Having grown up in Kingsport, Tennessee, I was well aware of Knoxville from an early age, if not as a place to go to, then certainly as a place to go through. My grandparents were all in Atlanta, so more often than not we would travel through Knoxville and on through Chattanooga on our way to visit. I guess my earliest memories of Knoxville are of the Arby’s on Kingston Pike near Papermill and of the gas stations at Cedar Bluff. The first time I can remember Knoxville as a destination would be when my father took us to go see the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Civic Coliseum. In 1982 Knoxville became a destination for millions with the World’s Fair (I only visited once that summer, but I remember it well).
My college career began in 1983 at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville studying mechanical engineering, so Knoxville was again relegated to ‘place I pass through and stop for gas, maybe’. There were a few times that some of my friends and I would make a trip to Knoxville for an event, but more often our destination was Nashville.
After a few years at Tech, I decided that I’d change my major to Architecture, which was a program not offered there, so I transferred to the University of Tennessee. My stay in the Architecture program was brief (long story there) so I transferred into the civil engineering program at UT, and then determined I could finish my degree quicker if I returned to Tech. Thus my stay in Knoxville was only about 6 or 7 months at that point, but I was glad to at least leave my cockroach-infested apartment behind.
In 1988 my then girlfriend (and future wife) left Auburn University to attend the UT College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, so I suddenly found myself making the trip from Cookeville to Knoxville almost every weekend. My knowledge of all that Knoxville had to offer expanded greatly during the next two years until I graduated from Tech in 1989 with a degree in civil engineering.
Degree in hand, and knowing that my girlfriend/fiancée had to stay at UT to complete her degree until 1992, I decided to concentrate my job search in the Knoxville area and landed a job in Oak Ridge, only minutes away from west Knoxville. I moved into an apartment next door to a high school/college friend/fraternity brother and began my twenty-year stay in Knoxville. I married my wife (aka MG) one year later and we moved into a slightly larger apartment.
After she graduated, we decided that we might as well settle in to Knoxville as our home. I had my job, and she found work in west Knoxville, so we moved into our first house for the next four years or so.
I found myself on the road for most of 1995 through 2000, but always with Knoxville as my home base. Since her career was in Knoxville, MG stayed home while I was wandering about the wilds of northern New York, northern Maine, and northern Alabama (you know, all of those “northern” places). In 1996 MG sold our house and moved in to house sit for some friends on an assignment in Maine. That same year we bought some land (backing up to another fraternity brother’s property) and started building a new house. I was home for most of the winter that our house was being built, so MG and I were able to put in a bit of the work ourselves including tiling, painting, and installing the dining room hardwood floor. We moved in during the spring of 1997 just before I shipped out again.
I finally finished my stint on the road in late 2000 and got assigned to a project out in Oak Ridge again, so I was able to begin feeling like I actually lived in Knoxville again. This was about the same time that MG made a career change and started being a road warrior in her own right, though she spent more nights at home than I had ever been able to.
Most of the real connections that I have in Knoxville started after 2000. I got back into cycling through a friend at our church, and from there joined a cycling club sponsored by my favorite local bike shop. Many of the people that I feel closest to now have come from branches of one of those two trees; cycling or our church Sunday School class. There are exceptions, of course, including friends from MG’s veterinary career and from the car club we belonged to for many years.
So fast forward now to 2009. MG’s career has progressed as she has moved up through the ranks at her company. We originally thought that the next step for her would be a move to the home office near Philadelphia, PA, but instead she was offered a position that would better allow her to utilize her medical background as well as her other experience with the company. The catch? The position is to cover the Pacific Northwest region of the country. We looked at the region, studied our options, and decided that Seattle, a city we had already visited and liked, would be the location to host the next phase of our lives. We moved into a small rental house in Seattle with about half of our possessions in September.
We had put our house in Knoxville on the market in July. We knew it would be tough to sell a house in the existing market following the economic chaos of the previous two years, and indeed it was. Showings were sporadic, and though feedback from those showings was generally positive, we had no offers since the market was flooded with houses in the same price and size range. We realized that it would take someone coming in and falling in love with the house the same as we did. In December it finally happened.
We went under contract in mid-December and I returned from Seattle in January 2010 to get the remainder of our stuff moved from the house in Knoxville to a storage facility in the Seattle area. Due to a mix-up we were not aware that the closing date had been moved up until just a day or two before my trip, so it turned out that closing was scheduled only hours before my return flight to Seattle.
I spent my week in Knoxville dealing with details concerning the move during the days and trying to get together with friends in the evenings. That worked on Monday through Wednesday, but Thursday didn’t turn out so well. Snow started falling early that day and the movers were not able to finish up by 1:00pm as they had predicted, but rather at 5:00pm. I still had too much to do, what with hauling away excess cardboard boxes and recyclable paper and plastic, to meet with the friends I was scheduled to have dinner with. As it turned out, the chef at the restaurant even called me to say that he might have to close due to the snow. Snow was quickly making the roads very slick and icy.
I’d intended to spend the night at my friend JB’s house, but I found that I couldn’t get the rental car up his driveway. Other friends had previously offered a room for that night, but I quickly narrowed it down to only one place where the roads were flat enough that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting in and out, so I spent my last evening at K&K’s.
I got up the next morning and decided to head straight to the title company office rather than run any of the last-minute errands I had planned. I got there early for our closing, but they let me go ahead and start signing the paperwork I needed to sign. I left there hoping to have lunch with Wally before I had to be at the airport, but time had slipped too far away from me. Yet another casualty of the snow.
So now I no longer have any ties to Knoxville other than the emotional ones. I do not know that this is the way it will stay, though. For some reason I don’t think Knoxville has seen the last of MG and me. Maybe in 5 or 10 years our paths may turn that way again. Meanwhile we will still visit periodically (my next visit is scheduled for two weekends from now, in fact).
So farewell for now, Knoxville. Farewell, and good luck.