Pud’s mother died two months after he did, in June 1967 at age 81. Her health, both physical and mental, had been failing, so the family tried to keep from her the fact that her youngest son had died unexpectedly. Whether we were successful or not, we’ll never know.
Because I had lived in Baltimore until my father died, I never really knew my grandmother. I’m sure I was around her as a young child, but I have no recollection of having a conversation with her. I don’t remember her voice, her mannerisms, her interests.
I do recall how surprised I was not too long ago when my cousin Mac described sitting with our grandmother and listening to baseball games on the radio. Evidently she was an avid fan. I had no idea. I don’t think I had ever really thought of her as a person with hobbies or passions or opinions. She was simply my grandmother, an abstract that I had shown little curiosity about fleshing out.
Last week another cousin, Vince, sent us a copy of a note our grandmother had written to him in 1953. With just a few phrases, she came alive for me for the first time.
It starts out, “Dear Vincy, Awfully sorry you didn’t get to come down Sunday. You must take your medicine real good and hustle yourself down before it gets too cold to play out.”
She continues, “Mac has gone nuts over baseball and football. As cold as it was Sunday, he had his daddy out back playing ball with him. The little black pig has a room in the barn now right next door to the big pig. Kenneth’s big white rabbit is living in a coop nailed to the wall in the coal house. All fixed up for winter.
“Mac had a jaw tooth filled yesterday. Didn’t whoop and holler nary a bit. Love, Mamoo”
In that brief note, I learned how she spoke, what and whom she cared about, and what events preoccupied her thoughts, as well as a bit about the world she inhabited.
As I hunker down to finish the novel about my maternal grandfather—a man who remained a mystery to everyone in my family until recent research unearthed the outlines of his remarkable life—I recognize even more urgently the importance of perfecting each character’s voice. A few words, an idiomatic usage, a turn-of-phrase paints a better portrait of the individual than countless overdone descriptions. What a character chooses to say, and how he mutters it, reveals his values, his circumstances, his background, and how he views himself and others in his world.
Trying to bring my long-gone ancestors to life is a daunting undertaking. I make decisions daily about their language and their actions that may in no way reflect the reality of who they were. That is why I am writing fiction.
But, this week, I learned a great deal from reading one brief note casually penned by another ancestor. Not only did I learn about her, but I learned how to be a better writer.
I can almost feel my mother rolling over in her grave.
On October 11, 1991, exactly one month before she died, I remember finding her in the recliner positioned next to her bed, riveted to the television. She was watching Anita Hill testify before the Senate about the sexual harassment she had endured while working for Clarence Thomas.
My mother was a political junkie. She had watched endless hours of the Watergate hearings in the 1970s. According to the journal my father kept in the 1950s, they had both closely followed the Joseph McCarthy hearings. So I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me to see her following every detail of the shocking testimony.
But my mother was also in a losing battle with cancer, and I remember thinking it felt like a sad way to spend your final days. Her cancer had made this articulate, intelligent woman nearly mute, so it wasn’t possible for her to tell me what she thought about the spectacle. But it was discouraging for me to think that this might be her last image of the country her husband, already dead 24 years, had fought to defend.
My mother had worked in male-dominated businesses. She had been a chemist at two different Seagram’s distilleries. She had worked for the Navy in Hawaii during World War II. She had worked at a large university. She had worked for state government. I have to imagine that she had suffered sexual harassment at some point in her life. I can only hope it was not as degrading as what Hill so bravely described.
Of course, my mother had never mentioned any incidents of harassment to me. Nor had I ever told her about the sexual assaults I had experienced as a young woman. It never occurred to me to tell her—or anyone else, for that matter. I was fortunate in that my experiences did not seem to haunt me. Like so many, I felt I had somehow been at fault, although deep down I knew that was not true. I suppose I found the incidents embarrassing, a sign of my own weakness or naïveté. So I simply buried my memory of them and moved on.
Until I watched candidate Donald Trump brag about his penchant for sexually assaulting women. That moment brought everything back. To regain control over my own stories, I seethed in an op-ed about the presidential candidate’s behavior.
