Philip Cullen was irrepressible.
If he wasn’t racing, he was volunteering at a race. Or officiating. If he wasn’t focusing on triathlons, he was fooling around with trail running or Ride & Tie events—at least until an unfamiliar horse got the better of him last spring. So Maureen gave him his own horse when he retired this past fall so they could trail ride together.
At triathlons, he usually attached a stuffed animal to the front of his bicycle just to give all the serious racers around him a laugh. He was good, and I imagine the sight of Philip passing with a stuffed tiger on his bike gave his competition motivation to pass him later. He didn’t care. He trained with discipline and he wanted to race well for the Irish National Team, but the focus was always on fun.
What surprised me most about Philip was the volunteering he did. He always volunteered to work the polls on voting day. He volunteered at every area triathlon he did not participate in. He helped coordinate training tris. He led the Tri Club. In just the last six months, I know that he volunteered to get jabbed in the J&J COVID vaccine trial back in November; volunteered to help with traffic and statistics at COVID testing sites; volunteered with the Red Cross assessing flood damage to homes in Eastern Kentucky this spring; and volunteered at the Big Turtle race in Morehead, Ky., in April, where he had planned to complete a 50K trail run before those niggling chest pains caught his attention and finally sent him to the doctor the day before.
And, of course, it was only recently that Philip stopped working. He used to come out to our place after work, swim a mile and a half, have a beer, and then participate in a conference call with colleagues in the Philippines on my back patio before heading home. That’s when he didn’t have to be in China or Cebu handling business.
Evenings when work wasn’t pressing, he might have a couple of beers and then start storytelling in his fading Irish brogue. I used to worry that his long stories might disturb the neighbors. But I expect they were laughing along with us.
Philip had tales of killer kites in India or the heat in Singapore. His years at the rival engineering school in Louisville. His frequent trips back to Ireland and the family he discovered there.
And we cannot forget his devotion to his family. He usually called me when he was on I-64 heading to Louisville to see his dad (and his mum before she died in 2018) or on I-75 to Ohio to see Maureen’s family. He was always there for them, whether helping address health issues or celebrating holidays or simply offering a helping hand.
In short, his heart was bigger than most. It gleefully carried a bigger load than most. It worked at a superhuman pace for sixty full years. No wonder it needed a rest.
Philip, you got more out of life than most of us ever dream of. You brought laughter and encouragement to the rest of us. You overcame injuries that might have beaten down a mere mortal. But nothing stopped you. You went full bore all the time.
The lucky among us only get nine lives. You used up every last one of them.
Rest in peace, my friend.
Only two children appear in The Last Resort, my dad’s 1943 Salt River journal: Sweetpea and Sluggo. The affectionate nicknames Pud had for his first two nephews tell you everything.
In March 2018, I memorialized Sluggo, aka Dave Fallis, the elder son of my dad’s sister Virginia Fallis, when he died after a long illness. Today, I honor Sweetpea, aka Robert Dudley “Sandy” Goodlett, the first son of my dad’s brother Billy Goodlett, who died unexpectedly Monday after a brief illness.
When David Hoefer, the co-editor of The Last Resort, suggested that we annotate many of the personal and historical references in the journal to provide a more fulsome picture of Pud’s world, I knew we had some work to do. David researched most of the historical and technical details. I started digging up information about Pud’s family circumstances and his Lawrenceburg friends.
The first person I called was Sandy. He was the Goodlett family historian, and he had sustained ties to Lawrenceburg longer than the rest of us. David and I met with Sandy in his office in the building I still think of as the old post office, and we peppered him with questions. He was able to answer most of them, and I think he reveled in being a critical informant for our project.
Soon I realized I wanted to make a trip to the Atlanta area to talk to a couple of the “boys” who used to join my dad at his Salt River camp: my cousin John Allen Moore and Lawrenceburg native Bill “Rinky” Routt. Sandy said, “Let’s go.” We picked a date and Sandy drove me and our cousin Bob Goodlett to Atlanta and back. During that trip, we were also fortunate to spend some time with John Allen’s younger brother, Joe Moore, and with Lawrenceburg natives Eugene Waterfill and Mary Dowling Byrne.
