Gaston & Catawba

Road trip reveals Tenn. delights

Sometimes a grandma just has to go looking for her honky-tonk side.

On June 14, husband David and I and four best friends embarked from Gastonia for a 1,500-mile trip in a minivan to discover the delights of Nashville and Memphis. Having never been to either city, I was prepared to see new things but did not expect to be so amused and amazed. We all decided that Tennessee has the country's friendliest residents.

Lots of people had told me how spectacular the Opryland Resort in Nashville is, and they were right. Under one roof are hotels, restaurants and fabulous foliage. Not far away is the Grand Ole Opry Show, which is a very upscale operation. We enjoyed the show, and I was pleased to see George Hamilton IV, who was a fellow student at UNC. He has lost some hair, but he still looks and sounds good.

However, my favorite venue was Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, which has a real down-home ambience. We hope to return there when the Opry is in session.

Touring RCA Studio B, where all the great country artists recorded, was a poignant experience. I got to tickle the ivories on the piano that Elvis Presley played in his gospel recordings.

When we got to Memphis, we were all pleasantly surprised at the dignity of Graceland. I bought David an Elvis shirt, and we tried the fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches at the Rockabilly Café. No jelly doughnuts, sadly.

The next morning, we arrived at the Peabody Hotel in time to secure good spots to view the parade of the ducks from the elevator to the fountain. I wish I could explain why this was so much fun, but we did, in fact, return to see the ducks waddle back to the elevator at 5 p.m.

What were other favorite experiences? For some it was the Mississippi riverboat cruise, the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, a boat ride inside Opryland, trolley rides in Memphis, or the Parthenon at Centennial Park in Nashville. David especially liked Sun Studio in Memphis, where Sam Phillips discovered Elvis. I took a photo of the duct-taped X in the studio where Elvis stood to record his first songs.

Wandering through the honky-tonk hangouts on Broadway Avenue in Nashville and listening to jazz and rock-and-roll from a rooftop restaurant on Beale Street in Memphis were the icing on the cake. I believe I did get in touch with my honky-tonk side as we listened to aspiring and aging artists play their hearts out.

Can six grandparents survive 1,500 miles in a minivan? After we figured out everyone's air conditioning needs, it was smooth sailing all the way.