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Smell the Coffee: A week to remember

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I just returned from vacation, a week in a cabin in the Tennessee mountains between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with my boyfriend and two of his children, ages 9 and 16, and my daughter, who turns 16 the end of this month.

It was a great trip. Pretty much perfect. Multiple games of putt-putt and visits to the go-cart track. We hit the aquarium and the Titanic museum. We rode a sky tram and chair lifts. Shot zombies at Ripley's, bounced off walls in a house of mirrors, gorged ourselves silly at the Dixie Stampede.

But ask any of the kids about the trip and the first words out of their mouth will be about the little raccoon that showed up on the porch the last night we were there.

Just think of the money we could've saved if we'd known ahead of time how inexpensively such a breathlessly recalled memory could be had. I don't remember seeing ads for one, but considering the variety of trinket shops and adventure junkets around most every bend in that part of Tennessee, I'm sure there has to be a rental outlet for varmints somewhere. If not, someone should consider investing because there's money to be made in the procurement of masked bandits who know how to work the head tilt just right, and pair it with dangling or partially outstretched little hands.

We'd been relaxing in the living room of our cabin and had just started watching a movie when one of the kids noticed movement on the porch just behind us. Considering that the porch was at least 30 feet off the ground and had no stairs, getting a back-door visitor was completely unexpected.

The little panhandler was clever, showing up on our last night the way he did, since we had a good bit of tasty leftovers we were about to throw out.

For such a little guy, he worked his way through an impressive amount of food before pausing to regard the paparazzi on the other side of the glass, who were busy recording and gushing over the coon's every move. He reached up to touch the glass with both hands, and then paused long enough to grab one last chocolate chip cookie before heading back over the rail. And into vacation history.

One of my favorite memories from the week came when I tagged along with Didier and his son, Gabe, as they played nine holes on a gorgeous public golf course.

Gabe, who just turned 9, is a natural athlete. He's taken a shine to golf, and even though he's not a big kid, his drives can be phenomenal. This one in particular.

While we were riding in the cart, Gabe was talking about golf movies and asked if I'd ever seen "Happy Gilmore." In the movie, Gilmore is a former hockey player who develops a golf style where, rather than standing still to swing, he runs up to the ball, club in hand, and does this crazy slapshot-style hit. Which works. In fact, it works so well that Gilmore ends up playing in a professional tournament.

Gabe wanted to try doing a running hit, and since there was no one around, we told him OK.

I'll be darned if that ball didn't go high and long about 80 or 90 yards straight down the middle of the fairway.

Although not as memorable as the raccoon or Gabe's Happy Gilmore impersonation, we were often cracking up over the signs in store windows. There's apparently a shortage of punctuation in Tennessee, particularly with commas and dashes. Either that, or there's a strong Southern market for "fudge knives" and "homemade chocolate fireworks."

Just in case, it seemed a place to avoid on the Fourth of July. Figured it might get messy.

And fattening.

And overrun with raccoons.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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