What’s the attraction of going back to our roots — even if it’s for a short weekend?
I travel to Kentucky every four months or so, and my last trip was a weekend in October. The next will be for a wedding in December. In spite of the fact that much has changed, in my mind’s eye, nothing has changed.
Zackie Wakins still has the dress shop in Cumberland in the brick storefront that is now occupied by a thrift store.
Florence’s Dress Shoppe where my grandmother, Viva Adams, pondered long and hard before selecting a dress is now a dance studio where my niece Kaylee Kelly and dozens of other girls from the Tri-City area are learning ballet, hip hop and tap.
The apartment that hung precariously on the side of the gray block building by the railroad tracks across from the building the dance studio now occupies is gone. There’s not a trace of where Sylvia Sumpter studied her lessons or greeted her handsome father, Creed, when he returned home from work.
Vic’s Jewelry is tightly locked up, just waiting for Vic Howard to open the door, turn on the lights and greet customers in his friendly way. And he’s as always thinking of the photographs he will soon be taking to capture the spirit of the residents of the area: the weddings; the portraits of community leaders; the faces of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch. Those photographs, thanks to the talents of Professor
Emeritus James B. Goode, now resides at Ole Miss and the University of Kentucky Archives in Lexington.
And the little pine tree no taller than a foot when my cousin Linda Adams and I dug it up in the woods and planted it is three times the height of my grandmother’s house on Parker Street on the banks of the Cumberland River. Toys now dominate the property inside and out and my sister’s great grandchildren, Hunter and Kaylee, are always adding to the collection. At times the toys bore them, and they do what my brother Bill and I did as children: climb the hills and fish in the river.
Recently, I called the Commonwealth Bank in Cumberland, and Betty Jo Galloway answered the phone. She was my first and only babysitting job when I was 13, and I was paid 25 cents an hour by her parents, Lizzie and Lee.
Although I can no longer climb Raven’s Rock, to me it’s still that pristine site where Lizzie Galloway was able to save my mother’s life by catching her as she slipped on that rock – the big one that leads to the cave.
Cumberland High School is shuttered with broken windows and other evidence of vandalism, but it’s still that “new” school where Leola Yeary, Mrs. Gross, Jack Creech, Ross Barger, and the Huff sisters, Gola and Florence, were my teachers. I held my first real job at the school, popping corn which I sold for 5 cents a bag at break time. I left my classes early to get the machine fired up so that the smell of popcorn filled the hallways. I made 2 or 3 three cents for each bag I sold, and my first paycheck was for three dollars plus. I had no idea how to cash it.
I looked at the two-inch scar on my right wrist this morning, a scar I earned by placing my hand against a pane of glass when I was pushed from behind while exiting the gym at that high school. No safety panes back then. Following the accident, I walked to Dr. D.M. Fields office, now demolished, where “Uncle Doc” bandaged my wrist and told me it was a clean cut and I’d be fine.
Following that most recent trip, I returned to Ohio where I now live. Longfellow’s poetry was on the syllabus for my college American literature class, and I realized, again, that his words are forever imprinted in my mind: “And among the dreams of the days that were/I find my lost youth again.”
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