Greeting to all and welcome new friends to the East Wing. As we left Prestonsburg that first morning of winter, we headed south on highway 23. That 23 road is one of those high speed four lane ribbons of asphalt, concrete and steel carved through the rock mountains of Appalachia, a fun road to drive, a more fun road to gawk on. The GPS showed just a few miles to go as we started out that first day of winter, that snowy first day of winter in these beautiful mountains. As Johnny drove, I marveled of the fact that we had come the better part of 500 miles, and now this wintery morning we are relying on a thin little black box half the size of your hand, to get us to our final destination. Magic on the mountains, magic in a box. I’ll always consider myself forever privileged to allow both magic one and magic two into my life at the same time.Johnny turned left across the bridge and we entered into Martha’s Vineyard. Now Martha’s Vineyard is the foot print of the Catholic Church in two counties ( Floyd and Magoffin) in southeastern Kentucky. These two counties have a combined population in excess of 56,000 and have a median income well below most of the nation, and they encompasses over 658 square miles, yet, St Martha Catholic Church, simply put, is a jewel placed by God on the side of a mountain, out there along the way to Jenny Wiley State Park. A mountain by Prestonsburg. And oh, ‘bout that 658 sq miles, it’s mostly all up and down. The only flat parts ‘round there is the water. And even the water is most always going downhill.
They were expecting us. I walked in, said hello, and asked for Father Bob Damron. The lady said “you the feller with the truck from Indiana”. I said “ no truck, half car, half truck, half mountain goat and I’ve got ‘em all full for ya. She smiled and said “Father Bob said call ‘em as soon as ya get here, as she picked up the phone and said “ I’ll get some help to unload”. And so we unloaded as we go acquainted. We talked between trips back and forth. With our load all inside, they were all surprised how much we had brought in the Envoy. I told ‘em ‘bout that ½ car, ½ half truck, ½ half mountain goat, and how ya can carry a lot more when ya have three halves rather than two halves. That third ½ mountain goat came in handy that day at up in the mountains at Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard is a three building complex consisting of the small house where the priest lives, the church and fellowship hall and on the eastern most end, Martha’s Portion. The clothes we brought from Indiana were for Martha’s Portion. Martha’s Portion is the outlet place for those who are able to pay anything at all for its goods. Martha’s Portion is also the outlet place for those who’re unable to pay anything at all for its goods. Based on need, a program is in place whereby no one is ever denied access to any of the items available from Martha’s Portion due to their being unable to pay.
Father Bob Damron is the priest at Martha’s Vineyard. Father Bob has been there ‘bout ten years or so. Father Bob is one of the most committed of any priest I’ve eve met, and I’ve met a few. Father Bob, like myself, is a convert from the Baptist faith and as such we share a somewhat different viewpoint on religion, and the catholic faith in particular. Certainly a more comparative view in relationship to the Baptist faith.
The church at Martha’s Vineyard consists of 110 families made mostly of converts from various Baptist groups in the area. I’m told some travel as much as 45 minutes to an hour to go to mass. Father Bob, himself, is a convert to the church. In light of the fact that the vast majority of the parish are former Baptist, Father Bob said they’re not the run of the mill Catholics ya may find in the big cities up north, rather they take pride in considering themselves “Baplics”. I too am a convert to the church and as such, immediately joined ‘em and became a Baplic right on the spot, right along with the rest of ‘em, I’m, Baplic. Ya don’t have to get re-baptized or any thing like that to become a Baplic. Just say ya are, and ya are. Being a Baplic is easy, ya already have the faith, hope, and charity, all ya need do is say ya are, and ya are.
I told Father Bob I was going to take the word Baplic to the Bishop of Gary Indiana and request he include it in the official Dioceses of Gary Dictionary. Now don’t hold your breath on that one, ‘cause there’s not too many of us Baplics in northern Indiana. But our numbers are growing, so ya never know.
What I found at Martha’s Vineyard was an awe inspiring example of what and how a catholic parish can grow and function in the face of adversity that many here in my church in Indiana can’t even comprehend. Everybody I met at Martha’s Vineyard made me welcome as a brother in faith. They all made it a point to shake my hand. ‘Course keep in mind we Baplics, we, shake hands a lot. It’s a carry over thing, and a good one at that.
