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Tuesday 29 November 2005

Louisville airport, around 2:45 an hour before my flight back to Chicago; nominally 3 days behind on my diary, but today's not over and so far nothing much to record; and Sunday weather, late rising, lethargy, the need to eat the last pork chop left for me (else it would go forever uneaten), and finally a last round of spiffing up Susan's house for her expected arrival around 6 P.M., all that and I didn't leave the house — other than Luna's two walks — ergo nothing to write about.

Susan and Tory came back in reasonable good spirits; I'd eaten at around 2‑something and wasn't too hungry, and they seem to have been noshing all day, so a bit of what Tory calls "cupboard cooking" — whatever you find in the cupboard — smelled marvelous, cumin, onions, etc. a little cupful of rice with stuff in it — To bed.

Yesterday Monday, Susan ran me around the county; the night before, they'd all worried so much about what I should see — Abingdon, Virginia (an old town for these parts, with quite a few nice old houses, but mostly restaurants and theaters and places to shop), Cumberland Gap (a very strong contender in view of its importance in American history, but there seems to be absolutely nothing there to see — logical enough, since it's important because it was a Gap: a hole, a passageway, a blank in sum), or my favorite, since connected with Jenkins and assuredly something to see, the coal mine at Lynch, "Portal 31", the only working mine in Kentucky open to public visiting — so we left the house with the working hypothesis we'd see this mine: but we needn't have bothered; we never got there, and I'm not too sure about Susan, but I had a grand time and we saw all kinds of things — and closer to home, too: less expense, less running around, and much more cohesion.

The two certain things I hoped to do were (a) stop at the library to get a few residual questions answered; (b) go look at McRoberts, not that I expected it to be much, but because historically it was part of Jenkins for many years and figures so prominently in "The History of Jenkins, Kentucky".

So our first pit stop was Jenkins Public Library, where I sort of lucked out: no Miz Margaret, instead, Peggy Bentley the Librarian, who I'd not been expecting to meet. Ten minutes bugging her (she was very nice about it all), mostly making sure I had good current information to update Section H of the book, which is about the evolution of the library, and is interesting; and in fact even today, there's still a strong element of volunteerism at Jenkins Library, for all there now being paid staff etc.: there was a hiatus between 1973, the date of the book, and the new library building in 2002, and it was then that Jenkins' books got transferred to a basement in Whitesburg. What I didn't know was that some significant number of books got damaged in all that, and it was Peggy and Margaret who schlepped books back to Jenkins to salvage them, giving priority to the Kentuckiana. Susan, with her strong streak of public service, volunteered to help if more people were needed to do more of this at some point; as I certainly would if I was around — it's a terrible thing to lose what might be the sole surviving repository of knowledge or of someone's work, although of course it happens nonstop.

[image ALT: A large modern room with a high gabled wood ceiling and a couple dozen shelves of books. It is an interior view of the Public Library of Jenkins, Kentucky.]

And with that, we hit the road. The first thing of course was to get Susan trained: see a church, pull over so Booby can take his picture. . . . We practiced on a couple in Haymond, a small place on the way to the Holy Grail of the day, McRoberts of course.

On the way, the puzzling Neon: puzzling in several ways, since it's closer to Jenkins than McRoberts is, yet from what I've been transcribing in the Jenkins book, not so closely associated with Jenkins; then there's the name (why "Neon"?); and then there's the business of Neon, or Fleming-Neon? This last now cleared up: there's a slight separation between the two, and they're very distinctively different: Neon is the depressing one, ratty brick buildings that give it a very urban air although it's much smaller than Whitesburg — we stopped briefly — and Fleming is the open one with a country feel and timber buildings: three churches, one of which is among the more attractive in the area that I've seen so far — and a big barn of a building which, since it looked older than the rest, Susan and I inquired about, and wound up eating in: the Boone Fork Senior Citizen Center. Collaring a couple of women coming out of it, we asked how old it was; dunno, ask some of the old-timers inside — so inside we went, and didn't get out of there for maybe half an hour, finding a hospitable and lively group of some 20+ people just wrapping up lunch, almost all of them a bit older than me (now that I'm approaching 60!), but none, unfortunately, absolutely ancient. We never did get a clear answer on how old the building was, although one of the older and most local residents, came here when she was a little girl, said she remembered it from back then; but we wound up having a little plate of biscuits and ham (very good, from scratch no mix, and local ham), chatting with various people including the friendly staff of four in the kitchen, and being shown some early 20c photos of the area on loan to the center. The center is now run by Letcher County, with paid staff from tax revenues, and seniors eat free (over 60, and they don't have to be from the area), the rest of us $3.20, Monday thru Friday.

[image ALT: A large barnlike single-story clapboard building. It is the Boone Fork Senior Citizen Center in Fleming, Kentucky.]

