Monthly Archives: December 2013

Release :(part 7)

It is still 2013 in this room where I type these words, but by the time you read them the clock will have ticked over into 2014. 

I conclude my Release posts with part 7, a significant number to me, and at a time of reflection and renewal. 

One year ago I was unemployed and frantically seeking opportunity. That which I sought remains elusive. Although a topic for a different post, it is a sad reality when experienced teachers like myself find ourselves being laid off. It is even sadder when we cannot find new employment due to our experience level and the pay requirements to which people like myself are supposedly entitled. 

Now, I will prepare to file taxes for a year in which I earned income from nine different sources. The combination of those nine do not equal the one income I held previously as a full-time educator. Yes, 2013 was a very depressing year, both economically and emotionally. But I don’t type tonight with a depressing story. That is no longer interesting to me, so I doubt it will be interesting to you.

I write with joy. I do not feel it, but I know it’s there. A year ago I set out to accomplish the goal of providing for my family. Despite bringing in a little more than half the income I once earned, that goal was accomplished. 

It is said that adversity brings triumph. Nowhere does it say that life will be fair, easy, or even go according to our own plan. Good things are built out of bad. Sometimes the old cannot be repaired so it must be destroyed and made new again. 

I found myself networking as much as possible and discovering several part-time employment opportunities, all of which were low on the pay scale, but vey rewarding in their own way. 

In March, my grandmother, Velma Hamm passed away just three weeks shy of her 93rd birthday. She was to me, like a patriarch. Although the mother of my father, she held the patriarchal position in my mind due to her strength, resolve and courage to endure over 30 years of life as a widow on the farm that was the heart of her husband’s livelihood. Her loss is as deeply felt today as it was a month before she passed, when I witnessed her suffering and her inability to retain mental clarity. The dementia worked quickly, taking its toll in just over 18 months from my first observation. The cancer that was found near the end worked even more quickly, completing its macabre task in around two months. 

The farm endured. Each time we went back to her house, I felt her presence despite her residency in the assisted living facility for the final sixteen months. Just being there is all I needed to know she was still alive despite her discarded non-working shell. 

I hated to see it all go at the auction, but sale provided my extended family with a little bit of much needed financial security, temporary as it may be.  Now at the end of 2013, I can reflect back on the moments where I felt the world was collapsing but in reality it was being built up again into something different. 

Many of us can see that a decade ago we were different people, yet we frequently believe that a decade in the future we’ll be much the same as we are now. I have become a different person for a continuous period of time lasting over three years. I am not the same as I was at the end of 2012, nor any year before that. I hope and pray I won’t be the same in another year, or five, or however many I have left. I hope I am different tomorrow than I was today. I believe a new year is not a time to celebrate, or to make resolutions. It is a time for renewal, whereby we reflect on our past and look to the future. I often fail to simply reflect; I dwell on the past, always looking back for where I went wrong. I am learning to look forward and to see where I may have opportunity to become better. 

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Actually, I disagree. It’s OK to look back, just don’t stare. 

You have to look forward in order to cross the rusty old bridge that terrifies you. Like running a gauntlet or a trial by fire, you have to see whats on the other side, know what’s there and realize that sometimes the only way is to go forward when you think you can’t. Besides, that bridge is stronger than you think it is. It might not carry a truck, but it will carry you. 

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On your way across, you get to see things you’d have missed otherwise. 

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Sometimes you come to a tunnel which may have a light at the other end but it’s so bright you can’t really tell what awaits you.

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But around the next corner you find something like this:

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…and you’re reminded of what was once a stable platform of reverence, a reminder that speaks volumes about how our world has diminished the sacred and elevated the profane. 

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You seek an escape because you wish to run away to someplace better, without all the problems you face. I have chased that idea for far too long. It’s that nagging thought that maybe you’ll be happier somewhere else, with someone else, in some other house, with better possessions. When I fall for that, I try to recall the line, “grow where you are planted.”

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Unlike a tree gripping a boulder, we have the freedom to move around in small increments. Like crossing that bridge earlier, you never know when the sun will shine through the trees at just the right spot, and a specific moment. Hopefully when that happens you’ll have the sense to stop the car, grab something that can take pictures and snap away. 