I witnessed first hand the work of those who touch the face of poverty in Appalachia. Those who look into the eyes and touch the heart of lost hope. Those who do make a difference in the lives of those in need. Those who’ll never stop their effort. This is a contact location for at least a part of “The Least Of Our Brothers’.
At Martha’s Vineyard, I could see the music of the work. Father Bob is truly the leader of the band, and his musicians are not only all in tune, but they’re all on the same page of life, playing the same music. What a band. I just wanted to be a member of the band, and so did Johnny.
Speaking of music, while touring the church at Martha’s Vineyard, they had a piano, all covered up with one of those big thick piano cover blankets. I rally wanted to play on the piano, but didn’t ask. So the next time I go back, ya got that right, I’m playing that piano for sure. Maybe Johnny will bring his guitar and we’ll be asked to play with the band.
After a couple hours spent in the company of some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting, Johnny and I say our goodbyes, promise to return again, and mean it, then cross that little bridge over the creek, turn west as I tell that little black magic box to take us home.
Prestonsburg to Salyersville is 20 miles or so and we’re going to stop at the house of my sister Thelma. Thelma passed away last January, a full year ago, and there were three pictures in the house that my nephew Pete had given to Johnny. Pete said to stop and get the pictures. “The neighbor has a key, just tell ‘em who ya are and what ya want. If he has any questions have ‘em call me”, Pete had told me on the phone.
When you’re driving southeast out of Salyersville, the first road to the right is Burning Fork Road, and so we turned on Burning Fork Road. A mile or so and we’re in the neighbor’s yard. I walk up to the door, knock, and the fellow opens the door, and before I could start my story he sticks out his hand to shake hands and says “Why BobbyRay I’m so glad to see ya, come in, come in my house”. With this guy wanting to shake hands so quick, I thought I’d maybe found another Baplic.
I’d met this man one time at my sister’s funeral and was embarrassed that I didn’t remember his name. I just said the ole BobbyRay standard when I don’t know someone’s name “bud it good to see ya again”. Works like a charm every time. Told him what I wanted and should he have any questions just call Pete. He said “why should I call Pete, I know ya, and besides I don’t think ya’d come all the way from Indiana just to tell me a lie. We got the Pictures, a set of three, depictions of Butcher Holler at various times of the year. Those pictures have a special meaning to both my son John and his wife Jaimie.
On the way from Prestonsburg to Burning Fork I noticed the clouds descending down the mountain side. There are certain atmospheric conditions here in the mountains whereby the fog doesn’t form at the ground level, but the clouds just come down the mountains to the bottom of the hills.
When that happens you’re talking really thick fog. I remember one time when I lived at Tip Top, the fog was so thick, in order to see where ya were going ya had to pull the fog apart with your hands just to get to school. We used to pull fog apart just to hear it bang back together. Sounds like little thunder, really, really little thunder. Ya gota listen really close to hear it, but it sounds like little thunder. Some people can’t even hear it, but I did when I was in the third grade at the Tiptop Elementary School. That two room school house, stuck up there on the side of the hill. High enough up the hill that no flood would ever again wash away the schoolhouse with babies inside.
As the fog came slowly down the mountain sides, I told Johnny it be best we depart for flat lands that we’re more accustom to traveling in. So with Johnny’s Butcher Holler Pictures in hand, we turn to leave Salyersville and with it being shortly after noon decide to stop a Arby’s right next to the entrance of the Mountain Parkway..
We take the orders to go and after getting in the car I tell Johnny there is no way he can drive and eat. We’re talking mountain driving here. Forever you’re turning left or right, but seldom ever straight. Best we set and eat in the Arby’s parking lot. And so we did.
Good thing. I no sooner start on some kinda chicken strip thing and promptly spill the sauce on my paints, with minimum napkins in hand, Johnny goes back inside and procures an adequate supply of napkins to handle any emergency. And another good thing there was an adequate supply, because no sooner did I finish that chicken dish and dip, a second emergency pops up. Now I’ve had very limited practice eating Arby’s food and is showed. After the chicken strip / hot sauce on left leg deal, one bite of the Arby’s Roast Beef with cheese and it cheese sauce on the right leg. Soft polyester travel paints clean up well from both hot sauce and cheese sauce. All ya need is Arby’s napkins and it’s clean without a mark. Magic stuff, polyester and napkins.