After this unexpectedly long stop, it was back to my chase after McRoberts, Susan quite game about it although we both knew there was nothing much to see there — the difference, of course, is that it was my dada and her doing the driving. . . .

But we got side-tracked, not once but several times, in fact pretty much all day. (In fact, I suddenly realize, writing not immediately after our outing, that I've already started to garble everything: much of the sidetracking that follows was in fact between Neon and Fleming:)

From Neon we actually didn't go straight to nearby Fleming, rather we took the wrong road and ultimately wound up in Deane before turning back: a providential accident, since most of the interesting stuff of the day was on this unplanned side route.

First, a little hillside cemetery, a family plot of maybe ten graves, one of them flying the Confederate flag. A pretty place, to which the startling bright colors of the flag only added; Susan, who stayed down on the road, had a long chat with a woman who came out of her house on the other side of the road, barefoot (husband came out later, cap with another Confederate flag, with her shoes, but she ignored them), and at first somewhat testy apparently, sensitive that we might be ready to make fun of the Confederate colors — third flag flying from a pole on their property — but once she realized of course no such thing, everything was fine, although she never did understand Boobykins roaming the countryside merely recording what he saw: Susan tried to simplify things thruout the day telling her and various other people that I was a historian, which was sweet I guess but not quite right either. Interestingly the best historian of us all was the farm woman, who pointed out that the grave with the flag, that a young man named Toby Bentley who died in 2001 aged 28, was not exactly Kentucky history because he lived in Georgia —

Our friend, with the guiding principle firmly in mind from Susan that I was a historian interested in coal, cued us to the working tipple down the road (and I'd never seen a tipple, and it's true tipples are repeatedly mentioned in The Book), and to the Coal Miners' Memorial back behind toward Neon — where we'd have to go to get to McRoberts since we'd taken the wrong road — in sum, a fountain of useful good information, for which we were thankful.

The tipple, apparently in Deane, Kentucky, a further bonus: it seems to be run by Consol, which I thought had cleared out of the county altogether when they sold to Beth-Elkhorn. Of course, like with the geology of Pound Gap, I didn't understand what I was looking at, or at least not in detail: obviously, coal comes in from somewhere, gets graded (at one place, heaps from left to right were of finer and finer coal) and maybe, before that, washed. I saw no evidence of a railroad, and lots of trucks — anyway, now I've seen a tipple.

[image ALT: In a wooded rural area, an isolated five-story metal building with large inclined pipes and conveyor belts attached to it; the beginning of a second industrial facility of a similar type can just be made out at the right edge of the photo. It is a very partial view of the Mill Creek tipple in Deane, Kentucky.]

The main building of the Mill Creek tipple at Deane, Kentucky.

The third sight on this wrong-headed detour, we also owe to the woman at the farm, and to Susan for being insistent: the Miners' Memorial at Hemphill Elementary School. You can't see it from the road, and the school, which you can see, is an unprepossessing hulk of beige brick, and I didn't want to stop, having got the impression that all we'd be missing is some historical marker, but Susan said "What if you later find out it's wonderful?" — so we stopped, and yes, it's worth seeing, so she was right.

Mind you it's still only a monument, rather than an actual thing, but that doesn't quite do it justice either, with bits and pieces of "things", including a checkboard, a warning bell, and a few tools used in the mines; as well as a fair amount of information on local mine disasters, engravings on stone of old photographs of mine work, etc. The oddest thing was a sort of re-creation of a mine portal with a curious inscription, that neither Susan nor I (nor later, Harold Greer, a local history expert) could figure out —

[image ALT: A low wooden shed with open sides, consisting of a platform about with a clearance to the roof of about 1 meter; under the platform, a wide rectangular hole or crawl space about 70 cm high. The edge of the platform bears the prominent inscription: 'BNT BAK SOR NEE MINZ'. It is a sort of a monument, in southeastern Kentucky, discussed in the text of this webpage.]
I eventually did. Can you?

There; now we went back in to Neon, took the other road, stopped in Fleming, etc.; and finally got to McRoberts: which was both a bit of a disappointment anyhow, and rather diffuse — I never was sure, here again, where the center of town was, although the obvious candidate was a sort of large space with three churches (at least two of them competing varieties of Baptist) and a war memorial; before that, however, a brief stop at Cannel City Row to ask directions, but we wound up chatting for a fair while with Reno Keyser, a real live miner, which was a sort of event for me, since I'd heard that quite a few people still worked in mines in the area, and knew that some mines were still active, yet hadn't bumped into a single person actually working in the mines. His house, as well as all the ones in Cannel City Row, is one of the original ones, if updated, although not that much. The big difference is indoor plumbing: I asked, and he pointed out to us a bit of débris up on the hill rising sharply from right behind the house: the former outhouse.

