Recently, my husband and I traveled to the county of my birth in southeastern Kentucky – Harlan — to meet with my oldest sister and three of my first cousins and their spouses and grandchildren. I learned that the same connections we experience as children readily are reawakened years later as my cousins came from Warner Robbins, Georgia, and San Antonio, Texas, to share memories and to update everyone on current family trajectories.
We all stayed at the Benham Schoolhouse Inn, which at one time housed the high school where our parents, Lurlene Adams, William Adams and Opal Adams, attended. We spoke of the rooms where we stayed, each numbered for a graduating class, and the wood floors where we knew our parents had walked. Both Lurlene and Opal were star basketball players, and as we surveyed the gym, I could envision them running down that floor. A few times Mother told us about getting new uniforms with bottoms that were much shorter than what they had worn in the past and how the boys in the stands went wild with cheers and whistles the first time they appeared for a game in the new uniforms.
I pointed out a framed photograph in the downstairs hallway of the inn, a photograph depicting young children in a circle playing a game. Lurlene and Opal were in that photograph, their youth preserved forever even though they both passed some time ago.
While visiting, I took time out to drive to Kingdom Come State Park where I marveled at the majesty of the mountains and the overlooks. As a child, I was privileged to have Opal as a mother. She took as up a hollow and across a ridge to visit Ravens Rock, a part of the park, long before there was a roadway in that area. She spun tales of going there as a high school student. The half-mile walk over rugged terrain straight up the mountain was only possible this time for Texas grandsons, Dalton Dennehy, a student at Texas A & M University, and Ryan Dennehy, age 13.
I kept an appointment with Dr. Lynn Moore, the new president of Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College. This is the college where I had my first presidency, and I was pleased to note the college was named by the Aspen Institute in 2013 as one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation. Moore shared plans for the future of the college in this coal-mining region which with EPA regulations and other factors will probably never be able to have another boom in coal.
I had taken the tour of the underground coal mine, 31, in Lynch before, but my relatives had not. I recalled years ago having toured the coal mines at Benham (conventional mining) , Lynch (long-wall mining), and a mine in a small community in the county where the coal was so low that I had to duck-walk to tour. My sister Frances and I were eager to sample pastries at the Lamp House Coffee across from the entrance to the coal mine and museum. While there, I talked with young people from Ohio who were there as guests of St. Stephens Catholic Church to do some painting for needy families in the town of Cumberland.
The site of the Scotia mine disaster on March 9, 1976, an explosion that took the lives of 15 miners and a second explosion two days later that claimed the lives of the 11 members of the mine rescue team which went in was also on my agenda. Barbara Church, who owns the Ovenfork Mercantile a few yards from the mine, was 22 at the time of the disaster, and we spoke of her perceptions of those dreadful days.
In conclusion, I must tell you another story. My cousin Laurel, a teacher in Georgia, was happy to be in the old family house on the Cumberland River where we gathered each day to talk. Much of the area is returning to the wilderness, and deer and black bears can be seen on occasion as they attempt to reclaim what was once their terrain. A problem, however, is the raccoons. They have an appetite for small kittens. When Laurel heard the story of these raccoon predators, she was determined to rescue three kittens from that fate The kittens were still having a diet of mother’s milk, but they were also eating cat food. So when Laurel headed home to Georgia, she became known to me as the Cat Girl with one kitten at her neck, one cradled in her left arm, and one on her lap.
There are mini vacations, some meaningful, others not so much. Our past is always a part of who we are today. I know mine is.
The writer is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or [email protected]