When I was little, my father never drove the interstate to Knoxville.
Or, if we planned a trip to visit family for the day in Clinton, we would drive Tenn. 116 into Lake City.
Rarely ever did we see the green dragon or the (now removed) Thacker Christmas Inn tree sign, as we were always on the other side of the dusty trail. My brother and I would cruise along in the backseat of our silver Dodge Dynasty, singing along to the latest hits on the weekly top 40 and enjoy the commentary provided by DJ Casey Kasem.
Patterns of shadows provided by the heavy tree cover on the old roads pounced in and out of our tiny car windows as we watched families park their cars in narrow curves to fill containers with fresh spring water that spilled forth from the mountain.
Needless to say, by the ripe old age of say, 14 or 15, I could take you anywhere from our small town to the ends of the earth—traveling strictly on back roads. As a teenager, I would loathe the amount of time it took to arrive at our destination, but as an adult, this information has been invaluable twofold: back roads provide a way to bypass heavy interstate traffic, and they also promote sweet naptime for kids in tow.
Indeed the perfect storm.
Both of these opportunities presented themselves to me on a Monday afternoon as the children and I were headed home from Knoxville.
We had already had a fun-filled morning of playing with our friends at a bounce house, dining at Chick-Fil-A, (had a small child growl at us in the fast-food play area), and now we each had an ice cream cone in hand and were headed back to the farm.
I turned the wheel slightly to dive back into the busy four-lane street, attempting to merge our minivan onto Interstate 75, only to glance on the entrance ramp to see traffic at a complete standstill.
Interstate traffic plus three children with unreliable bladders?
So, I went into survival mode and remembered what my father had taught me about driving in Tennessee; there is always an alternate route.
Probably a curvy, unpaved one—but an alternate route nonetheless.
I did a U-turn (illegal, right?) and headed the opposite direction toward Halls. The children, confused and with ice cream smeared faces, inquired much about the detour.
“Relax and enjoy your ice cream, kiddos. We are taking the long way home.”
And so we did, and the memories came back of car rides, car sickness, and classic tunes from the 1990s.
And once we arrived in Clinton, I decided to drive over Norris Dam, too.
We took a break to wash the sticky ice cream off of our hands, then watched the water trickle over the dam for a moment.
Then it was back in the van to continue the journey home.
We talked about growing up, staying little and what ice cream is made of. About how we miss Daddy when he is at work, how many deer we spotted (none), and what to do when the gas light comes on.
We discussed Noah and the flood, the importance of using coupons at the grocery store and how it is okay to take our shoes off in the car.
And, yes, it took us about an hour and a half to make a 45-minute drive.
But spending time with your family, trapped in a moving vehicle, isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Sometimes, it pays to take the long way home.