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Live simply. Enjoy life. Don’t wait for the moment to find you. Seek the moment yourself. Sometimes you might have spiritual help. Although I love all of my family members deeply, I shared a spiritual bond with this woman like no one else. I have no other words to explain it. I pray that someday in Heaven, I’ll get to know her husband whom I’ve not seen since I was five. I want to see them in their prime, and I want to hear their stories. Even at age 90, she was a beautiful woman, radiating Christ’s love. I will always maintain that it was her very existence which finally convinced me to be baptized. I’m so thankful she was still of sound mind and health back in 2010 when I plunged under the water, by the hands of one of my best friends, on Mother’s Day. 

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On October 19, 2013, the very last remaining physical items of her Earthly life were removed from our lives. In her kitchen, she kept a decorative pot on the window sill with a plant of some sort. Forgive me, I’m not a botanist. 

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The pot was sold, plant and all. As the sun was setting on what began as a dreary rainy day, I received final confirmation that it was truly all over. 

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I will never forget that which ended in 2013. There are others with similar stories out there and I’m aware of some that are more recent. 2013 was a closing chapter in many ways. I’m just getting started though. This is only a beginning, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings, for better or for worse. May I be changed into something better, renewed, restored, made new out of the broken pieces. I pray the same for you all. 

And now, the past is released. 

 

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Release :(part 6)

A few miles from my grandmother’s farm is a work of art so profound yet unabashedly simple. It’s a piece of nature that’s all but hidden in complete isolation from the world around it. 

It’s called Indian Falls. If you follow Brumfield Lane as it twists northward from Sugar Creek Pike, you’ll eventually come to a clear spot where you can observe distant hillsides from a point that’s much higher than the landscape below. In current times it’s mostly overgrown with brush and weeds. It was once a local hiking spot for people who knew about it, but it gradually became a place for bored people to cause trouble. Rumors are out there that someone fell from a cliff and died. I know there is at least one car in the bottom that had no way of getting there other than to fall off the same cliff by the clearing in the road. Image

The pictures I’ve posted are from August of 2007 when my dad and I hiked out there. At the time, just a year before the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, a developer had acquired the surrounding land and had planned to build homes with properties joining Indian Falls. It was stated that part of the project would be to clean up and improve access to Indian Falls for the residents. Sadly, that developer went bankrupt as did the plans to revitalize the Falls. 

But what on Earth is so special about this place? Why did I call it a work of art? 

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Well, it’s a tiny section of land where a small creek has cut a narrow gorge that’s more than a few hundred feet deep in places. The creek left stair steps in the limestone at the narrow end so the water falls down over the steps into the wider more open area that eventually ends next to an open field. It’s stunning in its beauty and yet it’s more or less surrounded by farmland. The layers of rock are the very same from which those springs I mentionned in my last post emerge. As far as we knew, it was illegal for my dad and I to be down in there, and we never let my grandmother know we went in. She knew of Indian Falls, had seen it years ago and was convinced that it was so dangerous that few who travel in make it out alive. I believe she was terrified of the place. 

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Yet, there it was, calling to us then as it does now. Every time I drive past it I want to go back in. The hike in there was sketchy as there are plenty of roots, cliffs, rocks, and no improvements such as handrails. One slip, and you’ll either wind up with some bumps and bruises or you’ll slide all the way off the cliff, down to the rocks below. It’s just high enough to be fatal if you slip in the wrong place. 

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But down in the bottom is a scene of near pure tranquility, save for the old piece of Detroit steel left behind by someone who needed to dispose of a car quickly. The car has an odd interesting quality about it itself, all overgrown with vegetation. It doesn’t belong, yet nature keeps trying to take it back. 

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Those stairsteps. Someday I’ll climb those too. In the meantime I’ll just wonder about what lies above them. Some other scene of natural beauty or an empty builder’s lot. 

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Release :(part 5)

Letting go of part of your past sounds so simple in print.

It’s easy to say that I’ll miss the farm or the time spent there with my grandmother over the years. There’s more to the story though.

There are some places in the world which are so important to you that they make all the surrounding areas look better than they are. It was always easy for me to look past the occasional run-down property near the Hamm farm because driving past them meant we weren’t far from our destination. Once we had arrived, part of each trip was getting out and exploring the nearby places of interest. Places which we would never have reason to visit had this farm existed anywhere else. To look at it differently, there are no telling how many inspiring places we never saw simply because my grandmother lived in central Kentucky instead of a place with a vastly different scenery. It was rural, not tropical, no oceans nearby, nor large mountains, and yet it was surrounded by points of interest which all have had a special impact on my life despite their mundane qualities. In this post, I’ll try to capture some of the imagination of a few of the more intriguing aspects of this part of the world, at least those which intrigue me.

