I just returned from Benton, KY (in Marshall County) yesterday morning. I was there to celebrate the life of my grandmother and to do my own grieving. You see, Benton, KY is not a big town, nor is it a destination in travel guides, but it was the most magical place I could imagine as a child. Every summer for a month I would live on my grandparents’ farm and I would learn the art of farming, caring for cattle and riding ATVs. I had more adventures in this small world than I have had in many of the places I’ve traveled in the world. To give you an example, the barn pictured above is one where I spent hours-on-end taming feral kittens for the summer. I considered this “my job” and I took it very seriously. My family likes to tell of the time I fell out of this barn while holding one of “my kittens.”. There is a ladder that goes up to the top of the barn and it has small trap door. I was standing in the hay loft, holding a kitten while hanging out with my cousins. I happened to take a backwards step and as I began to fall, I threw the kitten (to protect it, of course) to my brother. As I landed on the concrete slab below, I had the breath knocked out of me. I couldn’t speak, as my family asked if I was okay. Instead, I stood up and began to walk to the house without speaking. My grandfather ran out to get me and I remember collapsing into his arms…limp. So limp that my legs moved like noodles and I remember hearing him call out, “Mama, I think we got a broken leg here!” I still didn’t speak, but I had no pain in my leg. I just let him carry me. They put me in a lawn chair under a shade tree where they had been shelling Purple Hull Peas. They checked me out and determined nothing was broken. I rested and watched them shell peas, while I recovered. I remember falling asleep in that lawn chair for sometime. When I awoke, my cousins and brother were going to ride 4-wheelers and I didn’t want to miss out. So I asked if I could go. I remember my grandmother seeming relieved and noting that I had just needed a rest and I was fine from my fall. So off I went to ride out into The Bottoms of Benton with my family. There was such a rush of freedom in being too young to drive a car (age 11 or 12), but being fully capable of having my own transportation to go out in nature on my own. We would ride out, get muddy from head-to-toe and head back home for dinner. I have distinct memories of my grandmother taking one look at us as we came home caked in mud and telling us to get ready for the water hose. She would spray us down and send us into her basement, which was more of utility space than a living space. We’d dry off down there and then one by one we’d have to take turns getting baths because they didn’t have a shower until I was older. We’d then sit down to a homemade meal (that we likely took for granted) and spend our evenings playing games, doing puzzles or watching movies. That was how I spent my summers. So as I was there this weekend for my grandmother’s funeral, seeing this old red barn, brought memories swirling back. So many in fact, that I couldn’t keep up with the pace my mind processed them.
I had planned to get up this morning to try to capture as many of the memories as I could, but I happened to see a message from a cousin in Benton that, “my kids are okay.” There was no explanation, so immediately I began to search the internet to learn that at Marshall County high school there was a shooting this morning. My heart sank. I worried about my relatives and their children and our family friends. I felt (and feel) helpless. This place that I love so much is not safe as I once believed it was. To me, it felt invincible. The sad truth is that there are a lot of guns and hurting people in the world…and so this sort of thing happens regularly now. I’m not usually one to lament about the past and “wish things were like they were when I was younger,” but in light of this news I do wish for a simplier time. I wish for there to be a “right” and a “wrong” and a “black and white” about the rules of our society. One thing my grandmother used to say (that honestly annoyed me because it was too overly simple) was “just do right.” As a deep thinker I often found myself wanting to present challenges to this sentiment, but today I think I’ll live by “just-doing-right.” I will honor my community in Marshall County and my grandmother by trying to make this world a better place, one small act at a time. I will offer kindness where I can and will be present to myself.
**Just for fun…if you zoom in on this photo you can see my father helping my daughter climb the ladder to the trap door of the barn. This is the hole I fell through.**