I’m in the majority, of course. In a January 2018 online survey sponsored by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment and reported by NPR, 51 percent of women stated that they had been victims of unwelcome sexual touching. I’ll admit that number seems low to me. The survey also found that “81 percent of women and 43 percent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime.”
In part because of the Anita Hill hearings, managers in workplaces across the country now receive regular training on how to handle accusations of sexual harassment. Most of us recognize that it is a pervasive problem that we are still struggling to address. Most of us understand that it is most commonly an abuse of power and has very little to do with sexual titillation.
Recently, we have all watched as women, spurred by the #MeToo movement, have found their voices and started naming the men who have victimized them. There has been a wave of courage, of provocative charges against people known and unknown in positions of power. In the last few days, a new movement, #WhyIDidntReport, has emerged in response to one of President Trump’s tweets.
And now, amid this backdrop, 27 years after Anita Hill attempted to educate the largely white male U.S. Senate about sexual harassment and its ramifications, we are once again watching a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court deny allegations of sexual assault. The accuser is once again female, educated, professional. I had hoped that the process for investigating the allegation might be handled with more sensitivity and more honesty than we have witnessed so far. It seems we’re hearing the same old excuses. The powerful men have not relinquished control. The kid gloves that they initially so carefully displayed have now come off and it appears to be fair game to attack or bully or belittle the accuser.
Why does it feel like nothing has changed?
I think of my mother staring intently as our Congressional leaders exposed their vile inhumanity and their naked self-interest, and I am once again ashamed.
The first time I recall encountering a snake in the wild was at Girl Scout camp. I was 7 years old.
My father had died about three months before and, at my uncle’s urging, my mother had moved what was left of our family from Baltimore to central Kentucky, closer to relatives. While staying at the rambling farm house of my aunt and uncle awaiting our move into a new home, my father’s mother—my only grandparent—died. My mother’s aunt and closest confidante suffered a stroke. There seemed to be no end to the calamity.
I loved staying with my cousins at their farm. But I was unmoored from all that I knew. My father’s absence seemed to confuse me less than the prospect of starting life over in a new town. I hated leaving my friends. On the other hand, my dad—a professor during the academic year and a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey during the summers—hadn’t been around much anyway. Did I miss him? I wasn’t sure yet.
As summer arrived, my cousins were preparing to go to camp. My mother and aunt (Charleen, the boys’ ready rescuer at The Last Resort) evidently thought it would be a good idea to send my sister and me, too, perhaps so we could be around children our age in a more normal environment, or perhaps to allow my mother a little privacy to grieve.
I was technically too young to attend the two-week camp, but the administrators had given me special permission. Everyone kept a watchful eye on me. I was not only the youngest camper; I was most certainly the tiniest.
But no one needed to worry. I loved every minute of it. I loved being deep in the woods of Morgan County. I loved sleeping outdoors in a tent modeled after a Conestoga wagon. I loved swimming in the brownish green water of the lake. And I particularly loved the hikes along the mountain trails.
So when one of our counselors first pointed out “Blackie,” the camp’s “pet” black racer, I was mesmerized. He was enormous—at least five or six feet long in my memory. It was a lighthearted moment. The 8- and 9-year-old veteran campers around me ooohed and ahhhhhed and called to him affectionately. Blackie took all the commotion in stride.
I was smitten. I became that child who always volunteered to handle snakes that were brought into the classroom. At home, I gently shooed the garter snakes out of the way of the lawn mower or the hedge clippers.
I can’t remember if we saw any other snakes that particular summer, although I encountered several over the succeeding years. (The image of the heavy rat snake coiled around the top of the latrine just above the seat is burned in my memory.) And I was fully aware that during every hike at least two counselors carried “snake sticks” and hatchets in case we came across a less companionable snake that needed to be disposed of for everyone’s safety.
All of these memories came to my mind recently after having yet another conversation about snakes with two friends who share a sincere fear of the reptiles. A large corner of their consciousness seems to be devoted to their phobia. During our conversation, I wondered aloud way I reacted so differently. After brief reflection, I’m sure it’s because snakes were first introduced to me as friends, family even. Important wildlife that we should not disturb. That we should respect.