If you were to leave the farm and drive down Little Hickman Road in a westerly direction following the creek, you would see random spots above the creek bed which looked like vey small, ancient barns built right into the hillsides. Most of the few that remain are about the size of a large doghouse and more or less deteriorating into oblivion. These are the springhouses that mark spots where water bubbles up from the famous Kentucky limestone.  The ground may look like regular soil, but a few feet down you will find layer upon layer of this limestone which is a geologists dream. Not far, the Kentucky river twists and turns, ebbing its way deeper into the gorge year after year. Very close by are the Palisades, one of the highest regarded natural resources in all of Kentucky.

About a mile from my grandmother’s house is another farm that was once owned by my great-grandfather, Fred Teater. His home was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in the late 1970’s. I remember visiting not long after it had happened. I was about 3 and I’ll never forget standing on the old porch pedestal as my mother studied the charred remains. One chimney still stood at one end, tall and proud like the home that once held its fireplace. The barn and outbuildings remained relatively unscathed, a crowning achievement to the fire dept who could not exactly respond within minutes back then. I remember thinking it was neat and that I normally don’t see things like this. I had no idea what loss was, nor concept of destruction.

Thinking back, I imagine my father felt about this farm as I do about the one we just sold. It had to be devastating.

A few years after the fire, my Great-Grandad sold the farm and moved in with his two daughters, my great aunts, in Nicholasville. The new owners built a modern brick ranch in the spot where the stately old 1800’s farmhouse had been. To this day, the springhouse that was on that property remains at the corner where the road bends. I have never seen inside it. I wonder what the water is like.

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Further down the road, we’ll pass typical and odd-looking things on the way down to the river.

Just past this old springhouse is a property that I could barely tell you anything about other than the bridges across the creek to the property. One is built of old lumber and boards and seems to have withstood everything the world has thrown at it for the past several centuries, and the other looks like a flatbed rail car with the wheels removed.

More rolling wooded landscape will pass until you come to a crest which overlooks the Kentucky river. No matter how many times I’ve seen the river from up there, it always impresses me. It looks bigger than it really is for some reason. It must be an optical illusion, but from up there you feel like you’re on top of a mountain, looking through the trees down to KY River Lock No.8. They Kentucky river has a system of locks & dams in place over the run from the eastern Appalachians to the western mouth at the Ohio. Every dozen miles or so, the river level changes suddenly. Since it was once a major shipping route, the river had lock houses staffed with engineers who would pass boats through the locks at any hour of the day. Now most of the locks sit inoperable. It would be a major source of tourism if the State of Kentucky could ever open up the river to pleasure craft, but those locks would need to operate for it to work. I somehow doubt it would be economical to do so.  Currently, a major project is underway to rebuild the lock & dam system, to bring the century-old infrastructure up to 21st Century code. At Lock No.8, they built an entire cement mixing factory on site. My dad has told me of all the truck traffic going back there over the past several months. We’re talking large multi-axle dump trucks and tanker semis hauling materials down single-lane country roads barely wide enough for two cars to pass smoothly. I know the lock from how it always looked, old and creepy, with a sense of danger about it. Who knows how it will turn out after this project is completed? Here’s a picture of what it looks like if you zoom in with a camera from the hilltop:

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Once you turn around at the dead end and make our way back, after passing the former Fred Teater farm, you’ll pass the old Bruner’s Store. Presently it appears as if the weight of a leaf could cause it to collapse completely. The porch is now long gone and one side makes it appear as if there’s no longer a floor inside. It gives the impression that the structure slid down the hillside and stopped just shy of the road. I remember visiting there back before I was old enough to be in kindergarten, standing on the porch with a Coke. Inside, old men sat around chatting and playing cards. I don’t remember much of Mr. Ira Bruner, but I know he had a big deli meat slicer behind the counter. My dad told me that decades ago when farmers hired extra help to work in the tobacco fields, men would take their lunch breaks at Bruner’s. He’d slice a big thick slab of bologna and slap it between two saltine crackers. Not the kind we get now, but the old-school version with four crackers attached in a larger square the size of a slice of bread. So in a way, eight saltine crackers and a slab of bologna would be your lunch if you were hired to help cut tobacco. I knew one other thing about Ira Bruner. He had a sense of humor. For many years even after his passing across from the old store stood a mailbox atop a 12 foot high post with the label “air mail” painted on the side. I wish it were still there.

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This concludes a substantial bit of the area to the West of my grandmother’s farm. I hope I’ll never lose the appreciation for these things, remnants of a simpler time and slower pace of life.

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