Category Archives: Americana

My observations about people and places of this great country.

Sad, Sad America

sad-americaAs I sit here waiting, with the rest of the country, to see the outcome of this incredibly embarrassing election, I can’t help but recall something my niece said a couple of days ago. When she found out school would be out on Election Day, she said, “But what if we can’t come back to school on Wednesday because everything blows up?” Now, you might think she literally meant the school building is in danger of exploding, but no, that’s not what she meant. What she meant is that the whole country could go up in flames because of the election. Her overly dramatic teenage brain has obviously been affected by the endless frenzy surrounding the presidential race, and like so many others in this country, she was overreacting.

I saw it as my job to reassure her that everything would be alright. “Hon-ey,” I said, “everything is not going to blow up. Listen, regardless of the outcome, it won’t be the first time we’ve had a liar or an idiot in office, and it probably won’t be the last.” I assured her that the country would survive—no matter what.

And now, I watch the states turning red and blue on my TV screen, and I wonder if our founding fathers could have ever imagined that this country—the one that they risked everything to form—could sink to depths so low. I do believe my comforting—or not so comforting—words to my niece are true. We will survive, but I also can’t help but wonder if we the people are approaching a time in which we must react to our government as our founding fathers did not so long ago. Our Declaration of Independence states, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Have we given our consent for this circus to continue? Sadly, it seems that we have. We, the American people, apparently want a government which operates similar to a reality TV show.

How much longer will we allow this type of insanity? Well, considering we are about to elect one or the other of these freak-show stars, we are guaranteed at least four more years of entertainment. Perhaps we should consider another of the statements made by our own Declaration of Independence: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” How happy are we now, kiddos? Huh? ‘Cause I don’t feel too damn happy about it.

July 4th in a Small Coal Town

Our RZRs parked in front of Kilgore’s.

My husband and I just spent 4th of July week in a little town called Evarts in Harlan County, Kentucky. Whenever we visit, and that’s fairly often, I’m struck by the resilience of the people in that little coal town. Evarts, like many dried up coal towns, is just a shell of what it once was. Kilgore’s, the general store right smack dab in the center of town is standing proof of that. Walking into the upstairs room of that store is like walking into the costume department of the Brady Bunch. The inventory seems to have frozen in 1976—nothing sold since, nothing new since. Of course, there are some newer items downstairs, and a lot of trinkets peddled to tourists. The fact that the store still opens daily is a small wonder, but what’s more than that, it’s a statement. A statement which screams, “We may be down, but we’re not giving up!”

The nationwide decrease in coal use and production has left little towns like Evarts in a dire situation. The town is nowhere near any major industry or urban areas. Hell, just getting there is an adventure, so commuting for work is not exactly feasible. Needless to say, without coal mining, they just don’t have a whole lot going for them.

View of Evarts in the valley from the Cliffhanger Trail.
View of Evarts in the valley from the Cliffhanger Trail.

Some residents have moved away, but a surprising number decided to stick it out. Those who stayed have gotten creative with ways to survive. Somehow, the residents of Evarts convinced the county to lease 6,000 acres of old strip mine land and turn it into an off road vehicle trail system. Consequently, people from all over the country come to ride the trails and bring money with them.

It’s the trail system which brought us to Evarts to begin with. My husband and I were some of the first, and we’ve watched things progress in the town. The first night we showed up in Evarts, we found a bunch of men standing around a trashcan fire. My husband yelled out the window of our motorhome, “Excuse me, guys. I hate to bother you, but we’re looking for the camping area for the riding park.” One of the men responded, “Hey, buddy, you’ve found it. Pull on in.” And now, nine years later, sitting around the campfire with the core group responsible for bringing the trails, the Harlan County Ridge Runners, I’m was warmed by not just the fire, but the human spirit of these people. As Dallas started another story with, “Buddy, I’ll tell you what . . .,” Henry laughed and smoked his cigarette like it was the best he’s ever had. The metal plate in his head from the mining accident invariably comes up in conversation, but Henry wears it like a badge of honor, not an impediment. He tells the story with a nonchalance similar to a story of a broken toe or a few stitches on a cut finger. I’m in awe of him. As I scanned the group, Tom winked at me just like he did the day we rode the zip-line with him two years ago (the zip-line is another great idea they put into play). I remember he said, “Hey, lady, I bet I’m the only 70-year-old man you’ll ever see on a zip-line.” And, you know what? He is.

On the 4th, the town put on its usual huge fireworks display after a sweet little parade that wound its way through the half dilapidated, half restored buildings of a once booming town. I overheard a first-timer say, “For a small town, their fireworks were pretty impressive.” Of course they were. In Evarts, people aren’t afraid to dream big. Taking chances is only natural for a town that has nothing to lose. I can’t think of a better place on this earth to be reminded of the American spirit of perseverance during a celebration of our nation’s independence.[whohit]July 4th in a Small Coal Town[/whohit]