“Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning
and the sun goes down about three in the day,
and you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you’re drinkin’
and you spend your life thinking about how to get away…”
– from “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”
The song referenced there is a pretty sad one, and it’s all about the little Kentucky coal-mining town where my dear husband was born and spent the first 11 years of his life. (Check out the Patty Loveless version of the song… it’s chilling. I hope Rod records it some day).
I have been hearing stories about this place for about 12 years, and today, I am finally here.
I feel a little pressure about my reaction. Rod’s mom and aunts and cousins are all curious what a big city gal like me is going to think (’cause you know, I hail from South Chicago Heights, IL… enormous population of about 8000, but just 30 miles from Chicago…). What I see is a lot like something used in an Alan Jackson video about the good old days and the good old people. There are narrow streets, pickup trucks, lots of toys in the yards, lots of chairs on the porches, new signs on ancient buildings, people waving as they pass by.
I have taken tons of pictures already… from the coal-miner’s pride bumper stickers to the rubble of the double wide
Rod lived in with his MawMaw (I think that’s how you spell that… we call ’em Grammas in the Heights…). We spent some time walking through his old neighborhood (actually in Loyall) and exploring the “long walk” from that trailer to his school. Rod is marvelling at how small it all seems now. As we drove from Loyall to Harlan proper, he said they used to whine about having to go “into town.” I believe it’s less than 5 miles, and now Rod commutes 100 miles a day to & from work, not to mention all the miles we clock for the ministry. Pretty funny how life changes.
Rod is spending some time this afternoon at the local radio station, WFSR 970 AM. Since it’s the babies’ naptime (well, Kaity is napping, Randa is jumping ont the bed), I am not going, but we found the station before he left so I could listen. We’re parked in the municipal lot because it’s one of the few places where the bus will fit. As Rod was getting ready to walk to the station (the life of a rock star!), the DJ happened to be promoting his arrival. Ever see the movie Elizabethtown, when the son is driving to his aunt’s house, and all the people are outside waving and know who he is? Well, it’s not like that, but that’s sort of how it feels. Almost four years into this gig, I am still not quite used to my husband, who helps with the dishes and cleans the dog’s eyes and can pass gas at will (sorry, honey, but you know it makes you proud), is someone-some-people-know.
Today though, as we tour the sites of all his stories, he’s a little Kentucky boy with big ears, the one who invited singers home from church to eat, who came home from a Boy Scout campout so his MawMaw wouldn’t be lonely, who slept on the bread rack at his PawPaw’s store, ‘Tiny Jo’s’ (named in part for Rod’s mom). Today I finally get to trace the steps of a little boy who would grow to be my soul mate and partner in all things. This sweet and quaint little town is so far from the kind of life we are living now, though it is pretty close to the kind of life we hope to live in our simplified vision of the future. I am sitting in the driver’s seat of the bus now, listening to his single, “That’s How a Miracle Feels” on the radio, cool breeze blowing in, vision of the mountains just pass the Huddle House, thankful for this place that helped shape who he is today, thankful for Lawerence and Emma Burton for giving him his start, thankful for the chance to see where it began, and certain it will give me a little better perspective as I look toward where we are going.