KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—It’s sunny weather. The college town is filled with frat boys and sorority pledges who buzz around the city like fire ants on a fallen Snickers bar.
The happy city that feels like Disney World for 20-year-olds this morning. There are a lot of people wearing Tennessee Orange.
Today I am meeting with my friend’s son, Peter. Peter is a 19-year-old student, and he is going to take me to visit The Mound. At first, I didn’t know what mounds were. But now I do.
The North American mounds are prehistoric hills that were formed by early-early-early Native American tribes. As it happens, there are mounds all over the Knoxville region. Some estimates suggest that there were once over 200 mounds in this area. Today, about a dozen are left.
I’ve known Peter since he was a baby, he’s always been into history-type stuff. It used to be dinosaurs. Today, it’s mounds.
Peter is a brilliant young man who looks like a college kid on the outside, but has a nuclear-physicist’s brain. He is on the
autism spectrum, and it was not always easy for him growing up.
This is why when he decided to leave home for college his parents were worried sick about him being on his own with friends. But Peter was determined to do it. So they let him go.
Peter's dad told me, “It’s hard having your son leave. He’s my best friend. Hardest thing I ever did was driving away from the school, seeing my baby in the rear mirror, waving goodbye. Ripped my heart out.”
But getting back to the mounds, Peter tells me all about them.
“The mounds are really cool,” Peter says, “Knoxville was originally built by the Mound People. They lived here back in 3500 BCE.”
Peter talks like a professional tour guide, and he keeps looking to me for appropriate responses to his speech.
“Wow,” I say.