Greetings to all and welcome new friends to the East Wing.
It was May 27th, was the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, was my birthday, and me and Johnny, well, me and Johnny, we’re on the road again. Going back to St. Martha Catholic Church at Prestonsburg KY for the third time since Christmas, and loving ever mile of the way.
Each time we’ve been to St. Martha’s we’ve been blessed to see such special acts of nature that many could overlook completely as being unimportant stuff or even sadder, not even realize what was happing at the moment.
The first time to St. Martha’s for me and Johnny was the Monday before last Christmas. We saw the snow fall on the mountains, on that first day of winter. We thought it was a special gift from God to be able to see the splendor of the mountains covered with the first winter snow. Seems snow on the mountain is much the same as many things in life. Johnny and I considered seeing the snow a special gift, the locals considered the same snow a major pain in you know where.
I woke up that morning of the first snow of winter for Prestonsburg ‘bout 5 o’clock, turned on the TV to the local weather and was greeted with the news that a major snow emergency was underway outside my hotel window. Was further advised that all country schools systems had been canceled until further notice, and the County Police had advised not to travel except in extreme emergency.
Johnny and I’d left home the evening before in a rather strong Indiana snow storm, I feared this blizzard had followed us south and crept into the Kentucky Mountains under the cover of darkness. Blizzard’s will do that ya know, sneak up on ya. Fearing the worst possible weather outside, I got up, threw open the curtains with a firm resolve to gaze into the eyes of this Kentucky Blizzard.
Illuminated by the pole lights of the Wal-Mart Parking lot, I could see someone trying to clear snow from the parking lot using a backhoe. My first thought was, “it must be really bad if they gotta use a backhoe.” Then I looked a little closer. From my vantage point, looking down, it just didn’t seem like the snow was that deep. I decided to go outside and face that Kentucky Blizzard up close and personal.
Did ya ever feel that adrenalin rush when you’ve conquered one of your worst fears and it’s turned into pleasant memories right before your eyes. The Great Kentucky Blizzard, that first day of winter 2010, it turned into pleasant Christmas Memories right before my eyes as I realized the snow had stopped falling and looking at Johnny’s Envoy, the accumulated total snowfall was maybe 2” on the high side of the estimate.
I walked over to our SUV, wiped the snow off the windshield with my hand, and went back into the hotel to go wake up Johnny and start our day, after all, we still had to go to St. Martha and unload the stuff we’d brought from Indiana.
Johnny and I ate breakfast pretty much alone that morning of the first day of Winter in Prestonsburg KY. As we sat in the McDonalds, there by the Wal-Mart of the Mountain up there on the flattened out hill, we drank coffee and ate McBreakfast. The weather conditions prevented the locals from venturing out into the blizzard. After the McBreakfast, we delivered our stuff to Saint Martha and then went home as we left the first winter blizzard of Kentucky behind us when we drove northwest toward Lexington and the blue grass part of Kentucky.
Our second delivery to the St. Martha Clothing Bank, it’s called Martha’s Portion, the clothing bank there at St Martha Catholic Church, back in March, found us in a race to make our delivery and get out of the mountains before the clouds descended down to the ground.
Mountains fog develops differently. In Indiana fog seems to develop from the ground up. In the mountains the clouds just come down the hills till they’re stopped by the earth. And if you’re lucky ya can see your hand. And if you’re not, then ya can’t even see enough to pick your nose. Sometimes there’s really thick fog in the mountains. In fact, the Mountain Parkway has a rumble strip down the center of the road, to allow ya to “feel your way” in the fog, if ya have to.
Now some people may consider those strips in the center of the road to be prayer chains, ‘cause I’m telling ya, there’s been more than one prayer offered up on the Mountain Parkway by those caught in that dense fog, with no place to go, can’t stop, can’t pull off, can’t do much of anything ‘cept go real slow and pray real fast. Some time rumble strips and prayer chains go hand in hand.
As Johnny and I raced the fog that March afternoon I was both happy and afraid at the same time. We beat the fog, Johnny and me, that March day as the fog came down the mountain side. But sometimes the fog wins, and when it does, if ya can, ya just sit till it goes away, and then ya go home.