It was a magical trip. And Sandy made it happen. Today, of all my dad's family and friends we visited, only Joe Moore survives.
Sandy was always unselfish with his time and his wisdom. If I planned a family gathering, I knew he’d be there. In his van, we discovered we could talk for eight straight hours and still learn something new.
When Sandy died, I lost not only a beloved cousin and my go-to guy for all Goodlett family questions. I lost one more connection to the father I never really knew.
I’ve laughed this week with some family about Sandy’s rare equanimity and quietude in times of crisis and distress. That is not a typical Goodlett trait. Most of us are hard-headed and opinionated and high-tempered. We are intense and hard driving. Sandy kept his intelligence and his passion quietly under wraps. And when he offered us a glimpse, it was usually accompanied by that inimitable grin.
If we want to honor Sandy, we should all strive to approach life’s vicissitudes with his calmness and acceptance. We should strive to be as kind and caring as he was. And we should strive to love our family half as much as he did.
Read Sandy's obituary.
Joe Ford, of Louisville, Ky., responds to my recent posts, offering paths to hope and joy during this holiday season. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
My family occasionally hosts an activist who lives in Nicaragua. I think of her now, and her adopted country, and her regional neighbors in El Salvador. They have lived through what we imagined in horror would be Trump unleashed: a government that does not serve its people, but rather suppresses and murders them. How is it she and her circle survive? How is it they remain activists, remain the opposition, after decades of repression? They do not give up hope. I do not know how. But perhaps that is the mantle that we need to take on.
It appears that we in the U.S. have faced down that threat…for now, although there is a formidable group of elected officials who still support those authoritarian impulses. But where is our collective hope? Our shared, spontaneous joy? The bonfires and front-yard dances that erupted in my neighborhood the day the election was called?
Perhaps that jubilation has been muted as we continue to confront a second, physical menace. Each day COVID-19 steals thousands of Americans from their families, each one a cruel separation amid devastating national loss. Nonetheless there is hope even there, borne of the vaccines, if we can remain cautious and disciplined for another half a year or so.
At my workplace, a few of us were asked to gather some best practices for dealing with the stress of being an employee, parent, nurse, cook, spouse, and caretaker for elderly parents all at the same time, all from our home office at the kitchen table—while also striving to remain stable, confident and supportive to all (when we really have no idea what is going to happen, when the pandemic will end, when our kids can go back to school, when we can go back to work—or if we will have work). The most common advice:
My plea to you is to not lose joy, to continue to find pleasure where we found it before. Things may seem hopeless and dark, but as my wife, the anthroposophist, reminds me, the shortest day of light has already passed. The light—and hope—will gradually return.
Many of us who read this blog are confessed bibliophiles. So pick up a book. I’d suggest The Secret Life of Trees if you want to be reminded that the rule of nature is not survival of the fittest, is not red in tooth and claw, but is rather the way of mutual cooperation.
Next, perfect a recipe for a drink. A Hot Toddy, or a Manhattan. Something that promotes reflection. Not beer. Maybe port.
Then set aside an hour or two each night to read and sip your drink. Post a comment to this blog with your choices. Let us in on your secrets.
I’m going to choose To Kill a Mockingbird, because it’s been a few years. And I’ll continue my ongoing experiment with the classic Manhattan.
If you cannot do both, do the reading. Do not just drink. :)
Merry Christmas to you all.
2 shots Rye whiskey
1 shot sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 twist orange peel, or a dash of orange liqueur or orange bitters
Mix liquid ingredients together in a glass with a single ice cube. Stir 30 times.
Twist the orange peel over the glass and drop in.
Garnish with a cherry and add a few drops of the cherry juice.
In cold weather, remove the ice cube.
This past week the pain of the pandemic finally took me down.
