And that’s what I love about the South.

So it’s Memorial Day and I’m in Gatlinburg– yes, on purpose.

We come here every year for Family Fest and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. I love this town; there, I said it! Look, I know it’s tacky and overcrowded and apparently an irony-free zone where everywhere you look there are people wearing tee-shirts with teddy bears holding hearts on them, and substantial women who have crammed their child-bearing hips into terry cloth streeeeeeetch shorts that say ‘Juicy’ across the the rear, and heavily tattooed men (possibly done by themselves in prison) who feel compelled to hold onto their pants (and genitalia) just to keep them (the pants, not the genitalia) (hopefully) from falling down around their oversized sneaks. I know all that. But I am from Arkansas, remember? I have a high tolerance for fried foods, rednecks and traffic so actually, this whole area is like a match made in heaven for me.

And also? There are these:

During Family Fest we always stay at the same nice little family-owned hotel. It’s conveniently located right in the middle of town and every morning they bring you homemade donuts which automatically raises it to 4-star status in my book. But when Family Fest is over, we like to move up onto the mountain and spend a few days just hanging out. We try to find a chalet with the best view possible– that’s my priority anyway, the girls are a little more focused on whether or not they have to (God forbid) share a bed and whether or not there is a pool table. We lucked out this time and got all of the above PLUS foosball, so everybody’s happy.

I have to tell you guys about something that happened today.

Since we’re settling into our little rental place for a couple of days, we need some groceries because schlepping down the mountain to eat out at restaurants three times a day is expensive and time-consuming. After all, the whole point of being up here is so we can loaf around and watch TV read books and every once in a while look out of the window and go, “OH! Beautiful!” So we need a well-stocked larder. Now I could’ve gone for a serious grocery-shop at the WalMart in Pigeon Forge, but I wasn’t that motivated so I just headed for the closest store, which is a Food Lion in Gatlinburg. I got my cart and my list and headed inside, pausing at the produce area to peruse a display of locally made jellies, preserves and pickles. I picked up a good-looking jar of homemade salsa, found some big fat strawberries to slice over our cereal, and started leisurely shopping my way towards the rear of the store and the meat case. As I stood there trying to decide between two different brands of Italian sausage, the store’s intercom system suddenly made that squawky static noise that usually precedes an announcement. But instead of hearing something like “Clean-up on aisle four,” a twangy middle-aged male voice said in a ponderous tone, “Shoppers, I’d like your attention for a moment, if I may.” There was a pause– and I was really only half-listening because this Italian sausage thing was commanding all of my attention– and then he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, in honor of Memorial Day the management and staff of Food Lion would like to invite you to join us in a moment of silence to honor our armed forces, especially our fallen heroes who have died on foreign soil to protect the freedom we all hold so dear.”

I’ll be honest with you, I immediately started looking around and grinning at my fellow shoppers because, come on, really? We’re going to have a Moment of Silence right here in the meat department?  I was surrounded by whiny kids, harried moms, a burly guy picking up a six-pack, teenagers in flip-flops, an older woman in one of those scooter-things… It just seemed a strange time, place and audience for an impromptu Salute to the Troops! But as I placed my sausage selection in the cart and turned around to start up the pasta aisle, my grin faded as I suddenly realized that I was the only one moving. As far as I could see in every part of the store people were standing stock-still, many of them with bowed heads. For a full 60 seconds, the only sound in Food Lion was the whirring of the air conditioning system and the hum of the freezers. The cash registers were still. No one moved. I quickly bowed my own head and squeezed my eyes shut, more out of embarrassment than anything else. But in spite of my snarky little self (and because I’m highly suggestible), my thoughts did indeed turn to the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, and then to the veterans of the Gulf War, and Vietnam and every other war, everywhere. Unexpectedly a prayer began forming in my heart, and I pictured it joining all of the other prayers that I just knew were drifting up out of that store like smoke. I prayed for mercy and forgiveness for this country, and for His peace to triumph over all of our violence. It was the weirdest thing. Tori, the Reluctant Patriot, having herself a little epiphany right there in the middle of the dang Food Lion!  I actually blinked away a tear and just then the man’s voice came over the intercom again and said simply, “Thank you. God bless America.”

The store came back to life, like flipping a switch. Everybody went on about their business. I finished my list and drove back up the mountain. Tonight while I was making my baked ziti dinner, I found myself thinking again about that moment in the grocery store. “Only in the South,” I thought, shaking my head and smiling to myself as I folded the Italian sausage into the marinara sauce. But it wasn’t a cynical smile this time. It was actually tinged with something that felt a little bit more like… pride.

