If you know me, you know about Paris. It’s one of those things Greg and I love to say to mess with people. We talk about going to Paris … (long pause) … Tennessee. It’s a little town on the northern border of Tennessee about halfway between Nashville and Memphis.
Not all diversions are about sightseeing. Not all diversions reveal a hidden tourist destination. Paris, Tennessee, probably isn’t on many world traveler destination lists. But if you want to see true small-town USA, Paris is the place.
I’ve been going to Paris at least three times a year for the last seven years. My best friend in the whole world lived in Paris with her mom. Just over seven years ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She beat the odds living this long, but last week she lost her battle. Those of us who knew and loved Melissa knew this day would come and there would be an emergency trip to Paris. A group of us who have stayed close through the years have made the trip for mini reunions and this time we did it again to say goodbye.
This blog is a little about Paris … and a little about everlasting friendship.
Melissa was not a big fan of the town where she lived. She always joked about how there were only two bars in town and there was nothing to do. Despite her protestations, visiting Paris was always gut-busting fun. To be fair, there really isn’t a lot to do in Paris. It’s a quaint little town that boasts a scaled down Eiffel Tower in a park and a sign at the entrance to town touting “The World’s Biggest Fish Fry.” But what Paris lacks in attractions, it made up for by being the home of a friend I had known for nearly 40 years.
I met Melissa in 1975. We shared a lifetime of laughter and memories. I know in all those years we must’ve argued, but I only remember once – ONE TIME in almost 40 years. It actually became something of a joke between the two of us and our close little circle of friends. We didn’t agree on everything, but it didn’t matter, because we were best friends … the definition of best friends. I don’t remember a time when Melissa wasn’t in my life … I don’t remember memories that she either wasn’t a part of, or that I wanted her to be a part of.
It’s funny, the one thing we never did was get involved in each other’s love lives … I suppose if we had, we both wouldn’t have had so much trouble in that department. I didn’t meet her husbands before she married them … I’d like to believe I would’ve been able to save her the trouble. Then again, she didn’t meet any of mine until Greg (who she loved) … and I’d like to believe she would’ve saved me the trouble, too.
There are so many memories of her that I can’t even glimpse into my mind without her being there. She was the strong one, she was the bold one. It was Melissa who was there in my mind when I was feeling weak, saying, “Suck it up” or “You can do this, stop being a wimp.” She was my inspiration and the person I’d see in my mind when I needed a boost.
Years ago, when the doctors told her she had cancer, I started visiting more often. I wanted to keep her in my life. I think somewhere, somehow, I thought if I kept visiting, she wouldn’t die. She’d fight and win so we could grow old together. Every time I would visit, we’d stay up late together, sharing stories and laughing and just being best friends. I kept crying, but I think somewhere in my mind I stopped believing she would ever die. I figured she’d find a way to outlive us all. I talked to her about a week before she died. She called the day I got married to Greg and it took us more than a week to actually connect. She sounded so strong and we made plans for our trip to Paris in March. We will still visit in March; We have a party planned and have already started working on our tributes to Melissa.
Over the span of my visits to Paris I learned a few things about the area.
— Paris has a winery. In fact, it’s called “The Paris Winery” and for a couple of self-described wine snobs, the wine is pretty good. The winery even boasts “Tower Red,” a red blend in a bottle shaped like the Eiffel Tower.
— Paris Landing State Park is a great place for boaters and fishers. With a triple-wide boat ramp, it can accommodate even the largest of party boats for a day on the river.
— Paris is home to Perry’s BBQ. This little BBQ stand makes the best barbecue I have ever eaten, and I am a BIG fan of barbecue! Perry’s alone is worth the diversion!
— Paris has a quaint little downtown that, like most southern towns, surrounds the courthouse. The shops and coffee houses are run by locals who treat you like locals. There’s even an old-school men’s store called The Toggery that has fine suits, sport coats, slacks, ties and sportswear. Greg needed a new shirt for Melissa’s memorial service and they had exactly what he needed, provided by a shop owner who epitomized “service.”
— The people of Paris, Tennessee, are kind and respectful. As we drove around Paris this week, a funeral procession approached from the opposite direction. Every single car — in BOTH directions on a four-lane highway — pulled over to let the procession pass. Greg and I were stunned. It was a magnificent contradiction to what we experience near Washington, DC.
— Just north of Paris is the tiny town of Hazel, Kentucky. Melissa and I went there a couple of times to peruse the antique shops. For a town with a population of just 410 people, it’s spot-on for antique shoppers with 12 stores in about three blocks.
I’ll head back to Paris once in awhile. Melissa’s mom, who I always considered my mom, too, lives there. It’s not exactly a hotbed of activity, but it is charming. Sometimes diversions reveal the best place to get away from it all, put up your feet and let the worries of the world fade away.