No, none of my family members or close friends has contracted COVID. Since the death of one former colleague in early spring, I haven’t lost anyone dear to me to the disease. I remain healthy. But everyone around me seems to be suffering.
They are suffering because they have been around others who have learned they were carrying the coronavirus, and now they don’t know whom they can safely see or whom they may have already infected, pending more testing. They’re suffering because they have family members in extended care facilities and the lockdowns are expanding once again. They’re suffering because they have family members who have recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and they know the road ahead will be further complicated by the demands of growing numbers of COVID patients and overburdened health care workers. They’re suffering because family members have recently died from other causes, but during those illnesses they had limited access to those who were ailing and now they are mourning without the physical tenderness others could offer.
They’re suffering from the prolonged isolation that has finally overcome them.
Throughout this year I’ve made a point to follow the news about the danger of the pandemic and its toll and to read the tributes to those who have lost their lives to this insidious disease. I wanted it to be real for me as I continue to hunker down in the safety of my home. I railed about our collective lack of action combatting the disease. I fretted that more Americans couldn’t do the simplest things to keep everyone safe. More recently, I privately admitted that I wasn’t feeling the fatigue as keenly as others, because I was so comfortable in my own protected space.
But this week it finally overpowered me. I broke down when I read about the untimely death of Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. I never met Mr. Caulk. I have, of course, read about his efforts to address the inequities of education in Lexington’s schools. I knew a little about his background. I knew he had survived a serious battle with cancer when he first arrived in Kentucky. Today we only know that he succumbed after a brief illness. But that he should lose his life at 49 after displaying a lifetime of courage and after having done so much good, necessary work just seems unbearable. I send my sincere condolences to his family.
So, it appears I too have been broken. I pride myself on my toughness. I want to be a bulwark for others. All my life I’ve told myself that my early losses made me more empathetic, more sympathetic of the suffering of others. But now I feel there is nothing I can offer to all my friends who are reeling.
All I can do is share these words.
Tessa Bishop Hoggard, a native of Paris, Ky., who now lives in Texas, shares how she stumbled across Clearing the Fog and helped connect me with Jim Bannister.
Have you ever experienced a time in your life when the stars were perfectly aligned and from that perfection flowed precious nuggets of gold? It’s as though Sagittarius’ arrow struck its target on the Milky Way, releasing hidden treasures for such a time as this.
And what time could that be? It is a time of a ravaging pandemic and a nation fraught with political, economic, and racial turmoil, yet in its midst virtue is found. I’m left pondering how events, encounters, and circumstances were well-positioned to uncover the details of a crime and bring healing for two families.
The catalyst for the unfolding events was the 1901 lynching of a black man in Bourbon County, Ky. In 2014 I learned about this story from my mother, the biggest supporter of my genealogy research. Immediately I applied my research skills to finding answers to the “who, what, and why” of this tragedy.
My first discovery was the “who.” Two individuals are prominent characters in this story: Mary Lake Barnes Board (the accuser) and George Thomas Carter (the accused). Though I got a good start on my research, a busy life put this project on hold.
By 2020, six years later, I had the opportunity to speak with James (Jim) Bannister, great-nephew of the victim. Jim inspired me to revive my research efforts and write a story for him. Within two weeks of restarting my research, I Googled "George Carter Paris KY 1901.” Several pages of results appeared, but one result was promising: a Murky Press blog that included an entry titled “Time Stands Still” dated 11/30/2019. Its author stated that her grandfather “spent a lifetime coming to grips with the perverted justice he witnessed as an eight-year-old boy in Paris, Ky.” My interest was piqued, and I reached out to the author for any information that her grandfather may have shared.
On June 17, 2020, the author replied that she didn’t have the specific information I was looking for; however, within her words were nuggets of gold:
“A friend of mine was doing some genealogical research for me and, upon searching for information about my great-grandmother Mary Lake Barnes Board, initially stumbled across a story about the lynching in a California newspaper.”
