Loretta grew up in Madison County and she thinks Big Hill, where Jackson, Madison and Rockcastle counties come together, is a mountain. She has rarely seen anything more insurmountable than Pilot Knob where all her ancestors frolicked and gathered ramps and mushrooms when they were in season.
I took her to Letcher County one time back in the late ‘80s and we took the scenic route up through Barbourville, Pineville, Harlan and Cumberland on 119 on our way to Whitesburg about this time of year. Kids were in the back seat sound asleep as we hit second gear and headed up the backside of Pine Mountain. Points East
As we were going down the Letcher County side of Pine Mountain, a small plane flew up the valley below us and she darn near fainted. Loretta gets nervous on Blair Branch and worries what would happen if a storm blew in and the hills fell down on us. I tell her that I worried about that all the time when I was growing up, but we had a rooster that crowed real hard any time it looked like a mountain was about to fall over. So she says, “What did you do when the rooster crowed?” and I told her we had chicken and dumplings and got a smarter rooster.
When I was in college at Pikeville back in the ‘60s, Belfry High School, located in Pike County near the West Virginia line, often needed substitute teachers. To qualify for this job you had to have “some college.” So I told them I had some and I was getting more and they put me on the sub list. Gasoline only cost 25 cents a gallon and I could borrow an Army surplus jeep from the motor pool to get across the mountain. And get extra credit for cutting class and doing good work.
I taught history and arm wrestled with the cheerleaders on the cafeteria tables. I always lost but my biceps started building up and the guys back in the dorm wanted to know what I was doing to build my muscles up and I told them that I was arm wrestling with the girls at Belfry. Belfry arguably is now the best communitybased school in the nation. Belfry is actually a little nation and a very nice one. I would move there in a minute if Loretta would go with me.
But her reluctance has to do with mountains falling down, and she hates it when I talk about dead girlfriends.
A constable pulled me over in Belfry one Saturday night and asked where I was going and I told him I was headed to Williamson, W.Va., and he asked me to get out of the car and take a field sobriety test. I told him I hadn’t drunk a thing and he said, “Yeah, but you’re going to and I want to see how well you do when I test you on your way back through. I am doing a comparison study.” I said, “Well, what if I hand you a half pint of Rebel Yell out the window when I come back through” and he said, “You better get two. I will wave you through but you’re going to have to have another one to get back into Pikeville.”