During a recent paddle around our small lake, I experienced yet another flashback to Camp Judy Layne. I tucked my lightweight canoe into a cove deep in the woods, and the heavy vegetation and woodland smells transported me to my favorite childhood camp. After a dreadfully long stretch of dark and dreary days here in the Bluegrass, brilliant sunlight illumined the black oak leaves and the purple ironweed.
As I paddled out of the cove, I could see bluegill swimming just beneath the surface as if they, too, had been longing for the warmth of the sun. Several Great Blue Heron swooped and cackled at me, warning me away from their supper. Dinner-plate sized turtles didn’t bother to leave their posts on downed logs, daring me to disturb their sunbathing.
Perhaps, at some unconscious level, I learned at a tender age that the woods welcome us when our spirit has been wounded. That escaping into the woods can soothe the soul. The abundance of life there somehow gives back just what we need. Our personal afflictions can’t alter nature’s rhythms and cycles.
Even the snakes have a role and a certain majesty. And somehow that comforts me rather than frightening me.
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., responds to the recent post Whistling Past the Graveyard. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Great works of art always mean more than they are capable of expressing.” Whenever I return to Pud Goodlett’s journals in The Last Resort and reread his thoughts as a young man, I am reminded of Eliot’s quote, of how even something as apparently straightforward and unencumbered as a camp logbook can resonate with unexpected intent and purpose. I am particularly cognizant of Goodlett’s love of place and family, and how scholarly success never weakened his ties to Kentucky.
When I read Sallie Showalter’s recent blog—which mirrors this attachment to family and place—I realized there must be a mystical connection between people and location that sometimes transcends all else.
As I was growing up, my family moved a dozen times to a dozen different states while my parents pursued graduate degrees and visiting professorships. I learned early not to form an attachment to a place. I am also the only child of an only child, and I can count my remaining relatives on one hand. I am watching my mother die from Parkinson’s disease. So I use the term “mystical” deliberately when thinking of those who experience this ineffable pull of family and place. As a young man, I was unaware of its power. As I contemplate the latter phases of my life, as I extricate myself from the shackles of my career, I yearn for those ties to a constant place and to people who knew me way back when.
That, in a roundabout way, brings me to Pud’s wife, Mary Marrs, and my brief encounters with her when I was young. I recall her as a woman of unassailable beauty and grace. She, too, served her country during WWII by leaving her small-town home in central Kentucky and going to work for the Navy in Hawaii. (A tough gig, that.) Like many of the more fortunate members of her generation, she returned to her roots when the conflict concluded.
I must have been 15 years old, a friend of her older daughter, when I met her. She always treated me with the utmost kindness. One story will suffice: I’m not sure where her two daughters were, but she and I found ourselves in her kitchen, drinking coffee early one morning. We must have talked for an hour, and while I don’t remember the thread of our conversation, I do recall that she took me—a 15-year-old boy and all that that entails—seriously. I also recall her discussing her deceased husband and telling me how I would have liked him.
It was only years later, after the death of my own father at an absurdly young age, that I recognized in the eyes of my mother the look on Mrs. Goodlett’s face during that talk: a look of bereavement, confusion, controlled anger, and a sadness that cannot be articulated.
And just as Mary Marrs had returned to Lawrenceburg from her home in Maryland after Dr. Goodlett’s passing, so my own mother left Kentucky and returned to her family in Minnesota after my father’s death. The pull of place, of family, of familiarity surmounted the grip of artificial roots. And while we could argue whether these two women made the right decision, who can argue with the gravitational pull that lured them home?
Camus wrote: “There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial can be born.” The human condition is absurd: we plan, we strive, we rely on rational, systematic thought to live. And yet, our mortality tells us that our existence is provisional and transitory; it is irrational. We carve out careers, and they crumble into insignificance when we visit the gravesites of our relatives; we remember our deceased loved ones in their vibrant youth, and yet we somehow live longer than they; we live in exciting locales among interesting friends, and yet our profound meaning comes from our place of origin.
