The End Is Coming


This is a different kind of story. Usually, ones that appear in this column have a beginning, middle and end, but this story is missing one of those important components.

Yes, it has a beginning — during the only vacation that I had alone with my mom on a trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee over fifty-three years ago. And yes, this story absolutely has a middle, one that happened and was written just last weekend.

The ending?

Well, the ending has proven quite elusive, and to be honest, I don’t really know when, where, or by whom it will be written.

I do know the ending won’t be written by yours truly, but more likely by one or both of our two granddaughters — or perhaps even by one of their children or their children’s children.

A story that will have spanned over three or four generations and taken as much time to write? Now that’s truly the grandest of grand adventures! And where else would the grandest of all childhood adventures start?

A long, long time ago on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo …

We heard the “discussion” through their closed bedroom door as it reverberated all the way down the hallway. My parents were deciding which one of them would take me to the SEC regional track meet being held in Chattanooga, Tennessee over the coming weekend.

After about twenty minutes, Mom found me and said that we would be going on the trip together, and that Dad would be left back at the house to look after The Sister and my three brothers.

Even though she was going to make the long drive and sit on a hard stadium bench under the July sun watching the two-day track meet, I thought she got the best part of the deal. She only had to put up with me — not my three brothers and The Sister.

Had I known I’d soon find myself under 1,150 feet of solid rock, I might not have been so happy about our trip.

That Saturday morning, the drive to Chattanooga took three hours, and that was two hours and forty-five minutes more than it took for me to be eliminated from the tournament that first day.

My event was the high jump, and the starting height was two inches higher than my highest jump ever. Fifteen minutes later after three missed jumps, I was looking for Mom to tell her we could go back home.

Leaving was my idea, but she had a better one.

The night’s stay at the hotel was non-refundable, so Mom took the opportunity to turn attending the track meet into a mini vacation for just the two of us.

That or she just didn’t want to go back to a dirty house and a mountain of clothes to wash – not to mention my brothers and The Sister.

I didn’t blame her; they can be quite messy and very annoying at times. Me? I was mostly neat and nice. I guess that’s why Mom decided to take me to not one, but two special places.

Rock City.

On the three-hour drive up to Chattanooga, we had sighted barns painted all red with the huge “See Rock City” logo painted in black on their roofs. So, it was only logical seeing Rock City was the first thing on our mini vacation agenda.

And just what did the twelve-year-old me think after spending half a day walking through the rock formations and laughing as I watched adults trying to navigate through Needle Eye and Fat Man’s Squeeze?


Rock City was nothing but a bunch of, well, rocks. We had plenty of rocks back on Flamingo and didn’t have to buy a ticket to climb over or squeeze through them. On the way back to the hotel, Mom asked me what I thought about Rock City and being able to see seven states from the observation station. “I thought it was a bunch of rocks.”

Looking back, I’m sure it wasn’t the answer she was expecting, but she never showed her disappointment and quickly changed the subject. “Tomorrow we are going to see something truly amazing. I think you’ll really love it.”

Ruby Falls.

The next day, we drove to Ruby Falls. Silly me! I thought we were going for a hike in the woods when we got out of the car. Imagine my surprise when we walked into a building, got to the counter, and bought two tickets for an elevator ride. Mom said the waterfall was under-ground. She asked me what I thought and, again, my answer probably wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“Want to see the waterfall. Just don’t want to go underground to see it.”

As doors to the elevator closed behind us, she assured me we would have a good time. In less than a minute, the elevator dropped us through 420 feet of solid rock! When the doors opened, we started our half-hour walk along a winding pathway lined with really cool rock formations which, by the way, you will get scolded by the tour guide if you “accidently” keep touching.

The pathway eventually led us to the famous Ruby Falls.

The buildup had been great, almost as great as “See Rock City,” so I was really expected a huge thundering flow of water. Instead, the waterfall was just a small bathtub-like trickle.

I’m not gonna say who asked the question as to why there was such a small amount of water coming over the falls, but it was the same person who kept touching all those really cool rock formations on the way in.

The tour guide said the area was still in a drought, and because the falls are fed by natural underground springs, the flow of water had been greatly reduced.

Late in the afternoon, we left Chattanooga and headed back home. Although I enjoyed having alone time with my mom, I really didn’t enjoy Rock City and especially wasn’t impressed by the trickle of underground water they called Ruby Falls.

That was then; this is now.

Last weekend we took our two granddaughters on a mini-vacation, two days and one night in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The first day we visited Rock City and walked through the millions of lights that were on display.

The Wife and I took countless pictures of the Girly Girls climbing over and around the many rock formations and carefully treading their way across the swinging bridge. And yes, they laughed watching us inch our way through Needle Eye and Fat Man’s Squeeze.

The next day we visited Ruby Falls, entering the same building my Mom and I had fifty-three years ago. As the elevator doors closed behind us, our granddaughters were so excited I didn’t have the heart to tell them not to get their hopes up.

Once again, while traveling the long pathway to the falls, the same kid who got yelled at for touching the unique rock formations so long ago, got yelled at again. This time for holding up the line because he was taking so many pictures. Of what? The unique rock formations.

Ruby Falls today.

Standing behind the railing at its base and looking upward, the torrent of water cascading down the 140-foot waterfall was truly impressive. The tour guide said we were now 1,150 feet under Lookout Mountain. We all had time to take pictures before making the long trek along the pathway to the glass-enclosed elevator.

On the way back home, our granddaughters couldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed spending time with us, seeing Rock City, walking through the Christmas light display and how cool it was to see an underground waterfall.

I understand now how unique the rock formations are at Rock City. And I also can really appreciate the marvel of the largest underground waterfall in the United States along with the story behind how it was discovered.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Watching our granddaughters walking the pathways of Rock City and Ruby Falls, I realized how I acted on the trip with my mom to Chattanooga was wrong. I was just too young to understand that hiking through the rock formations on top of Lookout Mountain, or winding through pathways deep underground wasn’t the most important part of our vacation.

When our granddaughters return with their children, or grandchildren to Chattanooga for the same vacation, the ending of this story will finally be written. Or perhaps not. There is no ending, or expiration date, on spending time together with the ones you love. That’s what was the most important part of our trip.

Fifty-three years ago, and last weekend.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]