Although I was born in Kentucky, we moved from the state when I was just a baby.
I did grow up visiting the beautiful Bluegrass State, as my parents were born and raised there, so I had plenty of relatives on both sides to visit.
My parents graduated from the University of Kentucky. And yes, my dad was a huge Wildcat fan. I still smile thinking of him watching all of those basketball and football games. I know he has a courtside seat in heaven.
Visiting Kentucky was always fun for us “city kids,” especially when we visited my mom’s side of the family. One of her sisters lived in a real log cabin and another owned a farm.
A third sister and her husband used to own a KOA Campground, where we used to get treats from the store for free. That was exciting to a young child.
I remember when that log cabin was built. I thought I had died and gone to Little-House-on-the-Prairie heaven, which some of you may recall was my favorite book series growing up.
My sweet maternal grandmother, Hazel Clarkson, was an amazing woman, definitely ahead of her time. A writer and an artist, Granny also made beautiful pottery, which when he was physically able, my grandfather James Arless painted.
A lifelong school teacher, my grandmother even went back to school to get her master’s degree when she was in her 50s.
Granny died when I was in my early 20s and I really hate that there are so many things I never got to ask her.
Recently I was walking through our family room and stopped in front of a painting Granny painted in the late 1970s. It is of charming Poplar Grove Baptist Church in Casey County, Ky.
I asked my mother about the story behind the painting. Even though she knew some of it, she said we should ask her oldest sister, my Aunt Viola Thomas. We then decided to take a road trip to ask her in person.
It had been a long time since I visited Kentucky, so it sort of surprised me how little had changed in small Jamestown.
We stayed at Lure Lodge, which is on beautiful Lake Cumberland, which I had grown up boating on.
It was also the lake that inspired my dad to purchase his first boat (before I was born) and then raise my three brothers and I boating and enjoying lake life wherever we lived.
Visiting with my mother’s sisters was such fun. I loved listening to their stories of what life was like growing up in rural Kentucky.
With amazing clarity, my sweet Aunt Viola recalled her siblings — my Uncle Curt, who was a few years older; another brother, Victor, who lost his life at age 24; and younger sisters, Nelda (my mom), Lula and Neleta.
Of course, I knew my grandparents lived through the Great Depression, but aunt Viola told me just how bad it was. How they moved to Indianapolis to try to find work, and how there were so many people actually starving in our country.
“We always had a roof over our heads, but we knew about so many people who were living under bridges without heat or running water,” she remembered.
After returning to Kentucky, my grandparents eventually were able to buy a 200-acre farm in Casey County. Although the house was small, Viola said they felt like it was a palace.
One of the first purchases Granny made was a wood-burning stove. She ordered it from Montgomery Ward.
The family had to be patient for a refrigerator since there was a waiting list!
Education was always of paramount importance to my grandmother, and I know she was pleased and proud her daughters all went to college. In fact, they all became teachers like her.
Aunt Viola recalled her first teaching job was at a one-room schoolhouse, first through eighth grades. I had such a visual for this, thinking of the old schoolhouse at the Cumming Fairgrounds.
Aunt Vi said back then, the older children helped the younger ones. Since she had gone to school in a one-room schoolhouse, it all seemed normal to her.
When Aunt Vi was pregnant with her boys, she said she wore loose-fitting clothes so nobody would know. Apparently, being in that “condition” was not considered good while teaching.
When she was pregnant with her second son, one of her co-workers “told” on her.
“I never considered pregnancy as something abnormal,” she said, making me laugh.
After meeting with her principal and a school board member she had known since childhood, she explained in no uncertain terms that she was more than capable of doing her job — pregnant or not.
In this way, she reminded me so much of my grandmother. As Aunt Vi said, “You never ordered mother to do or not to do anything.”
During her pregnancy, Aunt Vi never missed a day, and she returned to school three weeks after giving birth. When she went to the doctor for her six-week checkup, he told her she could go back to work.
“I told him I went back three weeks ago,” she said.
I love it! She still has every bit of her spunk and her spark.
Aunt Viola told me the story about why Granny painted the church at Poplar Grove.
Granny wanted to raise money for upkeep of the cemetery, which is where many of her relatives were buried. They made numerous prints and sold them to raise money for a fund, which still exists today.
After visiting for a few hours, we took a drive to see the church and the cemetery. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was lovely.
I’ve always been a bit odd in that I like old cemeteries. It was a weekday and the church was locked, but one day I plan on returning to attend a service.
Aunt Viola told me many other stories, and I wish I had room to share it all here. I am, however, going to transcribe it all for her and for her family members.
If you’re lucky enough to have older relatives, I encourage you to visit with them and ask about their childhoods. Everybody has a story to tell.
Thanks Aunt Vi for taking the time to share your stories and perspective.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.