Tuesday the 29th Steve and I were working the reception desk in the Tennessee State Library & Archives when a silver-haired couple entered the building. We ascertained that this was their first visit and began the process of registering them.
As they filled out the registry cards they chatted with Steve and me. And in the dialog the man commented that the two had entertained at Opryland Park.
As soon as he said that I recognized them despite the silver hair. I happily blurted out, "You're Russ and Becky Jeffers!"
The couple had performed for 24 years at the bluegrass stage in the park, with its cabin backdrop, in their "Country and Bluegrass Show". It turns out both Steve and I had been to this show numerous times. Indeed, Steve claimed more than once that he'd seen the show "150 times." To which assertion I finally commented, "And I'd seen it 151 times!" in a little light-hearted one-upmanship.
So, the four of us got to talking at length about the park, which all of us had loved so dearly. Steve admitted that he cried when they killed the park. And I, too, had cried. Becky remarked about on work days -- if performing a music one loves can be called "work" -- she'd let their kids have the run of the park. Opryland was THAT SAFE, secure and family-friendly of an environment! Becky was far from the first parent I'd heard speak of just turning their kids loose for a day there.
And I learned a bit of history. Russ told of how theirs was the very last show to be performed in the park before its murder. Since it was the Christmas season the show was slotted to be done in the New Orleans Theater. But Russ talked the crowd into adjourning to the country and bluegrass cabin for this finale. And the very last song to be sung in Opryland USA was "Rocky Top", the newest on the list of Tennessee's official State Songs. I suppose one could say that "Rocky Top" was thus the swan-song, then, on 31 December 1997.
Rest in peace, my dear Opryland Park! And God bless Russ and Becky Jeffers for patronizing the State Library and awaking fond memories for their fellow ex-employee! (I worked at Opryland in the 1990s, as ticket seller and then as tour coordinator of Grand Ole Opry Tours.)