Our tour into the town of Harlan was, as most things go, not simple. The kids were cranky and/or jumpy, so I had to focus on them and not so much the sites. I did get to enjoy going past the “used-to-be” places, which included the house Rod was born in, the house he then moved to, Tiny Jo’s, the diner where he ate chili dogs for lunch (Green Dragon), several other hot dog haunts, the Burger Queen, another eating place (you see why Rod and I get on so well), and the theatre where he saw his first movie at the age of 9 (turned out to be a western with nudity).
It was funny to me how much bigger Harlan seems compared to how Rod and his family make it sound. Of course, it’s been built up a lot since he lived here and now boasts all the essential fast food places, a Walmart, a Family Dollar, and CVS drugstore. It had a few more ‘sit down’ restaurants than I’d expected, but though we had plenty of food left for cooking on the bus (spaghetti and meatballs, burgers, pork roast anyone?), we had to have dinner at Ken’s (formerly Western Sizzlin’), where I shared a horrible burnt pizza with the girls and Rod had steak, and we both had a giggle over the wonderful hospitality. The girls were given beaded necklaces and Rod’s diet Coke was filled before he was even ready because the waitress said, “This is just bothering me, seeing it like that.”
After dinner we paused for more photos, including some of a bridge that our bus was to heavy to cross (by a lot)! I finally put Patty Loveless’ Mountain Soul in to play (she lived in Pineville, not far from here). The girls listened to the aforementioned Harlan anthem, then dug right in and danced to “Pretty Little Miss,” which might just be Miranda’s new theme song (Shady grove, Pretty Little Miss, goin’ back to Harlan…’). Then we made our way to the cemetary to revisit some Burton family heritage.
Rod’s grandparents adopted him and raised him for the first part of his life. Kaitlyn Emma – our Kaity – is named after Emma Burton, and after today, I feel more of a connection with her (she died 2 years before I was born, almost 30 years before I met her grand/son). I knew from Rod’s stories that she had raised 9 children, then Rod, but had lost 2 daughters and a son along the way. Today I saw the graves of those 2 daughters – one who died after 4 days, one after 8 years.
I have been grieving so much these past days – even these past 10 months – for parents who lose children, and in all that time, I had not stopped to think about Emma Burton, who buried three. Did it make a difference that she had 9 others to care for? Did it make a difference that times were harder? I doubt it. I will forever give Mrs. Burton, my children’s great-grandmother, her due props. She survived what I think of as hell on Earth – THREE times. I hope our daughters never face that kind of sorrow – yet I also hope they have the strength and courage and faith in God it would take to do so.
We’re settled for the night now. I am looking forward to going back over the pictures and
reliving the stories behind the old and new memories with Rod. We have no internet connection here – surprise – so I likely won’t be posting these things until we’re home or on our way. But I am glad we’re ending the week this way… kind of quiet and closed off from the rest of the world. It’s been a good time to look at where we’re going and where we’ve been.