Hurricane Connor, aka Connor Dash O’Neil, our grandson, and his mom recently spent a few days in East Tennessee.

While here we enjoyed two of our area’s greatest tourist attractions: Dollywood and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Saturday, July 27, was devoted to Dollywood. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d survive, but God blessed us with a clear day and fairly low humidity, plus a rather uncrowded park.

Connor follows in the O’Neil family tradition; he’s never met a ride he didn’t like. His favorite seems to be the Scrambler, with the Teacups a close second. Of course, we kicked off the day with everyone in the family “driving” the vintage cars.

Five hours later, our rather wilted foursome departed, and Connor fell asleep before we exited the parking lot. His power nap back to Newport left him rarin’ to go for supper at Wendy’s and a chocolate Frostee. I proudly take full credit for introducing him to that cool, delightful treat a couple of years ago after a visit to the Charleston Aquarium.

On Sunday, I was the only one in the household who made it to church, and then just to Sunday school. Afterwards, Connor’s grandmother, “Kay Kay,” opted for an afternoon nap.

At my suggestion, we remaining three decided to go look for a bear. Thankfully we didn’t tell Connor what we were searching for to avoid the terrible disappointment if said bear failed to materialize.

We headed to Gatlinburg via the Cosby route and stopped for lunch at the McDonald’s this side of the mountain tourist mecca. Imagine our astonishment to be told they were “out of ketchup” for our fries. After weathering that storm, we piled in the car and headed through town, playing the time-honored game of identifying as many state license plates as possible.

Next came a stop at the Visitors Center at Sugarlands and here came the great surprise.

Basically the stop was for a bathroom break before we headed up the mountain to Clingman’s Dome. But instead, we spent over an hour there.

Connor was absolutely enthralled by their marvelous display of the Park’s wildlife. I was amazed at the number of animals he could already identify and happy to see that he was interested in learning the names of the other critters.

Good friends Sheila Evans and Frank March, both with the Park Service, happened to be on duty and welcomed us with wide smiles and open arms. Sheila made sure Connor had his picture taken with an actual Park Ranger and shared a Scavenger Hunt game with Amber and Connor to play while touring the display.

Finally the time came to hit the road again. We still didn’t mention the possibility of spotting an actual bear, but Connor was alert to everything.

His question, “Where’s the Park?”, brought the realization that the “parks” with which he is familiar in Charleston feature water slides, playgrounds, and other entertainments. Thus came a lesson about the different kinds of parks and the fact that he was actually in the middle of a national park.

Mile after mile passed and nary a bear did we see.

The tunnels provided a bit of excitement and the blooming wildflowers caught his attention.

Arriving at our destination, Amber and I were happy to see his excitement at scrambling up the hillside to the top of everything. He wasn’t as excited about standing with one foot in Tennessee and the other in North Carolina as I thought he would be, but at least he didn’t throw a fit when asked to pose for a photo.

The day ended with a return trip through Gatlinburg, again without spotting a bear, and eventually a happy reunion with Kay Kay.

Our precious ones left for home on Monday, Connor taking with him a collection of post cards featuring Black Bears to share with his pre-school buddies.

It was a good weekend for all. I’ve about recovered my strength, and Connor continues his swim lessons. He’s also cocked and primed to enter kindergarten in a few days, but that’s a story for another day.

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