Whoaaaa!!!! This is incredible! Do you mean to tell me I’m communicating with the great-granddaughter of Mary Lake Barnes Board, the accuser of George Carter??? I sat motionless, telling myself to breathe, and trying to wrap my brain around the author’s response. What are the chances of encountering a close relative of an 1800s Bourbon County family that you’re researching? My only response to Sallie Showalter was, “May I now call you on your cell?”
Since that momentous call, Sallie and I have exchanged numerous emails and enjoyed many telephone conversations. I’m continually blessed by her kind, fierce, and generous spirit as well as her beautiful writing/editing skills.
The providential encounters with Jim and Sallie led to their now well-publicized meeting at the Hopewell Museum in July 2020 in which they discussed their link to the 1901 crime as well as its impact on their families. A 120-year-old crime was laid bare and two individuals exemplified the meaning of courage and forgiveness for not only Bourbon County, Ky., but a strife-ridden nation.
Ahhhhhhh, behold the golden nuggets that radiate like diamonds within the mighty and vast universe for such a time as this!
This week I’m offering something completely different. Friday night, after trying—fruitlessly—to keep up with the news relating to the COVID-19 cases swirling among our government’s highest officials, I woke in the middle of the night with the following words running through my brain. I finally got out of bed and wrote them down.
You will see, clearly, that I have no training as a poet. I know nothing about proper forms or meter or rhyme schemes. So I hope you’ll read this as my nocturnal wordplay, an example of what happens when my subconscious wrests control from my conscious thought.
I have not altered what I captured during those feverish moments. I have not allowed subsequent news or insights to inflect these thoughts. I offer this simply as one citizen’s subliminal attempts to make sense of the harrowing world we live in.
As the Dominoes Fall
I wake up and wonder:
Was it all a dream?
Swampiness holed up inside my head
For what seems like millennia
But was only long enough
To topple democracies
And eradicate futures and pasts,
Fury and white-hot hate
Scorching our throats and
Trampling our dignity
Until one by one they started to fall,
Hubris humbled by truth,
Surrendered to a force
So tiny it arrived
Undetected by the
Armies forming in our streets,
Long guns tossed over shoulders,
Chants rending the night,
A force too subtle for their
Rigid minds, too potent for their
Star Wars defense.
We had thought it a scourge,
Nature doing battle against
Man’s unconscionable crimes.
As we watched helplessly
Thousands succumb—a million--
Our heroes, our warriors,
Who shared this precious gift and
Delivered us, our nation,
From certain death.
Immediately after my last posting, I wanted to write about the climate disasters we have been facing this summer. I intently followed the path of hurricane Sally, as you might imagine, curious and fearful about the sort of destruction my namesake might wreak. Meanwhile, once again safe from flooding and wind damage here in central Kentucky, we rather guiltily endured our own fallout from the historical wildfires raging out west: a few gray days as lingering smoke obscured the sun. In California, Oregon, and Washington, the damage to lives, livelihoods, homes, businesses, the economy, the environment, our national forests—to normalcy—is nearly incomprehensible to those of us who don’t live there.
Around the nation, our continued denial of what is causing these natural phenomena—the unabated warming of our planet that is breaking up Antarctica’s glaciers and raising sea levels and altering rain patterns and resulting in five tropical storms scuttling around the Atlantic simultaneously—reeks of insanity. Yet, we persist in our inaction.
But before I was able to wrangle my thoughts and my fury and my shame on that topic, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. I was paralyzed, like so many others. We all knew she had battled heroically against numerous cancers, and we were aware she had been in and out of the hospital this year. We all held our collective breath. But suddenly our optimism that she would always be victorious, always vanquish the silent oppressor, had been punctured, and we deflated like tired balloons. Today, to be hopeful seems ridiculous.
And just as I was trying to come to grips with the certainty of her death and its repercussions, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron strode to the pulpit and delivered an unctuous sermon about why Breonna Taylor matters. Evidently she matters because her innocent neighbors had to endure bullets flying through their home when a no-knock warrant was served at Taylor’s adjacent apartment. Bullets fired by an out-of-control police officer. Law and order, you know.
