Friday before last R. and I drove to eastern Kentucky. The trip took us down I-65, which follows a roughly diagonal west-to-east path through Indiana, entering the northwest corner of Kentucky at Louisville. In Louisville we stopped for lunch at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, a colorful restaurant with good food and excellent service (well worth a stop if one is passing this way). R. had been wanting to visit Lynn’s for a long time, but had never done so in any of her previous trips to Kentucky. I, for one, am glad we stopped (R. had the fried green tomato and bacon sandwich; I had the catfish special with a side of cheese grits).
We left Louisville via I-64, heading east through Lexington, where we switched to the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway. This state highway starts out on the relatively flat land of central Kentucky before giving way to the beautiful views of the more hilly and mountainous eastern portion of the state. At Salyersville the Parkway turns into KY114, which covers the last twenty or so miles into the Prestonsburg area.
We stayed with R.’s Aunt J., whose home is in a holler off the main road. Aunt J. is R.’s late father’s sister, one of two siblings still alive from that generation. Three of Aunt J.’s children (one daughter and two sons) also live in the holler with their families, along with a half-dozen or so other, unrelated families. All of the homes are served by a one- to one-and-a-half lane road which was built alongside a crick that runs roughly the length of the holler.
According to R.’s cousin S. (Aunt J.’s son, who lives in nearby West Virginia, and was visiting while we were there in the holler), most of the holler was once a family farm owned by Aunt J.’s late husband Troy. S. told me how much life in the holler had changed over the preceding decades. The family had been quite materially self-sufficient: they had owned a milk cow and other livestock, as well as having a relative wealth of food crops. Apparently, the only edible supplies the family needed to go out for were soup beans and wheat flour. That has all changed, of course. For all but a few casual garden vegetables (i.e. tomatoes and green beans), Aunt J. has her adult children do her grocery shopping at Food City or Wal-Mart (both a couple of miles down KY114). That isn’t all that has changed in the holler, of course; now all the homes have access to municipal water supply (no more murky well water), plumbing, electricity, natural gas, and cable TV.
Cousin S. is really cool, and I can see why R. has always spoken so highly of him. In addition to being a font of information, S. has a wry sense of humor as well. Also, he didn’t mind showing me how to shoot firearms. R. had casually informed him that I was interesting in shooting a couple of guns, so he brought his large-caliber revolver (.44, I believe). We also took out the two remaining guns in Aunt J.’s bedroom gun case: an old .22 automatic rifle and an even older single-shot, rear-loading larger caliber rifle. The revolver had a nasty recoil, and produced a sound that could be as much felt as heard. Even with earplugs, each pull of its trigger was preceded by a brief but unshakeable rush of anxiety. The thought of what the bullet might do to something (like a human being) other than the side of the holler gave me pause. The physical act of operating the .22 wasn’t as intimidating, but I’ve seen what .22 caliber bullets can do to a human being. Peppering paper plates nailed to trees fifty to sixty yards away doesn’t seem so innocuous in retrospect, given my experience with victims of small-caliber weaponry. Anyway, the large-caliber rifle, though by far the oldest gun I handled, was the most impressive. Even in the hands of a left-handed novice, it was easy to aim and shoot accurately. Cousin S. informed me that this style of rifle was most popular out in the semi-mythical Old West; though only able to hold one cartridge at a time, I reckon its ease of use and simple, dependable design must have made it indispensible to hunters and killers alike.
Of course, that night I was dealing with the psychic fallout from having handled the guns. It wasn’t the same feeling I get when driving a vehicle (especially a larger one such as a fire engine). I know that motor vehicles can be as deadly as guns. When operated according to the purpose of their design, though, motor vehicles can be safe and productive. Guns, though, have a singular, deadly purpose.
Perhaps it was the knowledge that I had held in my hands the power to inflict death. Perhaps it was just the self-indulgent ramblings of my big-picture mentality making too much of a simple educational experience. Whatever the case, I must have been a bit annoying to R. as I tried to put my feelings to words while she was trying to get some sleep.
