Driving back home to Kentucky to visit our children’s grandparents (our parents) proved to be a precious, but exhausting, experience for our family of four: father, mother, son and daughter.
Arriving on a Friday in time for supper, our family would be seated for a royal Kentucky feast: ham, turkey and dressing, creamed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, green beans, lima beans, fresh hot rolls, and pies of several flavors, fare you would associate with a small town, county seat, Kentucky holiday family gathering.
After the feast, gorged and drowsy, we would visit into the night, reluctant to cut the talk short with mere sleep. Our children would finally drift off, but the older children (Evelyn and me) droned on a little longer before reluctantly retiring for the night.
Several years later, the ritual was repeated, not often enough, but as often as possible, considering the circumstances. My father was already gone, the victim of a heart attack. Only the memory of his goodness remained.
Our family appeared again on a particular Friday, but it was not the same. On Saturday morning, I went through my usual ritual, rising before Evelyn and the children, my mother already up, of course, busy with coffee, sausage and gravy. I got up early to go out on a morning run.
I walked down the steep driveway and broke into a jog at the street, turning right at the next drive, which led to the city lake. I circled the lake before climbing the slanting road to the water tower. At the tower, I turned left down the familiar lane that led to the cemetery where my father was now buried.
The cemetery was, to be sure, the perfect picture of a cemetery. Nestled in the hills, it reminded one of an English graveyard. A black wrought-iron fence lined the front entrances of the place, and I had always taken the second entrance. I would follow the lane through the cemetery, moving along in a counter-clockwise direction past my father’s grave.
I always circled the cemetery twice, before retracing my steps back home. But this morning, on a whim, I decided to turn into the cemetery’s first entrance and wind around the graveyard in a clockwise direction. I passed my father’s grave as always, but from the opposite direction.
This run was a revolutionary experience for me. It changed me, and I have not been the same since. I saw for the first time the flowering bush, now with dead, ruined branches, behind the grave.
But I also saw for the first time gravestones etched with the familiar names of neighbors and family friends, members of my father’s church, customers of my father’s county-seat drugstore.
The drugstore stood directly across the street from the 1938 WPA-built courthouse, an art deco monstrosity that served as the landmark of the town.
Now, survivors of the Great Depression whittled and traded knives on benches, conveniently positioned on the corners of the square. I remembered the mark my father made on the town, his church congregation, his customers at the store, and even on the grizzled whittlers who meandered across the street to the drugstore to buy medicine of a sort — cigars and Milky Way candy bars.
I have come to the conclusion that my meandering run was revolutionary because I had approached the cemetery from a different direction, from a different angle, a different point of view. The path had been the same, but the perspective had changed. And that, rather than the completely different path of the poet Robert Frost, had made all the difference.
This is why I appreciate the opportunity to write a weekly column for your fine newspaper. This column, “Home and Away,” gives me a chance to tell some of my favorite stories, stories that center on some of my favorite topics and themes: home, family and friends, Kentucky, history, teaching, faith, books, reading, writing, and travel. I hope to approach these topics and themes from different directions, from different angles, from different points of view. Will you join me from time to time at “home and away”?
James Duane Bolin teaches in the Department of History at Murray State University. Contact Duane at JBolin@murraystate.edu