29 Responses

  1. auburn60

    Well,as a true daughter of the South I gotta say–‘heck,yeah!’

    I would have been weepy,too.
    Russ and I were grinning (I think at each other) during ‘God Bless the USA’ the other night. Me– crying.
    I was at the airport in Atlanta one time when a whole bunch of military people de-planed and I saw that whole hanger of weary mothers and jaded business men rise to their feet and start clapping as these kids (cause that’s what they were–kids) started moving through the airport. I was a bawling mess. Just filled my heart with pride and sadness and some kind of motherly thing that made me want to throw my arms around each of them. Which probably would have gotten me arrested.

  2. rockin robyn

    O.K. I feel bad… in the beginning there you had me roaring laughing and then I got all sincere following your lead – wow that was something special.

    I have a little story to share… It is tradition – well it’s just special to my mom to get flowers for her family’s graves (my grandparents and my two uncles – her whole immediate family). So I take her out to eat at a nice restaurant and then we head to the cemetery to put the flowers on the graves. Well, in my heart I just can’t help but look around at all the American flags on the military graves. In your heart you just can’t help but… well I just can’t help but glance at the graves and say a quiet “thank-you” to that stone or that grave for serving our country. That little trip always humbles me in that way – just for that second and forces me to remember them on this special day…(we did that on Friday – together)

    So today I grabbed one of my sisters and stuffed her in the vehicle and we headed to another cemetery (just doing a little tombstone genealogy research) and as I approached the graveyard, I put on my turn signal to turn left into the grounds and I’m slowing up (waiting on on coming traffic) and this young punk comes up behind me laying on his horn and waving his arm (not to say hi!) and I just looked at him in my rear view and didn’t do or say anything aggressive in response to his actions — in my heart I truly said a prayer for him that he would soon know the respect of what a cemetery represents… loved ones no longer with us. A day like today and that cemetery was loaded with cars coming and going and that punk chose to act like that when I was only seconds from getting out of his way. If only the young would grasp that sooner!!!! I truly felt sorry for him representing our young today! [stepping down from soapbox – now]

  3. marlei

    absolutely fabulous tori…

  4. joiersavage

    Wow. You are incredibly articulate! What a great moment. As I read what you wrote, it felt like I was there, in the grocery store. We had a similar moment of silent meditation today in the hospital where I work, but someone forgot to tell the hospital operator. About 30 seconds into the silence, a twangy crackle announced, “Doctor Patel, call 805.” And when they call for Dr. Patel, due to the strong influence of East Texas in the voice, it sounds as though they are calling for a Dr. Potato. Now I will always associate Memorial Day with Dr. Potato.

  5. themema

    Aw, Tori. I love your story. You are gifted in the way you can take the words we all know and line them up to be funny, poignant, or whatever else you want them to be.

    I am presuming that it was 3:00 when the silence was announced. I guess up their in them thar hills, you didn’t hear that the president called for a minute of silence to honor our fallen military.

  6. jonny

    Wow. And, yes. God bless America, her president, Americans wherever they may be. Peace. Thanks!

  7. rachelbaker

    This time last year that is where I was. On a holiday (vacation) of a lifetime in a cabin in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. Oh, how I would love to go back again, but I will have to wait until the kids are cope-able with on a long plane journey!

    You Americans, particularly you Southerners, should be proud. Us English could learn so much from your genuineness, courtesy, friendliness, unashamedness (?), and patriotism. You live where people honour the heroes, where people still stop in respect when a funeral procession passes by, and where people go out of their way to help each other. What’s more, people openly ask God to Bless each other and your beautiful land. All of this and a sense of humour!!

    So may I put my cynical,self-absorbed Englishness to one side and say a belated Happy Memorial Day to to you all and God Bless you and your country.

  8. ruthiebear

    I love the Smoky MOuntains. We are headed that way in just a few days. You have described Gatlinburg perfectly. But I teared up when I read about your experience in FOod Lion. It reminds me of what happened during the funeral procession for my father from the funeral home to the cemetary. I was born and raised in NJ. My mom was from central Tennessee. When Dad retired they moved there. In two weeks he was gone. I had never attended a SOuthern funeral until then. Iwas 30 years old. As we drove from the funeral home to the cemetary, every car on the road pulled over and stopped. Every person paused and put their hand over their heart. I was awed. SUch respect. In Nj cars try to cut into the funeral procession because they are in such a hurry. I hope the SOuth never changes in this.

  9. ZackLi

    Brilliant. I love your words. The mountains are nice too!

  10. MostlySunny

    OK…so I’m speaking up on behalf of us Northerners!!! (and Westerners…I’m originally from California). We do these things, too! You southerners are just better at it and more vocal about it.

