Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Kentucky Chronicles – Day 2

Spent the day in Frankfort, viewing exhibits at the Kentucky History Museum, watching a presentation on “Haints in the Holler,” and conversing with locals.

Conversing with locals was probably the most fruitful, as I learned about race relations, stories passed down by Grandma, clothes sewn from grain bags, and Berea College. I was really tempted to get this local couple’s contact info, but I got shy. I should’ve pursued it. They said they’d invite me to dinner at their house in Harrodsburg, but they were traveling through eastern Kentucky themselves for the week. Promise to self: get contact info of next helpful local I meet.

“Haints in the Holler” was a gooby little presentation that had interesting information about superstition in Appalachia. I videotaped it, with their permission, so I can catch some of the phrases and ideas and show it to Dane and Aubrey. Funnily enough, they sang “There was an old lady all skin and bones… oo-oo-oo-oo-oo… she lived down by the old graveyard… oo-oo-oo-oo-oo...” etc. Dane and Aubrey have been singing that for weeks! They learned it in school and have been circling the kitchen table singing it over and over.

My local couple mentioned the separate white and black mining camps without any prompting from me. They actually hadn’t heard about the camps until recently – because they lived in Ashland, KY, (a-ha!), which they say wasn’t a very diverse Appalachian town. When I asked if they thought racial tensions existed, they said they of course hadn’t seen them, but imagined there must have been, simply because they were kept separate.

When I finally left the museum around 3 PM, I headed southeast toward Natural Bridges State Park Resort. The park has hundreds of arches and bridges – sort of like what’s famous in Arches National Monument in Utah – and I’m going to hike and tram it tomorrow. Looking forward to that.

I’m not staying in the park, though. Here’s a little story I wrote about staying in Clay City instead.



The hotel owner stepped out the lobby in his brown bathrobe. Barefoot, he descended the steps, his knobby white toes curling over each ledge as he made his way down.

“Whatcha need, hon?” he asked, his dark hair ruffling a bit in the breeze. It’s no wonder I thought he looked like an aged Bo or Luke Duke. I am, after all, in the heart of fictional Hazzard County, Kentucky. And, even though I want my stereotypes and prejudices to go away, here they come up when I’m talking to a guy at work in his terrycloth bathrobe.

“Do you have any vacancies?” I ask, trying not to look at how well his robe is belted shut.

“Just got one,” he says, as he turns his body toward Room 9. The sky is sprinkling a little rain and he’s got customers there he’s settling in.

“Let me go up to National Bridge State Park and see if they’ve got anything,” I say. “That’s where I’m headed tomorrow.” It’s 4 o’clock, and I’m probably cutting it close, but it seems worth a try.

“Well, good luck,” he says, squinting. “Take my number and call for that room if you need it. It’s the busiest time of year here with the trees changing color and all – I’ve been full every night.”

That must be why he can afford to do business in his bathrobe.

I get his business card, drive 15 miles southeast, discover there’s one room at the lodge, but it’s a hundred dollars more than Robe Man’s hotel – and I just plan to read and write tonight anyway.

I call him fast as I can and reserve his last room.

“Okay, darlin’. You’ll be in Room 1,” he says. “I’ll leave your key there with the credit card slip for us to settle up in the morning. I’m heading out now for dinner and drinks and dancing – and I have no idea when I’ll be back…”

I smile to myself as I turn off my cell, partly because I’m staying at the last cheap room near the park— but mostly because even though I haven’t seen a restaurant or bar for miles and miles out here (for all I know it’s a “dry” county), I know of a hotel owner who’ll be out cutting a rug somewhere.

And even though I can’t imagine where that would be, of course I picture his hair flapping side to side as his knobby white feet shuffle him around some dimly lit dance floor – in his robe.


Took a nap at 6 PM, ate a grilled turkey sandwich and Heath Bar Crunch Blizzard at DQ, and read and wrote in my room until 11:37 local time.

Wrote a couple character background worksheets for my book, 3 postcards for my kids, including one horse haiku, and the above journal entry.

Read the opening essays in Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes: Back Talk from an American Region. This book’s a little scary. Stereotypical characters can create excellent tension and drama in a narrative. Don’t want to think too hard about what I’m doing – don’t want to be ignorant and cruel though.

I bought that book at the museum; also bought Bloodroot: Reflections on Place By Appalachian Women Writers. I read that while at Soapstone (it was a library book) and I loved it. It’s perfect to own it – it gives an intense sense of the daily lives of people living in the region and era I’m writing about.

Still haven’t turned on the TV, even though it’s been tempting. Am committed to letting creativity come to me in the silence of my room. Wasn’t even able to connect to the internet today – wonder what I’m missing!

Resting up for tomorrow now. Need to be on the tram up to see a natural arch at 10 AM and then drive to Hazard for some upclose research. Hope to meet a helpful librarian tomorrow or Monday who can tell me what sort of school options mountain folk had in the 50s and 60s, what race relations were like (especially the mining camps), how many houses could exist in a holler (and how close they were to each other), and how long folks could go way up in those isolated places without contact with anyone from town…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Keep it up! Your observations and comments are very intereting to read.