Unlike our two other trips to the mountains, this time four’s company. My daughter, Angela and daughter In-Law, Jaimie are with us as we drive into the Friday Night darkness toward Florence Kentucky. I’m glad my girls are with us. They’re having as much fun being here as I’m having fun having ‘em here. We’re family, me and those girls, and when the Howard Family goes places together, we have fun. We just do. Before we stop for the night, it’s already tomorrow. We’ll sleep in Florence KY then go into the mountains in the daylight. ‘Cause it more fun to drive into the mountains in the daylight.
Saturday Morning brings two important matters to the forefront, the first being, today, May 28th is Jaimie’s birthday and the second being that today’s the day we delivery to St. Martha. Our collection efforts on behalf of the clothing bank operated by St. Martha Catholic Church is ongoing, and this delivery is the fruits of our efforts since March.
We don’t know if it’ll be necessary to deliver again soon or not, it’ll depend on the speed of which we can collect the clothes, and stuff. Lots of people have said “I’ve got lots of stuff to bring ya”. I sometimes think those words are kinda like the people who always wanted be cowboys, but just never got around to getting the horse. So when people tell me ‘bout gona bring me lots of stuff, I tell ‘em, “get a horse or get off the pot”.
We got to St. Martha’s right at noon. I’d told Father Bob a week prior that we’d be there ‘round noon or so, It was so. We all pitched in and unloaded the trailer in no time. Good for us that we had an empty room to put our delivery. We needed every sq. ft. of the space we had available to put the stuff we’d brought, we filled it up with Indiana stuff.
We’d made arrangements with Father Bob to park the trailer at St. Martha so we could go off and play in the mountains. We unloaded, unhitched and were off to see the wizard in short order. The first stop on our grand one day tour of southeastern Kentucky started out going toward Butcher Holler.
If you’ve never heard of Butcher Holler, well, just go ahead and Google Butcher Holler and take it from there. It’ll work out for ya.
‘Bout half way up Butcher Holler we drove into the parking lot of the Webb Grocery Store and stepped back in time ‘bout 60 years. Soda Pop sold in bottles, Cracker Jacks in boxes and homemade bologna sandwiches are some of the things available at the Webb Grocery Store, up there in Butcher Holler. But ya just go ahead and Google “Butcher Holler” so ya can get the rest of the Story.
The one thing I enjoyed most at the Webb Grocery was the Moon Pie. Now I’m telling ya, I’ve been eating Moon Pies from a ways back. I used to eat Moon Pies at Tiptop and continued to do so when I moved to Toto. Now just ‘cause I got older didn’t mean I stopped eating Moon Pies.
It’s with that level of life experiences in Moon Pie consumption that causes me to consider myself a connoisseur, and as such, believe I’m qualified and truly boneafied to render opinions as to the quality of any given Moon Pie.
So I’m pleased to state that the quality of the Webb Grocery Store Moon Pie, up there in Butcher Holler, well exceeds any desert creation presented by Julia Childs, on Public Television, at the height of her prominence as America’s Queen Television Chief. Too bad the French Chief never tried to make Moon Pies, maybe there’re too hard to make on TV.
They’re just that good. Moon Pies alone are worth the trip to Butcher Holler. But there’s some other stuff to see up there in Butcher Holler when ya go. I’m not gona tell ya ‘bout it so as to not spoil your fun when ya get there. Best buy two or three Moon Pies when ya get to Webb Grocery Store. Wish I’d bought all they had that day. Yap, they’re that good.
As we left Butcher Holler, our thoughts turned toward Tip Top and times that used to be up another holler there in Southeastern Kentucky. Tip Top and Butcher Holler are both close and far away, depending on how ya measure the distance, by the crow flying or ‘round the mountain. Since we were not flying with the crows, we’re coming ‘round the mountains. Back to Prestonsburg from Butcher Holler, 15 miles. Over to Salyersville, 23 miles. Then to Tiptop another 25 miles. And before ya know it you’ve traveled a ways round mountain sides and end up not too far from where ya started. Just up another holler.