It is, indeed, when we delve into and accept the irrational—the “dying of the mind”—that we find our true selves, our “truth.” And for those, like me, who do not have roots, who do not have a family or place which circles the wagons and protects us, this irrational absurdity compels us to act, to rebel, to define ourselves by our actions, by our choices.
Pud Goodlett, writing home about what he witnessed at the Nuremburg war crimes trials, wonders if his brother Vincent, an attorney who had served his country in England, would have found the events interesting. And his widow, talking about her deceased husband to a teen-age boy as though this untamed youth were the most important person she had ever met, perhaps unwittingly reveals the most profound truth she knows: family and place are what bind us to this earth, and to each other.
Tim Cooper of Oakdale, Minn., responds to the blog Imagining Community. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
I have been thinking about Anthony Bourdain.
I have been thinking particularly about his now somewhat countercultural paraphrase of a nineteenth-century French writer: “A gentleman never undermines the dignity and self-respect of another.”
In all corners of the world, close and distant, forces concertedly whittle away at individuals’ dignity and self-respect. We separate children from parents because “they” are not us. We demonize the “other” because it makes us feel superior. And, perhaps most perniciously, we condone the environmental degradation of areas where others live while jealously guarding our own domains.
I read with interest Sallie Showalter’s recent blog Imagining Community. Her piece is a call for all of us to read, and to read widely. She asserts that by reading we can vicariously experience lives different from our own and thereby gain a transcendent understanding of the world. I was particularly pleased to see her reference to the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s collection, The Other. In a review of this work in The Guardian, Jason Burke writes:
“Every person we 'meet along the road and across the world' is 'in a way twofold', he (Kapuściński) says. First, there is 'a person like the rest of us', who has 'his joys and sorrows, does not like to be hungry or ... cold, feels pain as suffering and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling'. But there is the second person, 'who overlaps with the first'. He is 'a bearer of racial features and ... a culture, beliefs and conviction'. These two entities co-exist and incessantly interact. Anyone who has travelled through our supposedly 'flattened' world in recent years can confirm this. Few can deny the emotional pull of the tribe, the nation, the linguistic community, or the difference of peoples, races, languages, cuisines, traditions and histories. This has proved the great flaw in the doctrines of liberal interventionism and neoconservatism. Much of development theory clings to an economic vision of growth, underplaying the emotional. But the two beings outlined here are frequently in conflict and the second often wins.”
And so the novelist’s imagination is a prompt for understanding. Robert Coles, in his cogent work The Call of Stories, writes that the poetry and prose of William Carlos Williams “urges intense, searching self-scrutiny.” The stories and drama of Anton Chekhov prompt us to “a close look not only at ourselves, but at others, at the terrible contrasts of this world.”
Travel, too, is the anodyne of smugness and intolerance, where riding public transportation is the norm and engaging in conversation with a cab driver, a restaurant server, or a fellow traveler can be a profound educational experience. Anthony Bourdain brilliantly evoked this ethic throughout his work. Whether acknowledging his host’s gracious hospitality by eating food that was clearly outside his comfort zone or conversing with manual laborers, restaurant dishwashers, or subsistence farmers, Bourdain showed us how to travel, how to interact respectfully with those who are not like we are, and how to be ever aware of those who suffer.
Surely embracing his vision will only make us wiser.
Last spring I silently marked the 50th anniversary of my father’s death, on April 1, 1967. It seemed fitting that shortly after that anniversary David Hoefer and I committed to publishing The Last Resort by the end of that summer.
This spring the entire nation has marked the 50th anniversary of the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
As an eight-year-old in the spring of 1968, my world seemed to be wracked by death. My father the year before. His mother two months later. Then two towering icons whose deaths recalled the raw wound left behind after the murder of John F. Kennedy five years before.
Of course, the whole nation had other reasons to grieve that year, as more and more servicemen had their lives cut short in Vietnam. Drug overdoses made the news. Death and despair seemed to have a determined grip on our nation.