I’ve given this some time, and obviously I’m not feeling a hint of the mild turmoil I felt that night. However, my general estimation of guns hasn’t changed: I really don’t like the things. Still, the experience of handling them has given me a greater respect for them. I would like to take R. up on her suggestion of us both getting gun licenses so we can go to a shooting range somewhere and maybe even take a class on gun safety. I may never go hunting (I don’t like the idea of killing any living thing for sport, and it would likely be cheaper and easier to buy game meat at the store than to gear up and go hunting), but I would like to be able to pick up a gun and shoot if I ever have to. I don’t have a real explanation for that sentiment; maybe it is influenced by my having recently read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.
All that said, the trip to Kentucky was great. I enjoyed eating Aunt J.’s cooking two or three times a day, and I enjoyed our visits to her sister F.’s house nearby. I enjoyed the episode with the Jack Russell terrier*, and I enjoyed all the dogs who hung around the holler and followed us when we took a walk into the surrounding hills. It was great to see the next generation of R.’s cousins a little bit older than last year, it was great to see cousin S.J. (Aunt F.’s daughter), and it was great to meet more of Aunt F.’s grandchildren (and one great-grandchild). It was nice to stand on the covered porch late at night and watch the torrential rain pound the holler and swell the crick. It was nice to see Isabel get fawned over by so many of R.’s relatives.
It will be nice to return next year.
*The Episode With the Jack Russell Terrier
R. and I left Isabel with Aunt F. to go out for a walk. There was a road to the south of Aunt F.’s house, a road that went up off the highway and sloped gently up into the hill above hers and S.J.’s house. We didn’t know how far it went, but Aunt F. had recommended it, and we wanted to take advantage of the sunny and comfortable afternoon. So off up the hill we went. As it turned out, the gentle slope only went up a couple of hundred yards, and the gravel road ended at someone’s property. We didn’t want to intrude, so we walked until we could see the house on the property and stopped. We noticed two Jack Russell terriers at the top of the road, where the road leveled off onto the property. Both of them stood and barked at us from that point, and one of them ran down toward us. They were both a bit chubby, but the running one seemed no less spry because of that.
The little dog slowed as he approached us, and his cessation of barking (and deliberate body language) told us that he wanted to be friendly. R., more a dog lover than me, bent down to pet the pup. I noticed that someone was leaving the house and getting into a pickup truck, so I felt it would be polite to turn and leave at that point (just my urban sensibilities, I know). We started back down the road, and I expected the dog to turn back toward the property. As the pickup truck passed us, though, the little dog came and started walking right with us.
I kept wondering when he was going turn and go back; when we reached the highway and he was still with us, I started laughing. R. and I both had figured that was his likely threshold, but no. We decided to continue our walk, and to keep an eye on our temporary travel companion.
We passed Aunt F.’s house, crossed the highway, and went down the sidewalk to the low ground where three houses stand (the highway essentially winds its way along and just above the foot of the hills, and the homes on the opposite side were at the lowest point). As we passed the first house, which was about twenty yards in from the walk, a yellow Labrador retriever started barking and jumped up off his porch to come at us. It turned out he was more interested in chasing off the little dog, though, as he charged right at the Jack Russell. The little terrier sprinted back up the walk about ten yards, waited until the larger dog turned its back, then snuck back beside us. We noticed that he was very careful to put R. between himself and the yellow lab. By the time the lab noticed that the little dog was still with us, we were at the other end of the walk (maybe a hundred yards away).
At this point the walk angles back up toward the highway, and at top on the same side is the burial plot for R.’s father’s family. It is a small patch of land not much larger than thirty feet square and completely fenced in with only one gate. As we approached that gate, intending to open it and visit the graves, a couple of dogs ‘guarding’ a house directly above us across the highway started barking. One of them saw the Jack Russell and went after him. The little dog had had enough, and he turned and sprinted back down the sidewalk with a larger orange dog hot on his tail. Even as he approached the yellow lab’s turf, the Jack Russell didn’t break stride; R. and I figured he knew the yellow lab would concentrate on the orange dog and ignore him completely. We were right. The Jack Russell crossed the highway and disappeared up the gravel road, still running at top speed last I saw him.
That was one smart little dog.