T-shirt from 2010

A Summer in the Mountains

By Susan Griffin Ward

A few years ago I took my son, a high school senior, to tour UD. While we were waiting in Albert Emanuel Hall, a student wearing an Appalachia Club T-shirt sat down next to us. This was some serious serendipity; he was wearing was the very same T-shirt I wore in the 1980's when I was in the Appalachia Club. Twenty-five years ago, before this student was even born, I walked the mountains of Burton Fork and Magoffin County, but we talked together like old friends about our summer in the mountains, his close and mine far.

In summer of 1984 I lived in an abandoned tobacco barn and a small house with no running water on the side of Burton Fork holler in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. We had an outhouse, solar showers, and a well for water (until it ran dry and then we had to carry it in jugs down the ¼ mile trail to the house in the holler). I spent four years at the University of Dayton and there isn't much I heard in a classroom that has stayed with me. But that summer? I remember more than I've forgotten.

I remember the sound of rain falling from the tress after the clouds had no more to give.

I remember being surrounded by the color green as I stepped out of the barn in the mornings into a landscape where little concrete existed.

I remember trying to pull a van full of kids off a one lane mountain road before a coal truck could run us down and off a cliff.

I remember listening to Miss Peggy who was in her 90’s sing Amazing Grace while we sat on her front porch.

I remember swimming in Ashland Splashland pond, where a million or so fireflies illuminated the surrounding mountains like nothing I've seen since.

I remember Ronnie singing in the back of the van on the way home from teen center. Barely audible-over the roar of the engine he sang, “See the bright light shine...It's just about home-time; I can see my daddy standing at the door. Well, this world's been a wilderness, and thank god for deliverance, for I have never been this homesick before."

I remember learning my home state of Kentucky was not the place I thought I knew.

I remember seeing prisoners in the county jail hanging out the windows to watch square dancing on main street under the only stoplight in town on the Fourth of July.

I remember wading waist high in the murky waters of the Licking River with Lonnie Puckett to find snapping turtles.

I remember giving a lecture about racism to a van load of teens using the "N" word while on a weekend trip to Cincinnati. The teens had never been out of Magoffin County and some of them had never seen a black person before our field trip to the inner city. What did I know of racism and hurtful words? Absolutely nothing. I was 19 and there was not a less likely candidate to speak on the subject, but somehow I did. And the teens? They were awesome. There was no trouble.

I remember wondering why our mountain holler couldn't get running water, but airplanes could fly overhead.

I remember learning about the power of community and cooperation.

I remember learning that poverty and riches are mostly of the spirit.

I remember peace of mind.

Susan Griffin Ward, Summer of 1984

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