Opryland is a celebration of the senses.
It’s that sentimental slice of yesterday that hangs on like an old song, a melody that never ends even after the words are misplaced and forgotten. It pricks the memory, then soothes it. It bewitches. For it glances, if nothing more, at the growing up years, the courting years, the hard-work years of all mankind. You can find any day of our life tucked away somewhere in the looking glass that is Opryland.
–From the prologue to The Grandest Day: A Journey Through Opryland U.S.A., the Home of American Music
When I began to hear reports about the flooding in Nashville over the weekend, it never entered my mind that Opryland would flood. I worried about my friends I still keep in contact with up there, and I prayed for those who’d lost loved ones and their homes. Then I began seeing the Facebook posts on Monday that the hotel was flooded; the Opry House was flooded up to the stage; the Opry museum was under water. And yes, even Opry Mills was down for the count. (I won’t elaborate on my feelings about the mall, but anyone with half a brain can look at the picture above and see that even in the flood of ’75, the theme park was gorgeous compared to the monstrocity that took its place.) For anyone who might not know, I worked at the hotel front desk for about three years, between 2003-6. So it holds a special place in my heart, not just as a beautiful place to’ve worked, but a place I met so many nice people.
Needless to say the videos and photos I’ve seen of the the Opry House and the hotel are heartbreaking, which is why I’m choosing not to post them here. It’s surreal to me, perhaps because I don’t live up there currently, but also because I was just up there for a visit less than three months ago. It was my second Opry show (shout-out to my darling K-Pick!), and I even trudged around the hotel in my boots after the show and was absolutely blown away by the gorgeous furniture, revamped restaurants, and the new carpet and stunning marble tile that had been rolled out since I last saw the hotel a couple of years ago. With all that said, carpet, wallpaper, and even most of the exotic plants which thrived in the atriums can be replaced, but people can’t. I’m relieved to know that all the guests and employees were evacuated on Sunday night before the water moved in, and in the end, that’s all that matters. Stuff is stuff, no matter how fancy or expensive it might be. Granted, if my home or my family’s home was flooded, I’d be devastated; if my current hotel where I’m employed was flooded, I’d be pretty upset. But safety is key, for lack of better wording at 2AM.
This leads me to share some of my favourite memories of Opryland, which makes me look forward to when the hotel and the Opry House reopen, fresher and prettier than ever before. I’ll just list them, in no particular order:
-The days after Christmas when my family would come up to visit; Kelley, my gracious manager, would always help me block a suite for them, in the midst of the cheerleading convention going on.
-Strolling through the hotel gardens when I worked 3rd shift. Besides the drunks wandering around, the atriums at night were the most peaceful place on earth.
-Making cell phone calls back home from the Magnolia courtyard. So much of the Valdosta news I heard, I heard walking around this courtyard on my lunch break; a few tears were shed here accordingly. And lots of laughs, of course!
-Seeing Loretta Lynn and Roy Clark at my first and only Opry show while I lived in Nashville. I wish now that I’d gone to more, but I took them for granted when they were going on in my own backyard.
-I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention checking in Miss Lulu Roman as one of my favourite Opryland memories. I told her to call my extension at the Magnolia desk if she needed anything, and sure enough she called when she lost her cell phone.
There’s lots more memories, but I’ll stop here and share some images from another Opryland book I inherited. They speak for themselves, but they’re a testament to how well the hotel was designed, built, and added onto over the last 35 years.
Here’s also a vintage postcard from 1978, a year after the hotel’s grand opening:
Finally, I wanted to end with another quote from the great book from 1979 which the introductory quote came from as well. Written by Caleb Pirtle III, this part tells of the selection of the land where Opryland U.S.A. would be built:
And Smith gazed down upon a perfect hunk of timbered countryside, sprawling along the shoreline of the Cumberland. “Hey, that’s big enough,” he said. “And pretty. It looks awful good.” […] And another farmer would tell them, “There’s a bunch of little streams that cut through that land, makes it good for trapping mink and weasel and muskrats. Those logs are lying where they fell a hundred years ago. Nobody bothers ’em. Shoot, very few people have ever walked through this pasture.”
The land was perfect, as though it had been set aside and saved all of these years for the coming of Opryland.
Here’s to a speedy rebuilding and rejuvenation, Opryland U.S.A.–we’re all behind you all the way!
PS–I must also note that Earl Swensson, who’s mentioned in the pages above as the architect of the hotel, also designed the sanctuary of Brentwood United Methodist Church, my home church when I lived in Nashville. I feel like this bodes well for the structural integrity of the property, but that’s merely my lay and slightly biased opinion.