Vacation 1992 was in the beginning of November. It was just a couple weeks after my brother’s first wedding and our family had been far more involved in the planning than I ever thought a groom’s family was. (This was when I firmly decided that IF I ever got married, I wanted nothing to do with a wedding.) I had started to plan my vacation week in September. Mom usually went with me. She and I were great travel companions. We were going to Atlanta by way of Chattanooga, a couple of my favorite cities. When Mom and I went on fall vacations we always asked Pop to go with us and he always had a reason that he wasn’t interested in going, but we tried every year. In 92, frazzled and celebrated out from the wedding, Dad took us up on the offer!
Pop’s birthday is November 8th and that was the Sunday of our trip, the first night in Chattanooga. My father is the one who got me hooked on trains when I was a small child, counting cars when we were stopped, even timing the stop when a train was coming so we had front row viewing. H loves train travel and we often traveled by train on trip when it was possible. Because he wound up with a daughter nuttier about trains than he is, he completely accepted that it was MY choice to stay at Holiday Inn Chattanooga Choo-Choo.
The background here is that I liked the idea at staying at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Holiday Inn, and more that I really wanted to stay in one of the guest rooms outside which were passenger cars transformed into rooms on tracks in the courtyard with the Chattanooga Choo-Choo engine. I wouldn’t spend the extra it takes to stay in the specialty rooms in town on a whim for myself, but for my Dad’s birthday, it would be totally worth it as a surprise! So, I reserved a passenger car room, but didn’t tell Dad. He thought we’d be in the hotel. Then I ordered a balloon bouquet and a cake to be in the room when we checked in. Before we left, after confirming that everything was set, I slipped a bottle of Asti Spumate in my suitcase. I was excited ab0ut Pop’s birthday, till a hotel night and a day away!
We left around 6:00 Saturday morning and headed south. It was a usual trip south with stops for meals and exiting to see sights or shop at anything that struck our fancy from road signs and travel brochures on the way. We played a road game where you looked for words on signs for every letter in the alphabet. This is the trip where, after looking for a “V” for a very long time, Pop saw a sign and announced, “Vah-Vaffle House!” Saying it was two Vs in Italian. Yes, Pop is where I get my bold and obvious attempts at cheating in games!
We stayed that first night in Corbin, Kentucky. I’d stayed in Corbin a time or two on the way to Atlanta because it was just a good stopping point on the first day and it never occurred to me, I never cared, that Corbin is in a dry county. After an all-day drive, my Dad wanted to unwind with a bottle of wine and some snacks. When he asked at the gas station next to our hotel when he could buy a bottle of wine, the woman’s behind the counter said, “Honey, you’re in a DRY COUNTY!” Pop was shocked. Dry County? He’d never heard of such a thing! We ended up taking a drive before dinner and sure enough we ended up almost an hour back north in Richmond, NOT a dry county. Pop got a couple bottles of wine and we had dinner before we headed back to Corbin. I sensed that drinking a glass of wine in a dry county made it taste even sweeter.
On Sunday we got into Chattanooga by a little after noon and went to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Mom enjoyed the museum, as she always did enjoy the trains when we travelled, but Pop and I were in heaven. There were engines and cars and water tanks and all sorts of very cool railroad stuff, as well as a working turntable. Many steam engines can’t go backwards for any lengthy of time and had to be turned around for return trips by rolling onto the turn table which then turned around 180 degrees so the engine could leave the turntable facing to opposite direction. I was very cool to watch! We also took a steam trip on the museum’s tourist ride, a stem powered excursion through some beautiful wooded areas with fall colors still holding on to some of the trees and a ride over a very tall trestle with a both breathtaking and harrowing view.
After a few hours with the trains, there were more trains! We went to the hotel, “my” choice, the Holiday Inn Chattanooga Choo-Choo. While my parents marveled at the opulent lobby, Mom was in on the surprise for Pop and kept him distracted, I checked in and made sure everything was set. Remember it was my father’s birthday and neither Mom nor I had acknowledged it all day. I let them know we were checked in and could put our bags in the room before dinner.
Pop was a little confused when instead of towards the hall, we went outside to the courtyard. I explained that they had passenger cars that were transformed into room. When we got to our car I stopped and said, “Here’s our room!”
Pop looked surprised and smiled. Then he asked me how much a room like this costs. I told him to never mind because it’s something I wanted to do, so it was worth it to me to save up. When we got in it looked like the entrance to a passenger car, the thin hallway had the very spacious for a train bathroom with décor and amenities that matched the grandeur of the lobby. A little further down was the main living area with a queen bed and daybed, refrigerator and microwave, all the look and feel of a high-end hotel room. But the first thing my Dad noticed was how all-out they went. “They even left balloons!”
The balloons were attached to a coffee mug filled with chocolate kisses. I told him to read the balloon. It said “Happy Birthday Popsie.” He looked at me with a huge grin and gave an equally huge hug. He opened the cake and said we could have it after dinner with the other bottle of wine he’d gotten in Richmond.
“How about with the Asti I brought from Michigan?” I smiled.
I got a little harassment because we’d ended up so far north before we got a bottle of wine the night before, but really, explaining why I was travelling with a bottle of sparkling wine would have inevitably spoiled the surprise.
I was a mushy moment and a fun evening enjoying cake and champagne after dinner in our private train car.