They took up the railroad track going to TipTop. Yep, took up the whole railroad, and that’s the only landmark I remembered to tell me where to turn as ya went toward Royalton to get to Tip Top. Just go down Hwy 7 out of Salyersville and turn right just as soon as the railroad runs parallel with the road.
Johnny drove and I watched for the railroad. As the miles went by I kept looking for that landmark, the railroad parallel to the road. It didn’t come my way. After a while I got to thinking I must have blinked and missed the railroad. Told Johnny I thought we’d gone too far.
Well the kid got all over my case, Johnny said “well big smart dad, knows how to get to Tip Top, don’t need to put anything into the GPS, ‘cause he knows where to turn.” Humble Pie, I’d missed the turn to Tip Top, what could I say. As we retraced our route, I saw sign saying “Carver Baptist Church” well I knew that church was on the way to Tip Top and so we turned.
Within a very short distance I realized that the railroad had been removed when we encountered a railroad underpass that had been filled in and the overhead railroad had been cut in out. It was at that point I realized the railroad was gone and from there on I knew the way to Tip Top.
A ¼ mile or so in front of us, we crossed the creek and came to a fork in the road. Johnny said “ which way?” to which I responded “Johnny you’ve come to a fork in the road, take it.” As he started to turn right, I said “Tip Top’s up Oakley, better turn left.” Once again I gained control.
And with that left turn we started up Oakley and on the way to Tip Top. Ya come first to Carver. A place in name only. Nothing identifies Carver other than the sign along the way. Had it not been, ya would’ve never known ya gone thru Carver. Now when you’ve gone thru Carver, the only thing in front of ya’s Tip Top, cause Tip Top’s truly at the end of the road.
It’s all gone, Tip Top. There’s nothing’s left except memories, precious memories, and they do linger. Those memories and a monument that identifies the names of the families who lived and worked at that coal camp high up in the mountains there in Magoffin County .
As I placed my hand on that granite monument with those names engraved, I touched my childhood. It was alphabetical on the stone. Howard was where it’s supposed to be alphabetical, there on the granite, along with all the rest of ‘em, and I knew ‘em all. There wasn’t a single name on that rock I didn’t know. There was a time when a coal camp in the mountains was my home, but It’ now just Tip Top etched in stone.
With our visit to Tip Top completed we struck out toward the Cole Reunion at Salyersville. One of the things I’d hoped to do on this trip was to get to attend the Cole Reunion at Salyersville on the 28th of May. The relationship to the Cole family is by my mother. My Mama’s sister, Maggie, she married Silas Cole, and so I’m a cousin to all the Coles of the Cole Reunion. I’s bound and determined to attend the Cole Reunion if I’m gona be in that part of the world on the 28th day of May. And so I was, and so I did.
We arrived late to the Cole Reunion, scheduled for 10 – 5 and we arrive ‘bout 4:15. Most had left, but I was lucky to have Herlis and Madeline still at the party. The only ones I really knew of the total Coles at the party. I walked up, kissed Madeline on the cheek before she knew I’s even there. She turned, and looked, and smiled at me. Just her smile made my trip worthwhile, and I hadn’t ever hugged Herlis yet. But that was the next item on the agenda. They were glad we came. We were glad we came.They fed us.
We met some of the Cole Family, but not all. We’re just glad to have been able to get to meet the ones we did. Forever cousins with the Coles.
It was back to Prestonsburg and to sleep at the Motel by the Wal-Mart of the Mountain there at Prestonsburg. But not before we ate dinner at the saloon at the foot of the hill. They even had Makers Mark there. That’s one of the pleasures of Makers Mark, quality shows up when ya least expect it. Such as close to Wal-Mart of the Mountain at Prestonsburg, down there at the saloon at the foot of the hill. Quality Kentucky Bourbon, Makers Mark there in the mountains.
Stay safe in Afghanistan and Iraq.
From the East Wing, Me and Johnny On The Road With The Girls, Butcher Holler and Moon Pies, Tip Top, Cole Reunion, Prestonsburg & Makes Mark in the Mountains
I wish you well,