Memoirist recalls a different Pigeon Forge

Boyhood was filled with simple pleasures
Apr. 12, 2013 @ 11:41 PM

Picture a quaint town, reminiscent of Mayberry. No shopping malls or slabs of concrete. No cars or machinery to detract from the natural landscape. Where Five Oaks now sits, visualize a picturesque farmhouse. Across the street, imagine acres of fields and uninterrupted woodlands.

This is where local writer Ron H. Rader grew up, though it is a city much different than today's Pigeon Forge, where arcades and putt-putt courses line the street to compete for tourists' attention.

As a boy growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, this was Rader's Pigeon Forge, and he invites you to explore it with him in his new book, "The Blue Mountains Sing," with cover art provided by local artist Robert Tino.

What started out as a simple memoir for his children and grandchildren turned into a much bigger project, as Rader realized he had a larger story to share. 

Rader, who works full time in real estate, said it was difficult to balance writing with his career and other responsibilities. But the opportunity to preserve his mountain legacy was too compelling to resist.

"It just kept growing, as I realized I almost had a gnawing to tell the story," Rader said.

Rader recounts fondly how Uncle Dave Ogle took him under his wing and taught him the ways of mountain life. His boyhood, he recalls, was filled with simple outdoor pleasures like trout fishing and catching fireflies.

Without sounding didactic or preachy, Radar contrasts the Pigeon Forge of his day with the city of today, and asks the reader to ponder at what cost we enjoy today's modern conveniences.

Seeking to preserve his heritage, Rader first considered a novel, but he felt the Smokies didn't lend itself to such a work. Instead, he wanted to preserve the city's past, while also providing background information to tourists and newcomers to the area.

Rader maintains that some of the changes we are seeing are prophetic, having been predicted by renowned nationalists and conservationists.

Although Rader has served as a naval officer in Virginia Beach, Va.; Charleston, S.C.; and Norfolk, Va., it is his hometown that entrances him. "It's hard to capture and put into words the emotions you have when you look at the Smoky Mountains," he said.

Nevertheless, when he writes about "our home folks and their mountains," that's exactly what he does.

Rader currently lives in Sevierville with his wife, Jane. They have three sons, Jeff, Mitch, and John, as well as six grandchildren.

He will hold a book signing for his newly released memoir, Sunday, April 14, 2-4 p.m. at the Pigeon Forge Library. Sarah Morgan, a renowned dulcimer player who won the 2012 National Mountain Dulcimer Championships, will play at the event.

jfrye@themountainpress.com