Vacations, excursions, and adventures


I was picking up a fellow bishop at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport in Atlanta last week and was awaiting his call as I was in the cell phone parking lot.

Two cars down, sat a pickup truck backed up against the fence. A dad, mom, and two small boys were all in the bed of the truck facing the runways. The little guys were fascinated and thrilled at the sounds of the roaring engines, the smell of aircraft fuel, and the spectacle of a large passenger plane ascending into the skies.

And, in Atlanta, it one huge aircraft after another on multiple runways. It was a cheap way to keep the boys occupied until their parents received a call to come and pick up whoever it was they were waiting on.

I smiled and thought back on my own childhood and the cheap entertainment I also experienced. When my father was in his 30s, he was accepted into an apprenticeship program. A few years later, he became an electrician working for Bays Mountain Construction Company and, later, for the Tennessee Eastman Corporation, now known as Eastman Chemical Company.

“The Eastman,” as the locals in Kingsport, Tennessee called it, employed up to 15,000 people and was the main lifeblood of the community. Our family’s financial life took an upward turn when Dad finished his apprenticeship.

There wasn’t a lot of money prior to that time. I don’t know if I can say we were poor, as I never lacked for anything, but, at the very least, we were a lower working-class family. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and my dad, one of the hardest working men I ever knew, often would take side jobs to make ends meet. We always had food, good school clothes, shoes, and winter coats but there wasn’t much left for entertainment before The Eastman.

As I watched the kids in the pickup truck, old memories began to stir. I remembered my folks taking me to the small airport near Kingsport for no other reason than to watch the airplanes take off and land. Like those boys, I was fascinated each time we went.

They also took me to the downtown area near the train depot where the freight trains that seemed to my young self to go on for miles passed through the town at regular intervals. My folks always parked near the spot where the trains were required to sound their horns and I just assumed the engineer was activating the horn because he saw me there. My folks were never in a hurry during those excursions, and I would often fall asleep in the back seat as we eventually headed home.

During December, we would ride around the community seeing the brilliance of the Christmas lights and decorations. It was to this small lad as though the world had erupted in color! Occasionally, we would pack a picnic lunch, drive the sixty miles or so to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and explore what the park had to offer for a day and look for the ever-present black bears. Sometimes I would be allowed to play in the cool mountain creeks and hunt for tadpoles or “crawdads,” as we called crayfish.

We never took what one might call a “proper vacation.” Not even once. My dad didn’t get a paid vacation at Bays Mountain Construction so anytime he took off work, for whatever the reason, including sickness, he didn’t get paid. So, we almost never went anywhere overnight. While many of my classmates spent time at the South’s beaches and some went to Europe, I didn’t see the ocean until I was 19 and serving in the Marine Corps.

During nearly nine of my early years, I was an only child and then my brother, Wayne, came along. I was at least twelve before he was really able to appreciate those inexpensive excursions, if, in fact, my parents were still doing them, but, by then, I had other interests.

I had a bicycle so, as a preteen, I took to the hilly roads and, since we had woods next door, my friends and I played Army vs. the Nazis, Cowboys and Indians, and Rebels vs. Yankees. It was always the younger kids we forced to be the Nazis, Indians, and Yankees. Sometimes my friend Steve and I would go into the woods and build shelters out of tree limbs and branches and hang out there all day discussing and pondering our future in the world.

The world was safer then so, as I got some older, I was allowed to go out of doors after breakfast, come back in for lunch, and then hit the outdoors again until dinner. After dinner, during the warm summer months, I could stay out until dark.

Once, my friends and I had a BB gun fight, which was a terrible mistake and I heartily recommend against that activity. We also had “rock fights,” in which we would chunk rocks at each other. Another bad idea. Once we even had a model rocket fight, but when one exploded against the roof of a neighbor’s house, he raised a ruckus and that was the end of that.

We didn’t really have playtime — we had adventures … or so it seemed in our minds. There was a lot that we didn’t have but what we really didn’t have was boredom. Life as a kid was exciting, full of new experiences, places to explore, forts to build and imaginary foes to defeat.

All that started to come back from the forgotten recesses of my memory as I watched the two boys point and squeal when another aircraft rose into the heavens. And there I sat, joining with them in spirit, watching the planes take off, cherishing pleasant memories, and realizing that I hadn’t missed a thing as a kid. And then the cell phone rang, and I reluctantly went back to being an adult.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may contacted at]