More Jackson County Opinions...

November 28, 2001

By Kerri Graffius
The Jackson Herald
November 28, 2001

A 'National Lampoon's' Christmas tradition
OK, I admit it, my family is a little freaky when it comes time for the holidays. Yep, we were the family that everyone seemed to know who we were and where we lived-and with the way we decorated our house for the holidays, you would think we preferred it like that.
Then again, growing up in a red, white and blue-painted house in the middle of the main street of my neighborhood, people couldn't help but notice that we went...well, a little overboard for Christmas.
To put it quite simply, we had the perfectionist-drive of Clarke W. Grissold from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and the die-hard Texas spirit of Hank from "King of the Hill." It's been said that when you live in Texas, no other place exists.
We were, after all, the "typical American family" living in the suburbs of Houston. Mom and Dad commuted to work every day; I was in the Girl Scouts; my sister was the little neighborhood kid that followed everyone around the place.... There was certainly nothing to indicate what lavish freaks we became for the holidays; we just did, for some reason.
So, while most of America was out shopping the day after Thanksgiving, my family was preparing for the mission at hand-to decorate the house, both inside and out, in just one day with candy canes, holly and whatever my mother had created in the garage that summer.
The day always began early. First, we would drive into nearby Tomball to hunt down the perfect tree at the Christmas tree farm. Forget fake trees from K mart, we did it the old-fashioned way: get a saw and take down the poor sap yourself.
After dragging the tree back to the cashier and shaking out the excess pine needles, one of the employees would strap the thing to the top of the mini-van.
My sister and I loved doing this old tradition when we were kids. Last year, I even dragged my boyfriend to a Christmas tree farm in Oconee County just to do the same thing. He still doesn't understand my family's obsession with the holidays, but I can't blame him.
While we were unloading the tree, my mother would pull out that Time-Life Classic Christmas Songs record and literally blast it through the house as "Operation Decorate Everything In Sight" officially began.
My mother usually stuck to decorating the inside of the house, which meant she first had to dig out at least 10 boxes full of crap from beneath the stairway, a.k.a. the "tornado closet." The one time we had to jump in there for a tornado, my sister came out with tinsel wrapped around her head.
My dad, however, would move to the outside to do his thing. While the Grissolds in the movie "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" streamed lights from every shingle on the roof, we simply hung them from every edge. Despite the fire hazard, practically 50 extension cords somehow ended up at one outlet-right by the Christmas tree (good thinking, Mom and Dad).
As my mother continued to drench the inside of the house with decorations, my dad would be pulling out the big guns of home Christmas decorating-the yard signs.
Always in line with Texas pride, my mother decided that instead of eight reindeer pulling Santa's sled, she would substitute cows for the reindeer and give Santa the cowboy boots and hat that he deserved.
She also decided that four Care Bears (hey, this was in the 1980s), each with our names written on their bellies, would stand in fake clouds. That was how everyone knew it was our house, because those stupid Care Bears had "Tom, Kay, Kerri, Kelli" painted across their stomachs.
We even had two random Smurfs decorating a pine tree along the side of the house. Luckily, people couldn't see Papa and Handy Smurf too easily from the street, so the sheer stupidity of our house was somewhat limited.
But, somehow, we usually won the neighborhood decoration contest. Maybe people felt like if we lost we would try even harder, so by giving us the win we didn't run the risk of blowing up the neighborhood's transformer boxes.
For the most part, I still find myself explaining to my boyfriend, James, how freaky we were in those days. Even so, I sometimes miss that time in my life, and the stupid Care Bears.
Kerri Graffius is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. Her email address is

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By: Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
November 28, 2001

People-watching at Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge, Tenn., is a fascinating place. I love it.
Not too many years ago it was about the size of my hometown of McLemoresville, population 311 if you count dogs, cats and chickens. Now the population of Pigeon Forge is more like 31,000, equally divided between mall, motel, restaurant and theater employees and tourists who come to shop, sleep, eat and be entertained.
It's hard to believe the town used to be just a wide place in a two-lane road-sort of like Arcade without the beer and liquor stores. Now it is a six-lane tourist trap-excuse me, attraction-which stretches for miles and caters to the whims of vacationers.
Doesn't matter what the whims are. In addition to shopping, sleeping, eating and being entertained, you can get shampooed, tattooed and...well, for want of a better word, ripped off in Pigeon Forge.
And you can get educated. If you are interested in gerontology, Pigeon Forge is the place. You can learn a lot about nutrition, too. In fact, I don't know of a better place to observe the aging and fattening of America.
The best time to observe the process is in the fall. School is in session, so you won't be bothered by a bunch of baby boomers and their unruly kids. The leaves are at their brilliant peak, and senior citizens from all over the world come to see the colorful show-from a distance. You don't see many of them walking in the woods, and that is a shame.
They come in every conceivable conveyance: cars, trucks, trailers, campers, SUVs, RVs and tour buses-especially tour buses.
Don't ever get on a tour bus. I'll tell you why in a little while.
They say the airline industry in is a funk right now. Not to worry, America. There were enough land-roving vehicles in Pigeon Forge last month to keep the transportation business going indefinitely.
Except it comes to a standstill at times. If you've experienced traffic jams on I-85 in Gwinnett County or on 75 or 85 in Atlanta, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Once you get to Pigeon Forge there's no place to go except the mall, the hotel, the restaurant and the theater-all on the six-lane strip. And everybody seems to be going all at once. That makes it hard to forge ahead in Pigeon Forge.
But if you want to see the mother of all traffic jams, motor over to Cades Cove and try to negotiate the narrow, one-lane, one-way, 11-mile drive. Everything goes well until this guy from New Jersey spots a deer down in the meadow. He has never seen one before, and doesn't know what it is. So he stops in the middle of the road, grabs his camera, crawls out of his car, and goes off chasing a wild buck, which runs into the woods on the other side of the meadow.
Traffic backs up for miles and stays backed up until the old codger gives up the chase and returns, exhausted, to his vehicle.
The road around Cades Cove is too narrow and curvy for tour buses, and that is a good thing. If one of those behemoths got hung up between a rock and a tree, you'd become a permanent resident of The Great Smokey Mountains National Park. No way could you get around it.
You'll find the buses at the mall, the hotel, the restaurant and the theater. If all the people who come to Pigeon Forge on tour buses came in their private vehicles, they couldn't build a parking lot big enough to hold 'em.
I advised you never to get on a tour bus. Here's why: it will make you old and fat.
Tour buses are excellent classrooms and laboratories if you are majoring in gerontology and nutrition. There are no better places to observe the aging and fattening of America. From hotel to mall to restaurant to theater and back to hotel, you can study your subjects up close and personal. Getting on and off the bus is about the only exercise they get. From the looks of things, they don't get much pushing back from the table.
But let's be fair here. Occasionally you see a slim, trim, healthy-looking guy getting off the bus. And nearly always he's extending his hand to a slim, trim, healthy-looking woman.
Why is that? Why does slim go with trim and fat with lard? It may be because the slim and trim spend more time in bed and the woods and less time in the theater and restaurants.
Anyway, that is a good topic for your research and thesis on gerontology and nutrition.
I hope you don't think I'm bad-mouthing Pigeon Forge and the people who go there. No way. I told you in the beginning that I love the place. I go there to shop, sleep, eat and be entertained-and to hike the mountain trails.
And I go to watch the people. I'm sure you've gathered that by now.
If you go for that reason, be forewarned. While you are watching the people, the people are watching you. And they probably think you are as weird and ugly as they are.
And guess what? They are probably right.
In my case, I am sure they are.
Virgil Adams is a former owner and editor of The Jackson Herald.
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