In many ways I realize it’s unfair to conflate my personal losses and the nation’s loss of these public figures. But from the limited perspective of a child, the incessant drumbeat seemed overwhelming. I couldn’t understand why all of these important people were being taken from us—from me—one right after the other. One in April 1967. One in April 1968. One in June 1967. One in June 1968. Even at that young age I had a sense of the symmetry—or perhaps the regularity—of these deaths. I had no reason to think the next year, or the next, would be any different.
These men were all linked, at least in my young mind. All were in the prime of their lives—from 39 to 46 years old—having steadily built their influence. All had families with young children. All died unexpectedly, the family members and admirers having no preparation for the sudden emptiness, the sudden annihilation of a shared future. All represented huge promise—for a nation in turmoil in the case of the assassinated public figures, or for a tiny sphere of students and colleagues in an emerging field of science, in the case of my father.
In retrospect, it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a young child who had been immersed in grief would take these continuing deaths personally. This was the world as I knew it. Sadness. Loneliness. Endless inexplicable tragedies.
I knew the commemorations surrounding the anniversaries of the 1968 deaths of two of our most inspiring public figures would affect me. I expected it would be best if I buried my head and blithely went about my business this spring without recognizing them. But the condition of our nation and our politics at this moment made it impossible for me to keep my head bowed. I feel it is my responsibility to raise my head up, to stay vigilant, to maintain a clear-eyed gaze.
I’m certain it’s good for our nation as a whole to honor Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I would hope that by remembering the unfulfilled promise of their lives and the hopefulness of their messages we would be inspired to alter how we think, how we act, and how we treat each other, even on the smallest scale.
But I’m afraid I may be one of the few who is paying attention.
It has been a spring riddled with grief. Two cousins, a close colleague, my husband’s uncle, a good friend’s mother, a neighbor I didn’t know well but who died so unexpectedly it sent us all reeling.
That made getting out in the woods one day last week before the weekend deluge even more healing and restorative than usual. Hiking in Kentucky’s beautiful hardwood forests has always been high on my list of outdoor pleasures. I have to believe that some of my affinity for that activity was handed down to me from my dad—whether through genetics, through family picnics and camping trips, or through the endless hours of slides relating to his research he sometimes subjected us to. In the 1960s, most families viewed slides of birthday parties or other family gatherings. We sat quietly as he shared images of rock formations and treefall sites. In those days, children rarely had the chance to choose the family’s entertainment.
Recent research has provided some evidence of a real connection between spending time in natural environments and reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. The Green Road Project at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., is currently attempting to measure these changes mathematically using biological markers such as levels of cortisol in the blood rather than the self-reported mood surveys commonly used in other research. Researchers involved in the project are particularly interested in understanding if time spent in a natural environment will promote healing among veterans suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. A more far-reaching goal of projects such as these is to offer community decision-makers objective evidence for championing local green spaces that improve health and well-being.
In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) produced a comprehensive report titled “Urban green spaces and health.” The report particularly focuses on how easily-accessible green spaces provide a respite from stress, a venue for physical activity, and an environment shielded from a city’s air and noise pollutants. The report concludes in part that “The evidence shows that urban green space has health benefits, particularly for economically deprived communities, children, pregnant women and senior citizens. It is therefore essential that all populations have adequate access to green space, with particular priority placed on provision for disadvantaged communities. While details of urban green space design and management have to be sensitive to local geographical and cultural conditions, the need for green space and its value for health and well‐being is universal.”
My personal anecdotal evidence fully corroborates any conclusions correlating time spent in the woods and better emotional and physical health. Walking along a woodland trail, removed from the stressors and pressures of daily life, immediately calms you. The serene environment soothes you. The beauty awes you. Sometimes the experience even reminds you of our interconnectedness with nature and how we rely fully on the natural areas of this world for each and every breath.
Which is why the disclaimer on the WHO report was more than mildly disturbing. I could just imagine the machinations behind the scenes before this report was published.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
I would like to think that our country’s questionably named Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still cares about protecting our natural environments. But we have all come to understand that that is a naïve assessment of the agency’s role.
