anything. When she messaged me and told me she had slept all night at the cabin for the first time since the accident, I won’t lie. I was having a bad day. Pity party. Tired of being a caregiver. Tired of work. But that message stopped me in my tracks. God don’t make mistakes, y’all.
Divorce is hard. Like really hard. Regrets are hard. I’ve said many times I divorced my ex husband, but not his family. And that’s true. Those are my people. This is gonna sound small, and dumb, but when I divorced I had lost my MIL and my Momma at that point. I remember having this thought of “I’m gonna walk into Heaven someday and Jan and Yaya are gonna meet me there and be so disappointed in us”. It haunted me.
So when I walked into the cabin, there on the counter lay a bag of macaroni noodles. I haven’t made macaroni and cheese since my divorce 10 years ago. I literally couldn’t. See, that was THE dish my MIL made. No one else’s could or ever will compare, but she took the time to tell us all her little secrets. Me, Stephanie, Amanda. So I knew that when you pour the boiling water off the noodles, you save some of that water to add back when you put in the cheese and butter and milk. I stared at that macaroni all evening Sunday and all day Monday. Almost threw it away. I mean, it wasn’t on the menu I had carefully planned. And would it really go with my pecan crusted chicken? And besides, I don’t even really care for cheese that much. Nope. I wasn’t doing it. Even leaned against the counter staring at it.
Fast forward, chicken and smashed red potatoes are in the oven, green beans are slow cooking, and I’m standing at the stove, stirring macaroni noodles and crying. Remembering a beautiful soul who was taken from us when she was just 41, who loved life and people. And she loved food. Her size 4 self could eat any grown man under the table. She loved Conway Twitty. She had a nightgown that said “Hello, darlin, I’d love to lay you down” on it. I’d give anything to have that gown. But hey, I’ve got the memories of it. And of Grandmother Jan.
I found myself sitting there telling my new husband the macaroni story, and about Jan. And then. Michele messaged me. Telling me about the last day of their trip, and how though her heart isn’t whole, those mountains and Cades Cove soothes her with peace and most of all with memories. About how when their kids were little they didn’t have much, and they would roll change just to have the gas to drive up for a day, staying in the Cove hiking and making memories. And how it’s the childhood memories of Jaron she holds most dear. So I tell her. About the macaroni, and my fear of getting to Heaven and Jan being disappointed in me. And she tells me of how Jan always asked prayer for us, and loved me. And that she’s pretty sure she understands and is gonna greet me with a smile. As will Jaron.
Until then, I’m just gonna thank God that even though there has been loss, great loss, his blessings have been too good to dwell. Michele is more than a “Hey, girl” friend now. She and I share a love of our son’s and of this cabin and a new friendship.
Fly high, Jaron Willmon. And when in doubt, make the macaroni. Always make the macaroni.