Thursday, May 21, 2009


I was on a painful mission on Tuesday, May 19, 2009. As I made my way up Catrons Creek in Harlan County, Kentucky, my uncle sat in the passenger seat next to me and my mother sat behind him in the back seat. A machine that had recently become my uncle's life-line and his primary source for blood-and-brain enriching oxygen sat in the seat next to her. My mission was to get him home and leave my mother there to care for him.

It was a painful undertaking for multiple reasons. My uncle has never been healthy. He has suffered with asthma and other lung-related issues since very early childhood. My mother is around 14 years older than he, so she was very involved with his upbringing. Her relationship with him is closer to mother/son than sister/brother. She has a very strong maternal instinct where he is concerned, and when he became ill enough to require in-home care, Mom was more than willing to be there for him. It meant I would likely not see her for a while. That is painful. What is more painful is the fact that my uncle is ill. It may have been the last time I would get to see him...and *that* is indeed painful to think about. I hope that is not the case.

I rounded the bend on the narrow, rural road that lead to a place that blossomed with memories of bygone years. I hadn't been back home in over three years. As I took the even narrower two-way lane that would only accommodate one vehicle at a time into the bottom referred to as Teetersville, my mind was taken back to when my grandparents were living and I used to visit them in the house that perched precariously on a steep slope at the edge of the main road.

My uncle's single-wide trailer sat in the Teetersville bottom on the lane just behind what used to be my grandparents' home. As I approached his driveway my eyes lifted up and to the left to the spot where the house stood...and by breath was taken away. Instead of seeing the big blue house perched on the side of the road, I saw two men wearing heavy clothing and thick gloves milling around the ruins of a home that no longer existed. They were picking up pieces of what used to be walls and ceiling joists and sheetrock and flooring and tossing them into a pile that would, I assumed, later be hauled away as junk and trash. Wow. I was not expecting that. I could tell my uncle was struggling with it, too.

We got everything settled in at my uncle's house and I sat there for a few minutes not wanting to leave, yet itching to get on the road in order to get the dreaded 7 hour trip home over with. I was already going to be leaving way later than I wanted. We chatted for a bit and I finally gathered my things and made my way out the door and to my car, leaving behind two people I wanted to take home with me. It's hard to live hundreds of miles away from those you love.

In order to keep from getting myself killed while pulling out into traffic on the main road, I decided to go out from the lane at the far end of Teetersville. The two-way lane that would only accommodate one vehicle at a time where I had come into Teetersville was at an odd angle to the main highway and was at a steep incline to boot, so I chose the conservative approach where it was easier to see both ways and less precarious for entering traffic. But this route required going directly past my grandparents' house....the one that no longer existed.

I quickly pulled onto the road with a slight squealing of tires and pointed the car toward the mouth of the "holler," as it is called around here, and the empty hole that once held so many memories. I tried not to look. This was not the sight I wanted to remember. I wanted to remember the house my grandparents were married in front of when he was a strong, handsome 19-year-old and she was a young, pretty girl of only 14. And where so many years later they would remarry in the living room of the same house. Where my grandmother would run a small grocery store and my mother's oldest sister would live and run the same store. Where my older sister would have a huge lighting fixture globe fall from the ceiling onto the bridge of her nose. (Thankfully, she was not seriously hurt and it became a funny family story that has been told for over 35 years since.) Where my grandparents would settle in to live out their final years.

I couldn't help but feel bitter and angry that someone had destroyed that place. I felt my memories had been stolen without my consent. I made my way back to Georgia in a bit of a funk and in a reflective and somewhat depressed state of mind. I thought of how much things had changed in Harlan over the past 21 years since I left for Augusta, Georgia. Things and places so fundamental to my childhood memories that no longer existed. Some were the victims of "progress," while others fell prey to the economic hardship of an Appalachian community so dependent on coal and its fickle, volatile market. A few meeting their demise due to negligence and lack of upkeep or just down-right indifference.

The memory-triggers these buildings and landmarks served as will be missed in my heart and mind. I can only hope I can dredge up the memories by sheer will-power so the treasured remembrances will not fade completely out of my aging and weakening brain. Perhaps I need to sit down some day and make a list of all the places I used to frequent that are no longer there. I think I shall do that someday soon in order to reclaim those stolen memories.


  1. I've read all three of your entries, and you've got some talent girl! Your writing reminds me of David Dick, who writes a column in Kentucky Living Magazine, the mag for the rural electric co-ops.

    David worked for CBS for many years before he retired. He's the father of Sam Dick of WKYT in Lexington.

    I know you've been looking for a job and maybe you can parlay your writing skills into a blog success.

    I'll bet you can get big support from the BBN.

    Best wishes,

  2. Nice job, Pam! You've already made the art of putting your feelings, and just as importantly the view of that around you through your own eyes and in your unique voice, in an interesting internal dialogue which draws the reader in. Keep it up!