    I am now reminded every day. We have a new national cemetery – The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies – just a mile from my house. I go by it every day on my way to work. The American flag is waving proudly; when it’s at half staff, I know there’s a funeral that day and I’m reminded to remember this soldier – whether old or young – who served.

    I have an uncle, whom I never met, buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. The Dutch, so thankful for the Americans for liberating them, adopt a grave of an American soldier. Each family tends the grave – flowers, flags, etc. – since we can’t. And this is passed down – the 2nd generation is now tending to my uncle’s grave. I’ve been in contact with this family; the lady’s family started this when she was just a teenager and she has passed this on to her daughter. My niece was there 2 summers ago; the first in our family to every visit. When they found out she was family, they treated her like royalty! What great people!

    I’m like a mother hen at an airport. If I see soldiers in uniform (and most of them ARE kids), I try to speak to every one of them and thank them for serving.

    And small airports are great. I fly into Fresno to go up to the mountains to see my Dad (Navy man, WW II – Pacific, USS Louisville). A voice will come on the PA system announcing a soldier’s name “Arriving at Gate___; please stand and thank him/her and welcome him/her home as he/she passes by” (There’s only one way in and out to the gates, so everyone will see this person). It is truly a scene to stop and watch and be thankful to be a small part of. I’m usually a blubbering mess by the time I get to the Hertz counter.

    Did anyone happen to catch the HBO (I think) movie called “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon a couple of months ago? During the scene when he’s following the hearse for the 5 hour drive to Wyoming, and the truckers and cars fell in line with their lights on in this random-spur-of-the-moment funeral procession in the middle of nowhere, I teard up and said “That’s the America I know!”

    May we never forget…

  11. MostlySunny

    Now, Gatlinburg…on a holiday weekend. YIKES! We went to Family Fest – ONCE – a few years ago. About got smothered and trampled to death…Oh, how I miss Praise Gathering…

  12. Phyllis R

    WOW Tori, what a nice story. I was a weepy mess most of the day yesterday. :) The grave right across from my Poppy is a young man that gave his life in Iraq. I had to stand at his grave yesterday…well, there just aren’t words for what I felt…so I will hush. :)

  13. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Seems to me that Memorial Day was observed more completely this year than ever before….and people were feeling the meaning more deeply. As someone else mentioned, I felt as if I were githting back a tear off and on all day long.

    Oh my, Tori, I do believe that beautiful picture is of the mountains….when you posted it in Russ’ Group, I thought it was the ocean. Thought you had yourself a terrific invention…taking a long-range telescope picture of the ocean while up in them thar mountains. Okay, so I don’t see so good.

  14. BobbyMaupin

    Tori, I have been a Russ Taff fan ever since he left the Imperials. Not “because” he left, but because of when I first started listening to their music and became a fan of that powerful voice, I went to the 1st concert that was close to my town, low and behold, there was Paul Smith! Anywho, with that said, I have been a fan of that husband of yours for quite a while. With that said, (wow….2 with that said’s in a row) when I heard you had a blog I wanted to get to know more about you and your family. Boy Howdy have I ever gotten to know more about you and your family. Not at all what I expected, but more and better. After maybe a hundred times of thinking, “I oughta join and make a comment”, I finally did. You have made me BLOL (Belly Laugh Out Loud) more times than I can count. And made me bawl til I couldn’t read or talk or anything. (YES I’M A MAN and I’ll cry if I want to dang it) You are such a gifted writer and as it has been said above, it’s as if it actually “becomes real” as ya read. With one more “with that said”, I’ll say, “ENOUGH SAID!” I’m a crappy writer.

    I reckon it wasn’t enough said, cause I need to say:I love you, Russ, Madi and Charlotte!

  15. gracelynn

    That was an amazing account to read, especially right before I head off to bed for the night. That is awesome that the people there are willing to do that. It’s sad that this nation takes so much of their freedom for granted – I see that everyday in the classroom setting with the kids. Another teacher and I do our best to make the kids aware of the needs and lives of our men and women overseas – we collect items for the troops and send them over when we can. At least the small community where I teach does try to do that.

    I love your picture of the Smokies. Well I made it back home from Gatlinburg in one piece! Enjoyed it so much too! 10 more days of school! LOL

  16. nashbabe

    Actually, maybe it’s “only in the South” and “only in Rural America”. I think they would do something like that in my little Minnesota farm town, or at least along the same lines.

    My hubs is waking up to a view like that every weekday at the southern outpost. He is working in Chattanooga (well, ya know, it’s the economic reality these days) and our rental place is on the next ridge over from Lookout Mt. I have pics on my blog but more on FB showing the fab sunrise. Don’t cha just love the wisps of clouds in the valleys below? I know I do. I’m glad you had fun.