So it’s up to us to protect these precious areas. I hope you will consider the small things you can do to help preserve the natural woodlands that support human life. And when you need relief from the vagaries of a sometimes cruel existence, I hope you, too, will wander a nearby woods and reclaim a sense of peace.
One of the regular visitors to The Last Resort was John Allen Moore, Pud’s first cousin whose family had moved to Atlanta during the Depression when his dad was offered a new job with the railroad. Although John Allen was three years younger than Pud, the two were close. In 1933, when the boys were 11 and 8, Pud traveled with John Allen and his parents to the World’s Fair in Chicago to celebrate a Century of Progress. While there they stayed with another cousin, Will Maurer, who was a chiropractor in the city.
It’s clear from Pud’s journal that he was always pleased to have John Allen’s company at the camp. On May 31, 1942, soon after John Allen arrived in Kentucky for a summer visit, Pud describes the two of them having a “sleepless and reminiscent spell, not going to sleep until 2:00 [a.m.].” About a week later, there’s another entry: “John Allen and I went swimming in the Camp Hole and had a swell time riding the current, which must have been running about eight miles an hour.” At Christmas time, John Allen was back in Kentucky with his family. On Dec. 24, 1942, Pud writes: “Scoured the countryside with John Allen in search of a Christmas tree. Saw only two rabbits, but lots of birds.”
When I chatted with John Allen about this book project, he would frequently recall the terrifying lightning strike that hit the cabin in June 1942. Pud described the scene: “A bolt of lightning ripped through the partly opened door between John Allen and me and crashed like a giant cracker. John Allen tried to wrap his legs and arms around his head…”
Both men survived service in the infantry during World War II and both married a few years after they returned. Pud was John Allen’s best man in 1951. Their friendship endured until my father’s life was cut short.
John Allen once described meeting the train that carried my father’s remains when it arrived in Kentucky in April 1967. He had not shaken the shock of my father’s untimely death. When he described the scene to me in 2015, I felt fairly certain that he still hadn’t fully recovered.
On April 25, 2018, John Allen passed away after a long and eventful life. I am so grateful for all the stories he shared. I have to imagine that throughout his life he was the kind and gentle man I came to know. His ability to recall names and dates and details of our family history going back generations, even into his 90s, never ceased to amaze me.
To John Allen’s wife, Jane Chappell, to his sister, Jane McKinney, and his brother, Joe, to his children and his grandchildren, I offer my sincere condolences. I want to honor him as my father would have honored him. In my imagination, the two are now hip deep in a flowing river, fishing rods in their hands. Bobby Cole, Joe Goodlette, and George McWilliams are probably nearby. Rest in peace all.
It’s still magical.
That’s what we discovered when several of us “second generation” sanctuary-seekers visited the site of my dad’s old camp on Salt River last weekend. It was a spectacularly beautiful early spring day: temperatures in the mid-40s with deep blue skies and a light breeze. The torrential rains of the previous week had finally ceased and the ground was surprisingly solid as we hiked down a gravel road past pretty little ponds on either side, down the long hill to the immense corn bottom along the river itself. (Finally, I know exactly what Pud meant by “Cap’s Corn Bottom.”) Remnants of last season’s corn crop littered the flat land that extended as far as the eye could see to the east and west and down to the tree line adjacent to the river. We turned east along the southern edge of the field and headed toward the woods that brought an abrupt end to the corn rows.
Once in the woods, I knew I was home. Everything felt familiar. I had only been there once before, but I immediately recalled the path up the hill to the right, the gurgling stream to the left. We crossed the small stream—somewhat carefully this time with the water running a bit more swiftly—and marched directly to the old chimney, still untouched by time. The cabin, of course, is gone, but I expect that chimney will last well into the next millennium. We all marveled at how two teenage boys constructed such a solid edifice 80 years ago.
