Wallenda

Though I visited the circus as a child and saw all sorts of acrobatic stunts, the first time I remember hearing the name Wallenda was in 1972.  I was with a group of college friends, roaming the North Carolina mountains.  Somehow we descended from Highlands, North Carolina, and ended up at Tallulah Gorge, an enormous chasm carved into the earth.

The Great Wallenda, a well-known circus performer, had done a high wire walk there two years earlier, but the cable remained, stretched from one tower across the gorge to the other tower.  A chain-link fence and strongly-worded sign warned people away.  I had an idea of the deepness of the gorge from seeing the movie Deliverance and had absolutely no interest in living that dangerously, but I was amazed and mesmerized by the beauty of the place and by what Wallenda had accomplished.  I only wished I had been present to witness the historic event.

Twenty-seven years later, I was in Sapphire Valley, North Carolina, with my family, a joint vacation with my parents at their timeshare.  Memories had grown dim over the years and though I recalled a deep gorge, I couldn’t remember its name or location.  I just knew it was nearby.  And I remembered the name Wallenda.

So I asked a person in Ingles grocery store, “Where is the gorge that the Great Wallenda crossed?”

The young cashier looked at me as though I had three eyes.

I posed the question to our waiter at a local restaurant and got a similar response.  My parents, husband and kids were all laughing at me by this time.

Perhaps my memory was in worse shape than I thought.

Finally, though, I asked the saleswoman in a gift shop.  She looked about my age, so I made a hit, targeting the right generation.

“Tallulah Gorge,” she said.  “It’s in Georgia, just an hour or so from here.”

“And that’s where the Great Wallenda did his walk?”

“Yes!  There’s a state park now.  You should go!”

Which is exactly what we did.  Leaving our family behind, George and I jumped in the car and made the trek down the mountain, through Dillard, Georgia, to the fabulous Tallulah Gorge.

Unfortunately, we arrived after the park’s visitors’ center had closed for the day.

Fortunately, the cleaning crew was at work inside and saw us at the door.

“Can I help you?” one of the crew asked.

“Tell me, please, if this is where the Great Wallenda did his walk!” I said.

“Yes, it is,” he said, and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

He invited us inside to see an exhibit that included a Wallenda costume and pictures of the walk.  The best part was that he directed us to the trail by which we could reach the tower.  The cable had long since been removed and the tower was lying on its side close to the rim of the gorge.  To some people, it probably looked like an ugly, rusting hulk.  To me, though, it was beautiful, eliciting memories of a carefree past and daredevil feats of courage.

It also confirmed that I had not totally lost my mind.

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