[image ALT: A clearing at the foot of two low heavily wooded hills left and right; a road, with one lane on either side of a median strip, traverses it diagonally toward the left background of the photo. Some ways down the median strip, a stone pillar about 5 meters tall, and behind it a flagpole a bit more than twice that height, flying the American flag. On the right of the road, two plain churches, the nearer one a one-story brick building, the farther one a taller wooden frame building on a slightly raised basement. It is a view of the central area of McRoberts, Kentucky.]
McRoberts: war memorial and two churches.

Well what with all these stops, it would now be a bit crazy to go running after Portal 31, some forty miles away; especially that I still had the idea I'd go bug Gary Jessey before he left work at the hospital — we went there but missed him, he was off at a dentist's appointment (the things people will do to avoid being blathered at by Boobies!), so instead sat for a few minutes chatting with Sherrie the hospital administrator in her office; then Susan — I'd told her about Granny's pix at the funeral home — insisted on taking me there, the kind of thing I don't have the nerve to do — and indeed, there are several wallsful of framed photographs of the early days of Jenkins, including the only photograph I've seen so far of Mr. Jenkins himself, visiting his eponymous town or possibly even the barren site of it before it was laid out.

As this point, the last item on my agenda, which should have been fairly simple, but wasn't: I wanted to make Susan and Tory a semi-decent dinner before I left, yet even for (what this spoiled city-dweller considers) a bare minimum of ingredients the local grocery store in Jenkins isn't satisfactory — much like Fossato where you wouldn't cook out of the alimentari in the paese, but would at least go to the one at the stazione or better yet to Gualdo — so Susan decided we'd shop in Norton, the next town after Pound across the state line and over Pound Gap: in a car, I guess, it's not really that far. So, off in that direction; but we never got to Norton, and didn't really need to.

Pound I'd never actually been to, just Almira; we got it into our heads to go quiz a man who works in an antique store in Pound, who sold Tory a sword some while back, and who is a storico del paese, as good as any in Italy, as it turns out: at Danny Baker's antique store (one of four antique stores in town) Harold Greer — soft, aristocratic Tidewater accent that seemed as incongruous here as my own yankee speech — knows everything; or at least everything I asked him, and the questions were not easy, since after transcribing The Book I now "know" more about Jenkins and its area than many locals, at least than the younger ones.

The two most interesting items to me right now were that he knew the original of the placename Almira: named after his own great-great‑grandmother, and the name was given by the postmaster (on the other hand I didn't listen and remember as carefully as I could have, since I just can't come up with her last name nor the other circumstances); and the grave of Bad John Wright, he put at a place within a mile of downtown Pound — complete with instructions — called Fox Gap (matching neither of my previous accounts). Well in the fast fading light Susan and I followed those instructions pretty well — although they weren't as clear, or we as bright, as could have been — and did eventually find a family plot on top of a small hill: babies and dogs and a beautiful place — but no John Wright, and I suspect we weren't quite at the right place.

[image ALT: A paved street running across the photo, with on the left, facing us, most of an ugly two-story commercial building, about 10 meters long, with a car parked in front. On our right, a granite marker about 2 meters tall, crowned with a triangular wreath of carnations, and immediately next to the marker, a flagpole about 6 meters tall, flying the American flag. The land rises very sharply behind this scene, almost a small cliff, a bit shorter than the flagpole: on top of this hill, a wooden frame church with a steeple. It is a view of the war memorial and the Methodist church in Pound, Virginia.]
Pound: war memorial and the Methodist church.

Back down our hill, to the grocery store in Pound — somewhat better than the one in Jenkins — and back home to cook dinner: a grand production for not much, finally, but at least it's one meal they didn't have to cook, and for all its primitive quality, achieved my main purpose, to showcase Susan's bottle of Seco Cabernet while adhering to the house vegetarianism. Pasta with spinach and ricotta, peas; for dessert, pears poached in some of the wine — good, no stars; to bed.

Today was simple: I got up late, on my Jenkins schedule, around 7‑something; finished packing (absolutely needed a second suitcase, plus a bag, to carry back all Susan's generosities) and we skedaddled, leaving at just after 9.

I was glad to see, if in reverse, by daylight the same road to Hazard we'd come in by; landscape starts flattening out then eventually to beautiful rolling farmland around Georgetown. Especially beautiful the horse farms, splendidly fenced in perfect harmony with the land, and little steepled wooden buildings scattered over the hillocks: I had to control myself not to ask Tory to stop so I could photograph — partly because after all we had a plane to meet, but partly also because those would just have been isolated pix unrelated to anything else on my trip; maybe some day I'll come back and explore Frankfort and the area around it.

Mexican restaurant — both Tory and I getting hungry — around noon in an area off the main highway, towards Georgetown: dozens of fast-food joints, this was the only place I saw that wasn't. Quesadillas, a glass of beer; no dessert, they'd run out of flan. And from there, with no difficulty or hurry, to the airport in plenty of time.

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Page updated: 30 Jun 06