  17. Debbiethomas

    Hello Tori. The CEO of Thomas Nelson Pubs. tweeted about your creative ‘About’ page, so I came to visit. Very interesting – and I was pleasantly surprised to see several connecting points. Anyway, I loved your post about the Food Lion, because even though the media portrays people as jaded, most still care. My son is in the Marine Reserves and hasn’t been deployed (here’s hoping he spends his 8 years in boredom)but we hear stories of incredible support all the time. Simple things like stopping for a moment of silence while grocery shopping.
    On Memorial Day, my husband and I were in Bridgeport, CA visiting the country’s longest single-span covered bridge (who knew?) and we went down to a tiny cemetery where pioneers of the Gold Rush and their descendants had been buried. I was surprised-and touched-to see that family members had come by that day to put flowers on the graves of the two WWII servicemen buried there. Now, this cemetery is 20+ miles outside of the closest small town on a steep, windy road that should be named “Carsick Alley” but they had made the trek.

    BTW, I actually emailed Cracker Barrel to see if they would build one in my town (Auburn, Calif.) because I was having withdrawals, but the closest one is in Arizona. I usually visit my sister in Lebanon in the fall to get my chicken and dumplings fix.


    Hey folks! Several things here: 1) These SO VERY Librarians here are about to put me out AGAIN, due to blubbering! I am gonna have to turn them on to this blog, seriously! Then they can boohoo w/ me! The Food Lion thang was sooooooooooooooo awesome! I would’ve been boohooing there, too! What’s w/ all this cryin at this age, anyway? It has started a – when I got saved, and b – when I hit 40.

    2) GristinNC: have no fear – you are not the only person to have trouble w/ that dadblasted password! And, NO! it is not a NC issue w/ us! (I heard some of ya’ll thinkin’ that!)

    3) Fanastic pic! Was that really a shot from your chalet? WOW!

    4) Is the cute curly-haired shoe guy w/such compassion married? =)
    (couldn’t resist that one, sorry!) And, they sure do look a heck of alot better than those roller shoes!

    5) I NEED HELP!!!!!!! YA’LL!!!! Ever since my deliverance from crack, alcohol & cigs, I have gained literally 50 lbs! I walk a mile every am b4 chasing 1st graders around for half a day, have cut out sodas, sugars, coffee, HATE WATER!!! Go to bed @ 9PM, rise @ 6AM. Am eating lowfat and low caloric foods, fresh stuff, ya know. Does anyone out there have any good , easy ideas for me? I have fallen in love w/ nuked apples for breakfast, along w/ bananas. Fig newtons are pretty good to me, and low in fat and sugars. Am trying to stay away from fried stuff, gravies, bread except whole wheat rye. WHAT TO DO!

    I know that even if I do not get any responses, it felt real good to get that of my chest!


    oh, and yep, I always have a ps to add – Tori, what’s up w/ Russ’ site? Working on it again? I cannot pull it up, and that is usually how I get here. found another route, but still cannot check up on your hubby!

  20. mkittrell

    Hello, Tori.
    I am a first-time visitor to your site and am pleased with its content. Nice reading. I have been a fan of your husband for many, many years. I missed his music from The Imperials and gave up hope of never hearing it again until I discovered That site, as you probably know, is run by the wife of Armond Morales, another great Imperials singer. Now I have access to all his earlier recordings and having a great time with the music from his years with The Imperials. It’s funny how the blogging world can connect us all. I publish a blog myself featuring photography from around my hometown of Vicksburg, Miss — Would love for you to visit.

  21. mkittrell
  22. Southern Lady

    Hi, Tori …

    I found you through the comment you left on Marty Kittrell’s blog, and I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed your story about your visit to the Food Lion. It gave me chill bumps and made me very proud to be from the South (Vicksburg, MS), where things like that happen every day and we just take them for granted.

    I look forward to reading more of your stories and hope you will visit my blog, too. You can find me at Southern Lagniappe (



  23. jonny

    Well, DELIVERED, I gave up “sugared” juices and sodas a year and a half ago. Also cut down on other sugared things and red meats, especially pork. I live in the center so don’t have or use a car to get to most places. Basically a lot of walking. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight as a result. I’m guessing around 30 pounds. Oh, and I rarely touch fried food! I guess, just keep doing more of the same?? = / Oh, and I’m also not big on water but I’m able to tolerate it if cold and/or with bubbles.

