As my brother Keeter negotiated our car along the steep, narrow, one-lane, gravel road that twists and turns up and around the mountain in the head of Blair Branch, Loretta got quiet in the back seat. And when my wife stops talking, I worry about her.
She was sitting in the back seat on the driver’s side, straight behind Keith, but she was looking out the passenger side of the car at the side of the hill. Her face had turned pale, her expression grim, and she was gripping the arm rest as if clinging to it might keep her from rolling down the mountain. She was too scared to look over the hillside toward the deep valley, several hundred feet below.
Loretta is afraid of heights and our destination, the Arthur and Helmer Adams Memorial Park, sits atop one of the highest peaks in Appalachian Kentucky. Traversing the road up to it would scare almost anybody who doesn’t live there or those of us who grew up in the lower end of Letcher County. It may not be Heaven, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty close.
At one point, we came to a spot where a small ditch had washed out across the road. Keeter told Loretta that she’d “better stand up back there to keep the car from dragging.” I’m proud to say that my wife didn’t fall for that one.
As Keeter fought the steering wheel to prevent our car from spinning out on loose gravel, Loretta asked, “What if we meet someone coming down?”
Keeter, gritting his teeth, simply replied, “Just keep hoping we don’t , ‘cause if we have to back up I don’t think we can get your little car this far again.”
Last Saturday evening, we were attending the last night of the 27th Adams, Thompson, Blair Reunion which was started up by the late Den Arthur Adams in the 1980s. Den and numerous others of the reunion’s first co-organizers have gone over to the other side now but his wife and other family members keep it going because, in reality, it is the ultimate Blair Branch Reunion because everybody on or from the holler is related to one or more of the namesake families.
This was the first one Loretta and I had made it to this century. Many of us, who attended the first ones, are now getting pretty “long in the tooth” but the Saturday evening reunion supper was graced with kids from as young as one year old to some in their 90s.
Loretta and I were numbers 131 and 132 on the sign-in sheet that was still going around when we left and I’m sure that many folks who attended did not get a chance to sign in. It is not unusual for this gathering to draw in upwards of 300 people, most of whom live nearby, as well as many others, like myself, who have heartstrings that tie us to Blair Branch, even though we now live all over Kentucky and throughout the Industrial Midwest.
Most people had already eaten an hour before we got there but there more than plenty supper was still on the table. Loretta had made a big eggplant Parmesan casserole that she baked in sis-in-law, Nancy’s, oven half an hour earlier and it was still piping hot. She never had a chance to find out how Italian cuisine would go over with the masses on Blair Branch, but both Keeter and Mike Mitchell, his brother-in-law and my old high school buddy, who rode up the mountain with us, declared it excellent because it “tasted just like and was even better than lasagna.”
Unfortunately, everything else was cold and if you aren’t crazy about potato salad, you, like yours truly, are not that fond of cold taters either. But fall beans and corn bread are most excellent, even if they are cold, because you can that just means you can gobble them down that much faster along with huge slices of homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet onions from Laramie (Rame) Adams’ garden.
My cousin, more like a brother, Rame, with whom I started first grade and graduated high school, had picked a peck of the heirloom, white fall beans that have been in our family for well over a hundred years. Rame said he did the growing and picking and broke them up but his wife, Lynn, got credit for the cooking.
I never did find Lynn so I could kiss her and ask if I could take the leftovers home with me. Loretta wouldn’t let me steal the pan because she was afraid I’d lose it on the way back down the mountain.
“What happens if we start sliding on these loose gravel,” she asked Keeter on the descent.
“We’ll just get to flat ground that much quicker,” Keith replied.
That remark quieted her down again but Mike later told me she was whispering prayers, there in the back seat, until we got all the way to the mouth of the holler.