The bullets that landed in Breonna’s apartment, however, in Breonna, were righteous. Legal. All by the book. All to protect the neighbors’ safety.
Like so many others, I find I can’t focus. I can’t do the research I need to write accurately about the things that matter to me. I’m over-stimulated. I’m angry. I’m scared to pay attention. I have to pay attention. I don’t know where to look.
Meanwhile the pandemic rages. Football teams and their fans gather along the playing fields. Children remain at home, wondering when they will return to the classrooms many of them loathed in the “good times.” Even my elderly dog is craving different people, different running grounds, different smells. She is so sick of us. And of our palpable worry.
I have nothing positive to offer. The days are shortening. Cooler weather is upon us. Solitary walks in the woods might help (while we still have them). Or hiding under a blanket with a hot toddy or a sip of bourbon. Meanwhile, I’m fretfully lying in wait for the next cataclysmic crack in our national psyche. We know it’s coming. It’s 2020 after all.
It has been a summer of unexpected connections and unexpected losses. Protesters of all colors filled the streets, and hope tempered horror. Families said their last goodbyes from afar, watching on a screen as loved ones took their final breaths. Our nation’s norms and conventions and our most reliable institutions remain under assault. It’s as if the world has tilted too far on its axis, and we’re breathlessly waiting to see if it can right itself again.
Amid all the disruption and uncertainty, all the sadness and grief, I turn to nature, as always, for solace. I drop my little boat in the water and paddle to the most remote cove on our tiny lake. There I tuck myself amid the fallen logs and the loafing carp, and I watch the sun dapple the trees. I listen to the Great Blue Heron screech as it escapes my intrusion. The deer look up, and just as quickly return their attention to the new foliage near the woodland floor. The turtles wait until I float by, and then drop into the water, long after any imagined threat has passed.
I position my boat so I can gaze up the sloping hillside to my left. Then I turn my attention to the cove’s vanishing point and listen for signs of other creatures. I pivot toward the right and watch the grazing deer or intentionally spook the giant carp to engage in a little bumper pool.
This is where I go when I need to turn the world off. When the cacophony has battered my senses and I crave calm. When my thoughts are bumping against each other, creating friction and heat that prevent me from clearly discerning one from another.
The realities of our world this summer have presented most of us with more solitude than we are typically allotted. As engagements and events and opportunities to gather with friends and family have fallen off the calendar, those of us fortunate enough to be beyond the worries of work and child-rearing and aging parents have had the opportunity to assess our lives and how we live them—what we prioritize, how we spend our time, what nourishes us and strengthens us. While many have struggled with this separation or its attendant sense of isolation, I cherish it. I welcome the slower pace. I revel in quiet time for contemplation without the buzz of constant busyness. I can focus on what’s important.
You may not share my affinity for this sudden interruption of our normal activities, but I hope you, too, have found a way to embrace the unwelcome changes. That may require ceasing fretting long enough to clear the voices in our heads, or accepting that we can’t control all the forces shifting around us. Amid this tumult, we all need a place of respite, whether physical or spiritual or imaginary. I’m so lucky that mine is just a short paddle away.
I’m going to meet George Carter’s great-nephew.
Even if you’ve read Next Train Out, the name George Carter may not ring a bell. My calculations indicate that I called his name five times in the narrative, but I’ve learned over recent weeks that I probably should have cited his name more.
George Carter is significant to Lyons’ story, and he’s significant to today’s story. In this era of reckoning—and, one hopes, some sort of reconciliation, eventually—the George Carters of the world need to be remembered. We cannot forget. And those of us whose ancestors are directly tied to these stories, we need to face the music. Now.
Next month I will sit down with a descendant of the man who was lynched in front of the Bourbon County courthouse because he allegedly “assaulted” my great-grandmother.
I’m not sure how to relay to you the awe I’m feeling, the anticipation, the relief, the gratitude, and, yes, the shame that shivers up my spine as I contemplate this meeting.
I won’t detail the machinations that resulted in the heinous act on February 10, 1901. I will say that the single news story about the initial incident, which occurred in early December 1900, described what we today would call an attempted purse snatching.
