As I drank my coffee Saturday morning, the network news show interviewed a man who has written a book about money and happiness. I began watching with sad eyes, because we had just come back from vacation, during which we had made a good run at spending all our money.
The book’s message made the news better, though. The man said we are happier when we spend our money on experiences, not things.
It had been a week of new experiences for us, let me tell you. We took a family visit that included four of the grandchildren; they had never seen mountains, so that is where we went.
We started off looking down, not up, at gorges best seen from roadside outlooks where old-fashioned stores held cider and honey and horehound candy and the walls displayed photos of daredevils who had traversed the valley walking on a cable.
As we drove north, the 6-year-old was nervous about the concept of mountains. What if he fell off? We tried to reassure him that we would be no closer to the edge than a guardrail, but it wasn’t until we were winding and weaving our way up the Great Smoky Mountains that he finally relaxed.
We marveled at a green peak near us, and behind it a green-blue peak, followed in succession by blue-green and blue and finally milky blue lost in the mist.
Then, just as we crested the very highest peak, a bolt of lightning zapped down to the highway directly in front of us; I’m surprised the windshield wipers didn’t melt. It wasn’t frightening, just one more piece in a great multicolored jigsaw puzzle visible through our windows. After that, the kids had nothing but wonder for the mountains.
As tourists, we did all the touristy things that other families were doing. We walked the street that was not yet overly crowded with summer vacationers. We took photographs, shopped for souvenirs and piled into a little ice cream shop to cool down.
On the main drag, we watched the native dancers put on their show, which was better and wittier than it should have been.
We bought bags of dirt (I wonder whether those IRS officials are so distracted that I can write off dirt?)
and let the kids pan it for gems. They found a bunch and got most of the dirt on themselves in the form of mud.
We waded in a cold, fast-moving river where a batch of youngsters were swimming in the heat of the day. The clear water showed nothing but small rounded stones on the river bottom, which made walking difficult without shoes but yielded perfect ammo for skipping off the waves.
Then we sat at a picnic under the shade and took in the sights.
Everywhere we walked, people were friendly, even when tourism didn’t require them to be. Even the 14-year-old forgot she was a teenager and had a good time with the rest of us.
It was quite an experience.