Sunday, January 7, 2007

Harlan County, Kentucky - Universe Central

(Posted by Paula)

My husband didn't believe the first time I told him this: Harlan County, Kentucky, is the center of the universe! He found my comment amusing. But in our year-and-a-half marriage, he has now conceded, and he also knows this to be true. Everyone, everywhere seems to have ties to Harlan County. No matter where we go, I always run into people who are linked to Harlan in some way, be it that their great-grandfather used to work in the mines, or they lived there as children, or their college roommate was from Harlan...somewhere in their background, there's a link. The first couple of times I ran into people who had ties to Harlan, my husband just wrote it off to sheer coincidence, but after it happened time and time again, he is a believer, too!

Case in point: I moved to a small town in Southern Middle Tennessee a few months ago. One of the first people I met is my neighbor two doors down, and guess what...he grew up in Harlan. And when a new family moved to town from guess it...his father worked in the mines in Harlan. And just to drive this point home: the house that my husband bought five years before he met me? Bought it from a man who worked as a physician in Harlan County in the 50's. And it just doesn't happen that I run into people with ties to Harlan in Tennessee. No, I can go ANYwhere and find someone with links to Harlan!

In fact, you know the old game, "The six degrees of Kevin Bacon?" Well, I have a game: "The Four Degrees of Harlan County." I don't even NEED six degrees! I can do it in four...or three or two!

I'm very PROUD of my mountain heritage. I think, once a child of the Appalachians, always a child of the Appalachians. I grew up there, moved away and got a college education, and I couldn't WAIT to go back home. The only reason I'm not there now is that I married a man who just can't live in the mountains (that dumbfounds me, really), and has a technical job that just isn't available there...or I'd be back home. Don't get me wrong, there are wonderful places in the world, and Southern Middle Tennessee is a lovely's just not my mountain home. I do miss my mountains...falling asleep to the orchestra of sound made by the frogs and katydids at night as the distant moan of a midnight train echoes through the mountains. I miss waking up to the sounds and smells of the mountains...the hummingbirds outside my window, the morning sun filtering through the large oak trees outside. I miss the misty mornings when the fog wraps itself like a ribbon around the mountains and only burns off with the late morning sunshine...or the days that it doesn't burn off at all and gives the mountains an enchanting, mystical quality...that others not from there consider foreboding and sad.

So now, I settle for going back every chance I the mountains that made me who I am, to the people and places that call me their own. It's where I find myself when I get lost in the world. It's home.

(Coal Miner Art by Roger Philpot.)

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