Like many small towns across America, both Isom and Blackey in Letcher and Kirksville in Madison County set aside long weekends every year to celebrate their very existence and the residents call these events their “community days.” Most small Kentucky towns still have annual community celebration events (Berea’s Spoonbread, Mount Vernon’s Bittersweet, London’s Chicken “Festivals”, etc.) that essentially serve the same purpose but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of community celebrations in Kentucky that still refer to themselves as “Days.”
Other than the ones already mentioned, I have been to Smith Grove Days, Mount Sterling Court Days, Harrodsburg Pioneer Days and probably a few others if I put my mind to it. I’m reasonably sure that several communities in Harlan County have something akin to community days. I intend to find out what and when they are and start getting to them.
Typically these “Days” are longstanding, annual events that happen at the same time every year. I forget exactly when Isom and Kirksville Days are scheduled but Blackey Days is always the second Friday and Saturday of October. And while it takes a bit of imagination to call either of these communities “towns” anymore. I’m pretty sure that Blackey, with a population of fewer than 200, still elects a mayor but I would not bet big $ on it. I’m even less knowledgeable about the other two, but I’m pretty sure Isom has never been incorporated nor elected city officials.
In any event we went up (or down as the case may be) to Blackey Days last weekend because, as much as anything else, the event serves as a homecoming for people like me who either grew up there or somewhere close by. Blair Branch is about eight miles up Rockhouse Creek from Blackey but close enough for me to still call both Isom and Blackey home.
This year was especially meaningful to me because I finally got to meet and shake hands with a couple of fellows with whom I have been corresponding but had never laid eyes on.
Burnside author and Blackey native Jim Cornett and I have been in touch for several decades and retired educator, Blackey native, now returned home, Michael Caudill and I have swapped email almost weekly for several years.
This most recent Blackey Days was the first time we’d laid eyes on each other. Of course I had numerous conversations with other people I’ve known all my life without having a clue, thanks to Mr. Parkinson, as to what their names were/ are. I’ve gotten to the point that I’m not much embarrassed with name recognition anymore. Most people know that I contend with Parkinson’s disease and realize that it messes with my memory. I’ve finally reached the point that if it doesn’t bother them, it shouldn’t bother me.
But the best thing that came out of this year’s Blackey Days was a present from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Yvonne Watts Caudill. “Vondy” had found and she returned my old Letcher High School Class of 1967 Yearbook. I still have a lump in my throat, not so much from getting back the annual, but for Vondy’s thoughtfulness.
I had taken with me on the trip my brand new ultralight tablet/laptop computer that weighs less than a pound even though it has a functional keyboard that even Mr. P can manipulate. I originally intended to compose this column on the front porch of our old homeplace just so I could say I had finally written one in the head of the Blair Branch that I have written about so often, in this column, over the last four decades.
But after a nice long visit with all three brothers and Steve’s better half, Brenda Joseph, on Saturday evening, instead of settling down to write, I found myself engrossed in the old yearbook, mentally walking the hallway of long-gone Letcher High. I also spent over an hour trying to figure out how many of the “kids” pictured in it I’d conversed with earlier in the day.
Thank you, Vondy!