Tallulah swore she would never go back to that place. But somehow, she knew she’d end up there, and today that day had come. Looking around she couldn’t help but be enthralled with the natural beauty that surrounded her despite her best efforts to find nothing positive about the place that shared her namesake. Watching the cascading waters rush through the gorge she could understand why her parents had loved this magical place enough to name their only daughter after it.
Tallulah thought she might remember some of the details of the river or the gorge or even the little shops that dotted the overlooking loop, but they all seemed foreign to her… and she was glad for it. Despite the unfamiliar terrain, Tallulah still felt a connection to this place; she knew she had been here before, of that much she was sure, but any further details would doubtfully ever surface. The two people who could shed any light on the subject were past the point of talking- one was in the grave and the other? The other had stopped talking altogether over four decades ago, when Tallulah was 10 years old.
That was when it had happened. Tallulah still got chills thinking about it. Kicking the flat tire that had landed her in this predicament, Tallulah walked the quarter mile up the road to the roadside store she had seen on the shoulder of the highway. Huffing by the time she arrived, she prayed they would have something cold to drink, and the store did not disappoint. A rainbow assortment of ice cold soda pop greeted her as she entered, as did a wide array of wind chimes, homemade bird houses, handmade soaps and other local fair, all ready to be scooped up as kitschy souvenirs for the many tourists that came through the shop.
Grabbing a bottle of Cheerwine and popping the top off on the old ice chest, Tallulah paid for her beverage and headed to the enclosed porch she had seen on her way in. Stepping through the doorway, Tallulah was once again overcome by the beauty on display as the porch also doubled as a viewing overhang over the gorge. Then, she saw it. At the far end of the porch, taking up the entire back wall was a large display under weathered letters that read: THE GREAT WALLENDA.
All at once the memories began to flood back. She had been here before. It had been July 1970 and Tallulah had just turned ten years old. They had come to see her father perform; it was to be the crowning jewel of his career- he was going to tightrope walk across the Tallulah Gorge. A great fanfare had been made about the event, people from all over the country had come to watch the Great Wallenda walk across the gorge- over a 900-foot drop. The excitement was like a current buzzing in the air, and Tallulah had been apart of it. A reporter from Asheville had even interviewed her that day, and her father had given her a wink as she told the man that she was named for this place because that’s where her mom and pop had first met.
They never did find his body. A memorial was established some months later but neither Tallulah or her heartbroken mother had ever paid it a visit, it was too unbearable. The Great Wallenda was gone and he had left a hole so big in the hearts of his wife and daughter that one had never spoken again and the other had completely blocked an entire chapter of her life from her memory…until that moment at the roadside porch.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: Another great day on the road. Today, Andy and I bid farewell to my dad and step-mom after a really wonderful visit and headed towards Athens. We grabbed a quick bite at a fantastic little café, The Five Star Café (I highly recommend it) and wandered in and out of the shops before jumping back in the car- destination Tallulah Falls (thanks for the recommendation, Dad!). Before leaving Athens, however, we stopped in the visitor’s center (which is also the city’s oldest residence) and chatted with the nice lady who was working there. Upon telling her our intended destination the informative woman gave us a little bit of history along with some directions on how to get there. She told us about a fascinating actress from the 1930s named Tallulah Bankhead, who apparently had been given the name Tallulah as that was the place in which she was conceived. While I couldn’t confirm this fact in my reading about the woman, I did find the actress quite fascinating and thought the story was worth working into my own.
TWO: The Great Wallenda was an actual person and he did in fact tightrope walk across the Tallulah Gorge in July 1970. Thankfully, he did not meet his end during this endeavor and successfully made it across (even managing two headstands in the process). The Great Wallenda did end up taking a fatal tumble, but not until eight years later in Puerto Rico.
THREE: I am addicted to Cheerwine. Never heard of it? You poor soul. As a recovering soda addict, I have completely fallen off the wagon the second we arrived in northern Georgia and I saw my first bottle of that delicious concoction- Cheerwine. Bottled and produced in North Carolina it’s primarily distributed in that region alone. Think of a Dr. Pepper with just the right amount of cherry flavoring and that’s about as close as I can get to describing this nectar from the gods. For my readers in Orlando who would like to give it a taste, hit up 4 Rivers Barbecue, they always have it stocked (another reason that place is a godsend).
Love & Squirrels.
P.S. Sorry for the delay in posting these last three days. I’m doing my darndest to balance this whole writing thing while still being able to enjoy my vacation. I’ll continue to write everyday (just like I’ve promised) and will post whenever I can take advantage of some free (or not-so-free) Wi-Fi. Thanks for being troopers!