This was a special trip. Bobby Cole’s two children, Bob and Julie, and their spouses were there. They had been regular visitors to the site until their family sold the property in 1981. Two who had visited the camp with my dad as youngsters also joined us: Bob McWilliams (author of "Puzzle Pieces"), son of George McWilliams, my dad’s good friend and my mother’s first cousin, and Sandy Goodlett, oldest son of my uncle Billy, Pud’s brother. They pointed out favorite fishing holes, recognized giant sycamore trees along the river, shared stories about the slow deterioration of the cabin and the shelter it continued to provide even in its compromised state well into the 1960s.
We wandered a few yards west of the camp to the waterfall our fathers had used as access to the river for their many fishing expeditions, the steep bluff in front of camp preventing an easier entry. The waterfall was more beautiful than I remembered it, and we tarried there quite some time taking in the scene, recalling the winter photo of my dad sliding down the frozen water on his rear, noting the animal bones littered on a nearby shelf, marveling at the remnants of an old dry stone fence.
Yes, it was magical. It’s clear why the boys escaped to their woodland refuge whenever their other obligations permitted.
None of us wanted to leave. I wished we had thought to ask permission to camp there that night to extend the dream. The current property owners were once again gracious, gladly allowing us to immerse ourselves in this piece of our family history.
Time changes everything. But for a couple of hours in early March, we could imagine our dads walking among us, excitedly pointing out the burgeoning buds on the trees, bragging about their fishing exploits, making plans to improve the camp that summer. We shared sacred memories rarely spoken aloud and honored our dads’ love for that hallowed ground. It was indeed magical.
This past week we lost one of our cousins who I suspect visited The Last Resort with his uncle Pud and his cousin Sandy when they were toddlers and possibly later, when Pud came back to Kentucky to see family. In his correspondence, Pud referred to Sandy as “Sweetpea” and to Davy as “Sluggo” or “Slug.” David Fallis was the oldest son of Pud’s sister, Virginia, and all of us will miss his gentleness and his sense of humor. Rest in peace, Dave.
I come from a very small family. After my father died in 1967, it was my mother, my older sister, and me. My mother died in 1991. My sister lives hundreds of miles away.
I quickly realized that I didn’t much like the feeling of being “untethered” from the mooring of a family. My husband has a wonderful, rather large family, but I wanted ties to folks who knew something about the people who had populated my early years, folks who could help me remember my parents and others of their generation and who could perhaps help me understand a little more about myself.
So over the last three decades I have made concerted efforts to reach out to my many cousins, to invite them to my home, and to get to know them better. They are all older than I am, so I felt a bit like the annoying kid sister trying to wheedle my way into their orbits. Much to my relief, they have been largely tolerant of my whims, and I am immensely grateful for their ongoing support.
My cousins are all fascinating people. Every last one of them. They intrigue me. They surprise me. There’s so much more I want to know about each of them.
One of the unexpected benefits of publishing The Last Resort has been the opportunities it has created for me to connect with my extended family. While preparing the manuscript, I relied on them for information and family history. I had no choice but to call and ask them questions. In the process, I hoped to drum up their interest in the project so they would look forward to reading the book.
What I didn’t predict was how the published book would open up conversations about family. I have heard stories that no one had thought to share before. I have discovered how many of my cousins had spent time at my dad’s camp on Salt River. I have spent hours traveling by car with two of my more intrepid cousins. Although the trips were long, the conversations we had were worth every moment of sedentary discomfort.
Last weekend, the three of us visited two cousins in the Atlanta area: John Allen Moore, one of the original band of boys who joined Pud and Bobby Cole at The Last Resort in the early 1940s, and his younger brother, Joe Moore. We had seen them both two years ago as I was beginning work on this project, looking to them for information. This time I thoroughly enjoyed learning what footnote or story or photo in the book had piqued their interest. I eagerly anticipate continuing the conversations about family and mid-century life in Lawrenceburg and World War II.
When you start a project like this, you think you can see where it will take you. You imagine holding the finished product in your hands. What you can’t fully anticipate are the unexpected personal connections and the emotions of the journey. Their breadth and depth have astonished me. And I might have missed it all if I hadn’t had the courage to reveal a family story and a family who would embrace it.