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.
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:
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.
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.