When I graduated from Anderson County High School in 1977, I intended to leave Lawrenceburg (Ky.) behind and never look back.
I didn’t want to attend the actual graduation ceremony, but my mother made me. I refused to get a new dress (to wear under the gown?) or the required white sandals (when would I ever wear those again?). So, over and over, I clopped across the stage in that hot high school gym wearing my worn Dr. Scholl’s, the rubber long gone from the bottom of the wooden footbed, as I was unexpectedly called to accept a number of awards.
My mother was mortified. She told me later that she overheard people around her whispering, “That poor little girl. Her family obviously couldn’t afford a new pair of shoes. Isn’t it wonderful that she’s receiving these scholarships?”
Afterwards, backstage, I remember looking around at my classmates as they hugged and cried and laughed. I felt nothing. No one approached me and I didn’t see anyone I wanted to say goodbye to. It all seemed completely hollow. I just wanted to get home and get on with my life.
Eventually, I did go back, of course, but it took me nearly 40 years. When David Hoefer and I started compiling The Last Resort, I spent a lot of time around Anderson County imagining the area in the 1940s, visiting my dad’s old camp on Salt River, and talking to the few people who still remembered him. I brought a different perspective this time, and a purpose. I was interested—fascinated, as it turned out—by my family’s long history in the area, which I had long ignored.
And then this winter, by another stroke of sublime serendipity—or perhaps cosmic payback—I’ve found myself thrown together with a motley group of boys who also graduated from Anderson County High School in the 1970s.
I suppose it started with our pilgrimage to Panther Rock in November 2020. My cousin Jim McWilliams had been told I knew the owner of the property and could get us access. When Jim contacted me, he mentioned that he and his friend (and my former classmate) Jeff Lee wanted to revisit a site they had hiked many times as youngsters. The three of us soon realized we were always up for a walk in the woods. When Jim and Jeff began to hike the Red River Gorge area with friends Greg Hood and Walter Moffett this past fall, I somehow wheedled an invitation to tag along.
Others have joined us at times: my cousin Bob McWilliams; another classmate, Bob Cox; another of Jim’s classmates whom I knew from band, Kelly Rose; Barry Puhr, son of one of my mother’s good friends. All Anderson County graduates. All fellas I either knew or knew about when I was in school. All with completely different life histories and distinct talents. All now joined together, decades later, by our love of being in the woods.
At the end of my high school years, I looked around and thought I had nothing in common with the people surrounding me. I had no idea how to talk to them. I had never felt that I fit in. And now, 45 years later, I eagerly look forward to spending time with this gang of intrepid trekkers. Our careers are behind us. We’ve set aside our professional personas and the roles we played for decades to meet society’s demands. Now we’re just a group of comrades who can’t wait to get back on the trail.