While Anna spent the first couple years of her life in Tennessee, my experiences in Tennessee were more spartan. While I extensively explored western North Carolina during my undergrad years at N.C. State, with the exception of a couple of trips on I-40, I had never ventured in Tennessee. Originally, we planned to drive the Natchez Trace north into Nashville before turning east towards North Carolina, Virginia, and our Spring Break plans in D.C. However, as our plans in Texas evolved, we decided to take the more conventional interstate route, giving us the option to sprint towards D.C. in case we started to run out of time. So, after Hot Springs National Park, we packed up and headed towards the Volunteer State. First stop on the agenda? Memphis.
Other than researching various campground options and planning a couple of days to visit Memphis-proper, we didn’t give our visit to Memphis much prior thought. This seems to be a common theme for us as the Big Big Trip progresses?!?! However, there were a few things we knew we wanted to experience: BBQ, Graceland, and the National Civil Rights Museum.
For lodging options, we didn’t look much beyond the nearby Navy campground in Millington, TN, located about 30 minutes north of downtown Memphis. As we had made tentative plans to meet up with two other Airstream families in Knoxville later the following week, we only planned on staying in Memphis for three days. However, Mother Nature would throw us a weather-related curveball that altered our plans.
On our first full day, we bundled up and headed downtown to visit the National Civil Rights Museum. Situated in downtown Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum is located on the site of the Lorraine Motel where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968.
Our visit was enlightening, moving, sad, and sometimes painful. Also, it was disturbingly poignant given that it’s been almost 155-years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, 152-years since the passing of the 13th Amendment, 149-years since the 14th Amendment, 147-years since the 15th Amendment, 53-years since the LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 52-years since he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sadly, regardless of these landmark civil rights laws and actions, civil rights (racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual orientation) are still a pressing issue today.
A big part of the reason behind the Big Big Trip is to expose Owen to our world and our history—warts and all. Shielding him from the warts would be wrong. On our drive to the museum we tried to prepare him for something we were sure would be hard to digest. We discussed the Civil Rights movement in broad terms. We tried to relate the civil rights movement back to the things we had seen and done over the past months. From our visits to the Charleston slave markets, the Louisiana plantations, and more recently to LBJ’s ranch in Texas, Owen has absorbed a lot of history (and a lot of warts) and I think he was able to put some of what he saw at the Lorraine Motel into the proper context. However, I could tell by his questions and his demeanor that he was both saddened and confused by the things he saw and I don’t have a good answer for that…in fact, as we look at the world around us we find ourselves asking a lot of questions of our own and sharing in some of the same sadness and confusion.
Because of a developing weather system that was scheduled to dump several inches of snow on the southeast, our Airstream Instameet was canceled. We ended up sheltering-in-place in Millington, adjusting our Nashville reservations, and canceling our Knoxville plans.
Ultimately, we would end up spending a week in Memphis. Beyond the great BBQ we enjoyed at Central BBQ and the Blues City Café on Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum remains the highlight of our stay. We also managed to fill up our extended week with front row seats for the marching of the Peabody Ducks, a lot of schoolwork, random errands, and visiting some of the other local attractions. After a week in Memphis, we were ready for some new scenery so we packed up and headed west to Nashville.
We really never had great weather in Memphis, but we arrived in Nashville on a sunny and warm Wednesday afternoon. Since it was mid-March, our only viable campground options were a cluster of private RV Parks just north of the downtown area with a KOA and Jellystone being two of the prominent options. Since we said we would NEVER again stay at a Jellystone, we picked the nice, but pricey, KOA.
We spent three nights in Nashville, giving us two full days to explore the city. There were no real highlights from our stay, but we did manage to work in a visit to the American Pickers store (Owen’s and my favorite TV show), stroll the downtown area, and stop in the lobby to use the bathroom briefly visit the Country Music Hall of Fame. Anna and Owen also had the opportunity to meet up and have a reunion with one of her old Camp Gravatt Friends.
Overall, we had a nice, although quick, stop in Nashville that was just enough to whet our appetites for more. Nashville is definitely somewhere we want return to and spend a more time exploring without our kid.
We departed Nashville on Saturday, the 18th of March and drove east to a weekend in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.