Tony Earley took two lines from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web for an epigraph in his novel, Jim the Boy: “I love it here in the barn,” said Wilbur. “I love everything about this place.” I loved spending my years of adolescence in a rural, county seat, Kentucky town where we lived in an old, rambling house next door to an even older and more rambling grade school where my mother taught. My father’s drug store sat on Main Street just one block away and our Baptist church, which my father also pastored, was just behind the courthouse.
This was the seemingly idyllic world into which we moved in the mid-1960s, coming back to Kentucky after a five-year sojourn in Fort Worth, Texas, where my father attended seminary and worked 40-hour shifts in a chain pharmacy. We lived in Fort Worth during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and JFK’s assassination just down the road in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Only a few weeks later, Dad drove us over to Dallas and along the motorcade route, pointing out the Texas Book Depository Building, from which Oswald fired the fatal shots.
Although we lived in a developing Forth Worth suburb, my brother and I found rural Kentucky to be much different than suburban Texas. Basketball, not football and baseball, made a difference in a young boy’s life. A family-owned drugstore did not compare to our father’s 40-hour shifts at Skillerns Drugs in Fort Worth. And then when Dad became the pastor of Dixon’s First Baptist Church (regular attendance—60, each Sunday morning) he began to squeeze two full-time jobs into each work week. My mother taught school. My brother and I suffocated under the ever-watchful—prying—eyes of a whispering, yet fascinated, community where the farmers raised tobacco and Baptist deacons smoked, where coal was king, and where every Sunday school lesson began with the prospects or the results of a University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball game.
In narrative non-fiction, memoir form, with your guidance, I want to tell this story, believing that I can tell it well, and that if I do succeed in telling it well, it will be of interest to a wide range of readers. This is a story of a lost world, a world before computers and cell phones, a world where even the closet was a scary place for gay boys and girls. It was not a world without drugs—I saw the first joint in my life roll out of my teammates high top Converse basketball shoe in the locker room after basketball practice one afternoon—but in our Kentucky community, hard drugs were not readily available except in the county’s largest town at the county line.
Upon graduation, only a few of my classmates went to college. Most of my friends got married, stayed on the farm, or followed their fathers into the coal mines. I left the state—although I did not go far—to play college basketball and major in history. One of my best friends attended the University of Kentucky, majored in agriculture, and then went to Auburn to become a veterinarian. My other best friend and basketball teammate went straight to the mines, suffered a devastating electrical accident underground, and never worked again. Several girls became successful teachers and nurses.
Both of my parents are buried in my home county. I still love the beauty of the place, the rolling hills, the colors in the fall, memories of frog gigging in the summer, snow days in the winter. So this is a love story of a place. It is also a coming of age story. A story of first love of “going with” a girl for four years in high school, with talk of marriage, only to break up after our first semester at different colleges. It is a bittersweet story of learning and loss. It is a quiet story that I hope will resonate with many, many people.