When I was young, I felt like a captive locomotive. Time didn’t move fast enough for me. I couldn’t satiate my young appetite for the world that waited beyond my rural landscape. Part of my childhood was spent here in Henry County.
My father and my two sisters lived in Lockport. We had chickens, two turkeys — Tom and Jezebel — and enough farmland for my stepbrother and I to have the idyllic adventures typical of rural America boys. We didn’t have running water or cable television, but we didn’t need them.
We fished in the Kentucky River, which ran on the back of our property. Safety didn’t deter us from swimming back and forth across it, checking someone else’s trotline or jumping off the locks near the dam.
My family history isn’t very different than most in the area.
In my family, everything is a story. The family history lives in anecdotes. If you wanted to know about “Uncle” Ronnie, you listened to stories my dad still tells and we all still laugh about. It is my love of stories, that cultivates my affection for journalism. I moved away far from where I grew up to write my own stories.
I’ve played original music in Austin, Texas, and stayed in a castle built in 1625 in Scotland near where my family supposedly lived before emigrating to the New World. These are just a few of the landmarks I wanted to add to my story. My love for stories ultimately brought me home. I wanted to serve as a watchdog journalist for the home that raised me. I wanted to be a storyteller for where we’ve come and where we are going as a community. As a journalist, I could be a steward of the old and a writer of the new.
Reservations pounded me when I thought of moving back to Kentucky.
How long would it take before I would get bored with small-town life again? I didn’t want to regress and realize I drained all possibilities out of rural life 22 years ago. I was a journalist now, not a kid that played in the rafters of a tobacco barn.
I knew I couldn’t come back to the home I knew. Or at least, I thought so.
Contractors gobbled up most of the farmland that generations, like mine, had left behind for the city life and were now turning into subdivisions. Civilization had progressed centuries beyond the red headed kid of my childhood that had sat on piles of family farmed tobacco we took to town to sell at the local warehouse.
The pastoral portrait of a farmer’s fishing hole gave way to congested traffic and transplant out-of-towners running from the urban sprawl. I was sure to be unrecognizable as a native now. I had traded my overalls for an iPod.
Half of my family isn’t in Kentucky anymore. My grandmother and sister hold what little we have together. Visiting grandma’s house is like walking into a museum of memories. Those that have passed are in frames on the walls, my disturbing fifth-grade picture still sits on the bookshelf. The table I hid under when I wanted to listen in on “grown-up” talk during the holidays is the same one we eat at now for Thanksgiving.
Back home in the Bluegrass State, every exchange, commercial or social, involves a genuine conversation usually with an informal history lesson of “by the Reister’s old house” or “down from the old general store.”
What would be a five-minute encounter or less in the city turns into 20. And for some reason, that doesn’t bother me like it used to at 17. I want to honor our rural legacy by telling our story. Just like the commonwealth state I ran from, my latest musical project mixes modern musings, the country gospel of my grandparents with modern rock. I have come home in so many ways, physically and artistically.
Most importantly, I have returned to the place where I dreamed my dreams.