November 28, 2004
I grew up in a place called Barren Run.
Seemed like an apt name. Nothing to do except work (which I admit I didn't like to do and would try to weasel out of as much as possible). There was tobacco to set during summer vacation and tobacco to strip during Christmas Break. Oh.....there were cows to be milked twice a day, every day. And there were chiggers. And hateful fucks who called me faggot from fourth grade on.
But there were also lightnin' bugs and sitting outside talking to my mom as she shelled beans. My dad put pepper on his watermelon and once a week the BookMobile came....so life wasn't all bad.
Now when I go home, I feel like LuLu Roman is gonna come bounding through the porch door at any moment, with a big ole dish of funeral potatoes, 'coz misfortune has happened or is on its way. Those Johnny Cash songs were serious, folks. Really.
I will admit I am very proud of how I grew up - my parents worked very hard to provide for me and my siblings. Where I grew up.......well.....my parent's influence couldn't go much beyond our farm.
-- Rock throwing was a dangerous sport
-- Buggy rides and dirt roads made good memories
-- Moonshiners and bloody noses didn’t stop teacher
I seriously wonder how in the hell my family made it living in rural Kentucky. While there was some pickin-and-a-grinnin' there was also something else underneath the surface of that homespun simplicity.
My dad read two newspapers every day - but he didn't graduate high school. He did go back and get his G.E.D. when he retired from farming at age 62. I graduated from college that same year and his diploma is something I am much prouder of than my own.
My mom had her own money, a job "in town" and is decidedly pro-choice. My mother would read someone a riot act, in a very genteel way (of course) if anyone EVER referred to her a Mrs. Calvin Thurman. "I'm his wife - not his property, thank you."
My siblings and I inherited their work ethic and something else, too.... It's hard to describe what it feels like to be so connected with a place (our farm) but so disconnected from the belligerent and often mean-spirited small-mindedness that permeates my home county.
Nevertheless, there are some extraordinary moments that I'll remember from this trip home. My oldest sister invited me to attend her agency's fundraiser Saturday. It was a superb performance by the Louisville Symphony Orchestra and there was an auction of decorated X-mas Trees and Festive Holiday Wreaths.
This was my favorite:
And I got this pic of my mom, sister and my oldest niece, too:
My oldest sister amazes me. She raised four kids, then went to college, has now completed her Masters and works as an advocate for Domestic Violence victims. At their fundraiser Saturday, one of the children had written a letter describing his life at the shelter. For the first time in his life, he could sleep in pajamas. He used to have to go to sleep wearing his clothes(including shoes). This five year old never knew when he and his mom would have to flee in the night if his dad came home ornery.
I never once had that fear growing up. And after spending time with my niece and nephew, I simply cannot imagine how someone could victimize a child in such a way.
This world scares me so much. And I fear for these bright, amazing children. Fortunately, they have wonderful parents and grandparents to protect and nurture them.
I know I'm being all Seventh Heaveny - but they really do bring me such joy. Probably because when they tell me they love me, I know they mean it.
And that's enough to make a grown man cry. Like I did today when I drove down our gravel road waving goodbye to my family.....turning onto the black top, thinking the only thing hollow was.....well...me.
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