The rain lasted from well before dawn until 9 a.m. or so last Saturday morning as Loretta and I prepared to venture into Sweet Home Letcher County and then to the head of Blair Branch.
Loretta was driving when the rain eased up here in Paint Lick, and I doubt that we got much above 40 miles per hour when we headed south on I-75 from Berea to London as we oohed and aahed at the fog billowing out of every little valley.
When we got off 75 and headed east on the Daniel Boone Parkway, I set the radio to 88.7 (WMMT) on the FM dial and tuned into pure static but I turned the volume down. The static stayed there for about 10 miles and then we hit the Clay County line to learn, clear as a bell, according to a banjo picking woman, that somebody had dug on Pretty Polly’s grave the best part of last night. The stage was set.
Then, almost suddenly, we were in real mountains and it seemed to me that we had left one world and entered another. Or maybe we had just gotten into heaven because the clouds were low, way below the peaks, and I would almost swear that I saw an angel sitting on one just outside of Hyden.
That’s where we got off the parkway to take old Highway 80 some 25 miles to Hazard and the deeper into the hills we got, the louder WMMT became and all they were playing was the music I grew up on. The Carter Family, Stanley Brothers, and a huge host of dulcimer pickers, fiddle players, old-time drop-thumb banjo and guitar players making the hills come alive with the music of my youth. Easily the most emotional phenomenon I have experienced in the last decade.
“Up this hill and down and up this hill again, It’s a mighty, mighty long road, what ain’t got no end,” according to Bob and Sonny Osborne. The Osborne Brothers, who coined ‘Rocky Top’, grew up in Hyden and have been perpetual stars in Nashville and the world at large over the last four decades. A sign in Hyden says the boys are coming home this month to host a music festival where they grew up. A woman running a yard sale assured us that they do it every year as she sold me a designer shirt. I left a dollar there and Loretta left about 10.
We checked into brother Steve’s house/old homeplace there in the head of the hollow on Blair Branch at mid-afternoon, took long naps and then wound our way some 15 miles to Seco and The Highlands Vineyard and Winery where our niece, Tracy, (Keeter’s baby) was getting married. Seco was once the headquarters of South East Coal Company (hence the name), which was probably the largest coal mining company in eastern Kentucky from World War I into the ‘60s.
Still has the post office but the company property was going downhill in a hurry until some local entrepreneurs purchased the old office and commissary buildings, lots of acreage, and started growing grapes. Local folks who still live in Seco voted the precinct wet and wine became legal. That was a couple of decades back, but now you can get the best wine made in Kentucky at Seco.
They have nice bed and breakfast rooms and the view is nothing short of pastoral.In the meantime, my baby and Keeter’s is a married woman. Easily the prettiest bride I’ve ever seen. Keeter never shed a tear. I cried.