But perhaps it’s important to keep in mind that the newspaper where that article appeared, the Kentuckian Citizen, was published by Mrs. Board’s cousin. The newspaper’s offices occupied a building once owned by Mrs. Board’s father, a prominent physician. After her father’s death, Mrs. Board inherited that property. One of the competing papers in town, the Bourbon News—which carried a fulsome story of the lynching two months later—was published by the husband of Mrs. Board’s closest friend.
I point that out to show how the power structure in town was stacked against Mr. Carter. Whatever transpired between him and Mrs. Board, he didn’t stand a chance. He was black. She was white, and she was connected. Two months after the incident, when the mob formed, whatever had actually happened on that cold December day was long forgotten. Rumors and innuendo and wild imagination had successfully altered the truth. For some in town, the crime now justified taking the life of a young man with a wife and two daughters under the age of two.
We have an opportunity to address some of this ongoing injustice now. Our country is awake. Video recordings provide unshakable truth. We must find the courage and the determination to start fixing these inequalities and addressing the resulting brutality.
I am grateful that I will have the opportunity to speak to one of Mr. Carter’s descendants. I am grateful that he wants to meet with me. I have no idea what I will say. There is no recompense. I cannot change the past. But I’m eager to see what I can start doing today.
Tim Cooper, of St. Paul, Minn., shares his experiences living in the Twin Cities in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
Your eyes open to the sound of gunfire, a pitched battle on the far periphery of your being. The shots—staccato, syncopated—lay siege and surround you in fear. Immediately you wonder, do you flee or do you surrender? Do you hold firm or do you seek shelter? Where could you go? To whom or to what would you capitulate?
And then you realize that distant roads have been reopened, that the sound you hear is nothing more than semis on the faraway interstate rebounding over undulations in the road. Why have you never heard this before? Is it the silence of the recent curfew, of inertia, of comfortable isolation, that awakens you to a noise that was always there?
But this fear, this pervasive fear—how do you account for it? You remember two days previous, unthinking as you take your dog for her normal 5 a.m. walk. Ah, the comfort of your routine, your beloved sense of order. Behind you, flashing lights from a police cruiser as you trek down the deserted street. When he pulls up beside you the policeman wearily reminds you of the curfew’s hours, suggests staying closer to home. He attempts a comforting smile but doesn’t receive one from you in return. Later, you’re simply grateful that he didn’t turn the siren on full-blare. The thought of being physically accosted and harmed by him had never occurred to you.
And why not?
Because you have armor that shields you even as you defy your city’s curfew. You are white, male, middle-class, educated, not tall, not overly muscular—in short, not a threat. You’re not black, brown, yellow, or red; you’re not a recent immigrant; your speech sounds local. Without this armor, would you have been gently prodded to return quietly to your home? Recent events tell you no.
Your beloved city is on fire, and you can measure the anger and trepidation everywhere you go. There is a despair that permeates, that is all-encompassing. Drug stores, gas stations, grocery stores, banks are boarded up and closed. You drive across the state line to Wisconsin to put gas in your car. A branch of your bank is there and you can get medication from a pharmacy. The grocery stores appear well-stocked. You carry on with the charade of normalcy.
But you know better.
You recall that you also live in a time of pandemic, that participation in demonstrations of solidarity for George Floyd and for those without power or voice involve calculated risk. You do the arithmetic, and it still demands that you participate, that to do less than all you can will result in an amputated life of insidious horror—for you and for others.
Solace is an ephemeral commodity. You try to comfort your friends—both near and far—and they do the same for you. You try to galvanize them to political action, and you plot strategies of engagement. You want desperately to affect change.
And then you recall that June 6 is the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Bobby, killed advocating for change, killed because he believed in the power of existential action, killed because he cared. You consult his speech in Indianapolis on the night of Martin Luther King’s murder, a speech that always comforts and calms you. And Bobby, quoting the Greek poet Aeschylus, said:
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.