  24. GRITSinNC

    Tori, I started off feeling sorry for you that the closest store for your wonderful retreat was a Food Lion (same here…after being a life-long city dweller, I moved to a small town practically in the boonies but I love it…except for the Food Lion). Then I started getting ticked off because you started to keep shopping during the “moment of silence”, then you had me in tears over the feelings that then came over you. God bless America and God bless Tori. You have the most entertaining way of writing I’ve ever seen.

    I’m SO proud to be a Southerner! Hence my user name. GRITS is supposed to stand for “Girl raised in the South” but in my case, it’s now “Granny raised in the South”.

    DELIVERED, have you tried the little packs of Crystal Lite in your water? I hate water also but since I started having a problem with dehydration, I’ve started buying cases of the 16.9 oz bottles of water and adding Crystal Lite. You have to try a bunch of flavors to find what you like but most are pretty good. The Pink Lemonade really tastes like lemonade. I normally drink sweet iced-tea (I AM Southern after all) all day, thinking I was getting plenty of water, but was informed that the caffiene takes away the hydration advantage, or something dumb like that, so I try to add at least one bottle of water to my intake. :o)

    My sister lost a lot just by doing a lot of walking and cutting back on fats. I gained after stopping smoking in ’95 because I had to have something in my mouth all the time, something crunchy like nuts, chips & candy which are not low calorie. :o) However, once I got over the addiction and no longer had to keep crunching something, it leveled off.

    Good luck, don’t despair. Be proud!

  25. LindaB

    Great story, Tori! (Hey! That rhymes!) We love our military and veterans in Michigan too! On a huge new billboard near our little town is a picture of a soldier……sweaty and dirty…..probably in Iraq. And underneath it says, “THE REAL AMERICAN IDOL”! I like that!

    I love people who think honor, and courage, and doing one’s duty are a way of life! I love people who think freedom is so precious that they would risk their lives to keep it and/or to give it to someone else. I think they are very special human beings, and I’ll honor them in the grocery store or any other place the opportunity arises!

  26. tori

    Hello all you dear readers, you! I meant to comment on each and every one of your wonderful comments individually, but we’re still up here in the mountains and I’ve got a writing deadline and Russ left yesterday to go do this weekend’s Homecoming concerts and… like that.

    So please accept this generic Thank You So Very Much, and please apply it to you personally– yes, I do mean YOU, I see you ducking behind the Babybloomr sign up there! I can’t tell you how much your comments mean to me, I read them, re-read them, read them out loud to various family members and passersby– it feels very much like a conversation, and I do so enjoy talking with you.

    I’m getting ready to go wake up the girls so we can pack up and get out of our lovely chalet and head back home. Talk to you guys later.


    Ok- 3 tries b4 getting in! There has to be a better way, Tori! Patience IS NOT ONE OF MY VIRTUES!!!!! (it will be if i keep blogging, though!)

    And, get out of here! You were bloggin from way up there? I love you guys, but that terminal woulda been tha last thang on my mind!

    And, Grits – I have been drinkin those Crystal Lights, & have fallen in love w/ the Hawaiian Punch, (sugar free and very sweet!) I just can’t force myself to drink water so much! Plus, those little packets are so easy to travel w/! fit right in the jeans pocket! ANY MORE SUGGESTIONS OUT THERE?? I don’t want to have to change my blog handle to “TWO-TON TESSIE”!

  28. Leisa Hammett

    Dang, Tori. Ur Great. Funny and a grrreat writer. God Bless America. I woulda commented on sev. other posts, but I’m supposed to be in bed. But, in honor of our country….

  29. elginkid

    What a great story. My family and I love Gatlinburg. I know it’s cheesy and crowded, but that’s what makes it fun. On our first visit, our kids saw bright red candy apples. They asked what they were. I looked at my wife and she looked and me and we thought, “Oh my gosh, we are failures as parents. Our kids don’t even know what candy apples are.” Needless to say, we remedied that situation and all of us had delicious candy apples.

    Your story about the patriotism you experienced in the middle of a Food Lion is but one of the many reasons I’ve listed on my twitter profile @elginkid, “Oregonian by birth..Texan by choice”. There is truly something about the South that is unique, different and great.

    I loved the comments about the funeral processions in the South. Until I moved to Texas in 1989, I had never observed such a thing. When I first saw people pulling off the road and stopping, I was surprised. I was talking about this with a North Carolina native who has always lived in the South and she was totally shocked that up north we don’t do those kind of things. I told her that her job at my funeral was to watch for any misguided “Yankees” who might not pull over and show me the appropriate respect and advise them that if they didn’t pull over, “I’d be back to haunt them”.

    I enjoyed many of your posts. Great job!

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