Thank you, and goodbye, Henry County

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By Erin Melwing

Summer has always had a special place in my heart for a number of reasons.

Primarily, I yearn for summer because the thought of sleeping in until my eyes open sounds like bliss every time I hear my alarm clock screech the other months of the year.

My internship with the Henry County Local was not only a job, but it was a learning experience that a classroom setting simply can not offer.

This summer, I learned how to look at life from different perspectives. One of these perspectives was from a park bench, conveniently located under a tree that doesn’t leak, in front of the courthouse in New Castle. I listened to the infamous tales (lies) of Pete Raymer and Sam Herrell. I listened to them tell me “what has happened, should happen and will happen.” With more than 80 years of life experience each, it was impossible to not learn from their stories and histories.

Interviewing Leroy Wright, better known as “Huck-a-Buck,” also taught me to look at life with a different perspective. I learned from Huck to not sweat the small stuff and how I can only strive never to miss a day of work like him. He redefined the meaning of the words, “work ethic.”

Most importantly, I frequented establishments that are not used to a younger crowd at the times I went. I actually woke up before the sun did one day and it pained me. As my alarm screeched, it didn’t feel like summer anymore. However, sitting at Chat-n-Nibble at 6 a.m. for three days in a row quickly made up for my loss of sleep. As I listened to mostly lies, with a little bit of truth mixed in, and observed the chatter, I met a variety of characters. Each of the diners had their own solution to the world’s problems, and I can only hope to be sitting at a table like that one day permanently.

I also checked out the Pleasureville Pool Hall. I met Samuel Perry and others who have found a way to keep busy, or not busy, and enjoy their retirement. It made me appreciate my own 90-year-old grandfather who lives in Michigan. Listening to the stories of people his age made me want to interview him and get to know my own history.

I also learned to look at life from another perspective. I covered two total-loss house fires during my internship and I witnessed how communities pull together to help out neighbors, friends and total strangers. Covering the house fires has definitely put things into perspective. For instance, I realized that I lost my favorite University of Kentucky shirt last week, but I don’t know if I was more upset about losing the shirt or the fact that I was so upset over something so trivial in comparison with the other losses I’ve witnessed this summer. Things have changed.

Relay for Life, although a bit stormy this year, made me aware of challenges that people face every day. Although I’ve attended various other Relay for Life celebrations in the past, Henry County’s rally for support was unmatched. Even though the decorations and the track were threatened by menacing clouds, the spirits of participants and survivors stayed strong. I know that the luminary ceremony to be held in the upcoming week will ignite the same support and emotion that it would have if there had not been severe weather warnings.

One of the great things about my job is that I truly enjoyed it most of the time. I had the privilege of attending a majority of the vacation Bible schools held in the county this summer. I also learned that I should say “Y-E-S to V-B-S” and to just have fun. Art Linkletter was definitely on to something, children really do say the darndest things. Interviewing young children was a joy because they were always incredibly honest. Most importantly, Henry County mothers should be beaming. Every single child I interviewed always mentioned how much they loved their mom and how much she loved them back. It made me appreciate my own mother a little more, especially since I forget to tell her those kind of things. Children most definitely put things into perspective.

Not all of the lessons learned were of a serious nature. For example, I’ve learned that my sense of direction is sub-par. I am also disheartened that my internship is ending because I think I finally figured my way out around town. I don’t necessarily “landmark” things anymore, as in I don’t ask people where places are in relation to Subway, Dairy Queen, Taco Bell or Our Best.

I also had the honor of attending the Kentucky Highlands Renaissance Festival twice while on the job. I escaped reality, stepped back in time and experienced life as it was in 14th century Scotland. I learned that we take modern conveniences for granted and I’m thankful I live in the 21st century.

This summer I also learned a variety of other lessons, but there are too many to name. Maybe I’ll return to the county in the near future to finally take up Tommie Kendall’s offer to take me snipe hunting. Or maybe not. However, Henry County is no longer foreign to me. It’s more than simply Exits 28 and 34 off of Interstate 71. It is the people who truly give the county its charm and substance and I am thankful for the opportunity to hear your stories, your histories, your lies and to be a part of this great place for 10 weeks. Maybe I’ll come back, and skip snipe hunting, and go straight to Norm’s Food Store in Eminence and let out another hitchhiking Oldham County squirrel for old times sake.

Erin can be reached at erin.melwing@uky.edu.