Down by the River – Why Knoxville is the Best Place to Live
Most people hear the phrase, “Down by the river,” and think of Chris Farley in a van. Can’t say as I blame them. That Saturday Night Live scene is an immortal classic. But for me, those words mean even more. They mean home. You see, on an early blistery December morning in 1975, I was born down by the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tennessee. More specifically, I was born in the now 865 area code of South Knoxville. Being born at Baptist Hospital (near another iconic South Knoxville landmark of the JFG Coffee sign) and just across the river from Neyland Stadium, I often joke I was born two things for life that were totally out of my control. A Baptist and a Vol fan. One of which I’ll proudly proclaim until my dying days. But that’s a story for another time.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” I love the sentiment. However, having also lived for a time in each of the other main divisions of Tennessee, Middle and West, I can emphatically exclaim there is no place like East Tennessee. For, quite simply, therein lies my home. Knoxville is home. South Knoxville is home. Chapman and John Sevier Highways are home. Ye Olde Steakhouse is home. The golden tower in the skyline signaling a place people all around the world once trod in 1982, The Sunsphere and the World’s Fair Park, are home. Not to mention Knoxville is the home of the Tennessee Volunteers, and any good Knoxvillian worth anything bleeds Big Orange.
But these are places. These are symbols. While certainly each one plays a part in the making of my home, they’re not, “where the heart is.” Not entirely anyway. For me, it’s the people of the area that make it home. Beginning of course with my parents. Children of coal miners who settled in Knoxville and began to make a house a home over fifty six years ago. I just had to pause a minute to try to think of where to even begin to describe how they defined what home would forever mean to me. Unconditional love. Unwavering support. Unfaltering faith. These descriptors don’t even scratch the surface. I’m afraid I know not enough words. The truth is, I’m blessed beyond words anyway and grateful for the grace of God to have been given such a blessing.
Home is where I grew up. It’s a church with Sunday School teachers of my childhood, who made a little redheaded boy want to get to church early. It’s summer youth camps and mission trips with unforgettable, life altering events and memories as a member of a youth choir called, “Dunamis.” It’s Junior Pro basketball leagues in the Family Life Center, where I played and coached and spent so many of my days and nights. It’s the Kenjo Market nearly across the street, with their Mountain Dew slushies. And the Round Up Restaurant right beside it, with their soft serve chocolate and vanilla swirl ice cream. It’s the breakfast bar after Sunday morning church at Shoney’s.
Why these and all the aforementioned places you ask? Because of the people I was there with. My family. My friends. The church leaders or restaurant workers. There’s a spirit inside people in the community and city I call home. I’ve not encountered it anywhere else inside our great state or country. A stirring of faith, hope, and love, straight from The Good Book itself. A steady flow of compassion and passion for things and people that are important to us. A sense of both pride and humility, uniquely found in the lives of working people and people working to both make a better life and make life better for their family and community.
I had no say so in being born by that river. But I’m happy to have found my way back down to it. I’m proud to be home.
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