As we entered the Mountain Parkway driving toward the northwest, the clouds continued to descend the mountain sides, I was a little concerned as we drove. The Mountain Parkway has a rumble strip cut into the center of the road, I asked Johnny did he know why, he did not. When I told him it was to allow drivers to find out where they were in the fog, He was surprised, but was a believer, as now the clouds hung less than 100 feet above the Envoy. We never had to use the rumble strip part that afternoon on the Mountain Parkway, driving toward Lexington, but we came close.
At the Arby’s place Johnny reset the GPS to take us to visit my nephew Pete in Lexington, Pete has had some serious medical issues he’s been dealing with for some time and I just wanted to stop and say hello. Just as if we’d been there many times before, which we had not, the GPS brought us to Pete’s front door.
Now when Pete and I get together it’s kinda a combination of Happy Days and a Goat Rodeo. Ya just never know for sure what’ll happen and it usually does. I walked in and Pete was in a terrible fix, his fax and telephone service were not working while his internet service was still on line, and all three came thou the same phone jack from the wall.
In typical fashion, Pete’s wife, Vee, immediately tried to feed us and we allowed her to do so. Pete needed his fax machine service as he was expecting an important fax of some sort. He was spending time on the phone with a tech support person trying to trouble shoot the problem. They were unsuccessful.
Pete now has some limited mobility issues and was unable to access all of the connections to his equipment. So I told Pete I’d fix all his problems, by getting behind his stuff and work Indiana magic right there in Lexington KY. I unplugged everything, reset what could be reset, threw in some Baplic prayers for technical support at the highest level, plugged everything back in, the phone worked, the fax worked, the internet worked. Pete received his fax. And I got a lot more praise than deserved for fixing the problems. I thank it was that different tech support guy I talked to that did the trick as that first day of winter drew to a close in Lexington KY.
After a few hours of most pleasant conversation and visit with family, Johnny and I are again off toward the flat lands. It’s almost 8:00 PM and we’re in Indiana, just north of Louisville, when we stop for dinner. Johnny spies a Chinese Restaurant and we give it a try. Such a beautiful interior, that Chinese Restaurant, such poor quality food, that Chinese Restaurant. But we didn’t have a disappointing meal that evening, ‘cause we’d set our expectations low and were not disappointed. by. Inside the restaurant was a large pool stocked with carp, call ‘em Koi Fish. Some big, some little. Don’t know if we ate any of those Koi Carp or not, but if we did they weren’t too good either.
It was during our stop at the Southern Indiana Chinese Delight that we decided to continue home rather than spend an extra night and goof off the next day in Indianapolis. The decision meant two important matters would have to go by the wayside. Those matters being the purchase of that Boy Chicken I’d spotted at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant the day before, and forgoing the best hamburger in the world at Carmel for tomorrow’s lunch. But oh well, a small price to pay to sleep in your own bed before the sun comes up again. After our non-memorable Chinese Dinner, the most memorable being the Koi Carp, which we may or may not have eaten, we drove into the darkness knowing full well we were going to sleep at home this night.
Boy was Mr. Lincoln glad to see me, I’d left ’em in town when I left late Monday morning and now very early Wednesday morning, he’s covered with ‘bout 8 inches of snow and shivering out in the cold. A quick sweeping of snow, a few minutes of running motors and we’re all warm and toasty. Back home Mr. Lincoln goes into his garage, I go inside hug the 2girdogs, Bentley, Sophia the Republican Cat, Spike and the She, but not in the order I listed ‘em. I always hug the She first. We don’t shake hands, we hug. It’s 1:00 AM, Wednesday morning, I’m glad to be home. Dorothy was right. Johnny and I, we had a fun trip. We’ll go again.
Stay safe in Afghanistan.
From the East Wing, Martha’s Vineyard, Clouds on the Mountains, Me & Pete & A Goat Rodeo, Mystery Meat & Koi Carps.
I wish you well,