April 23, 2015 – Mary Popham
Posted in The Round Table – Jousting, gauntlet-throwing and more-Spalding MFA group.
From the time I can remember I had planned to write about my family who settled in Central Kentucky beginning a few short years after the American Revolution. My mother was shy, but she taught me a story, “Jack Goes to Find His Fortune,” and encouraged me to tell it when we visited local relatives. This was before tv, and going to the homes of our kin, who lived within a mile radius, was our best entertainment. I found later, that the story my mother had learned from her older cousin, was part of the “Jack Tales,” an English fairy tale, “How Jack Went to Seek His Fortune.”
After I had earned $10 for a published poem, I decided I could call myself a writer, and began to collect family information. This was the story that had been, and still is, locked in my heart, waiting for me to write it. My ancestors were storytellers and letter writers and my family is fortunate to have saved these from past generations. I began writing about Landing Run in midlife, 1993. Although I have lived in the city of Louisville for fifty-five years, this small community in the knobs of Central Kentucky is the place that feels like home. It is now a place of fantasy that I write about. It is 1910, and the little community where both sides of my family have lived. I dream of building a fire in the fireplace, cooking three meals a day for a husband, children, parents, an older relative left without anyone, milking a cow, taking the butter and cheese to the springhouse, gathering eggs, making my own quilts, tending my garden and putting up the produce, picking berries, digging a place in the ground to store the potatoes in winter, gathering herbs from the woods to cure a cough, heal broken skin, setting a trap to catch a rabbit to fry and make gravy for supper, carrying water from the creek to a washtub and scrubbing overalls on a scrub board, hanging sheets on a clothesline on a sunny day. I dream of trading slips of flower cuttings with neighbors who are also kin to me, traveling on horseback to visit on a Sunday afternoon, when no work is allowed. Sitting in the house in a rocking chair with a glass of iced tea and talking about who is expecting—said in an undertone—about whether it will rain so the crops won’t be ruined, commiserating on who was killed in the war, finding out which young people are “talking to one another” and if they will get married, reminiscing about what the old-timers did, telling moonshine stories—who got caught and who got away. And always, there are the details of being Catholic: going to church, saying grace, making visits during Forty Hours, giving to the collection, not doing things you want to because they are “sins,” what will happen if you do those things. Also, saying the rosary, making the stations, learning the beatitudes, the sacraments, knowing what is forbidden: lying, stealing, cheating of course, and also that you must not keep company with a non-Catholic, must never miss Mass, or neglect “making your Easter.” In my first novel, Back Home in Landing Run, I wanted to tell, not the truth of what happened to real people in that place and time, but of the land itself, rocky hillsides filled with trees and wildflowers, a primitive road with a creek running through it, the song of a whippoorwill calling out in the quiet of a moonlit night, and the ways of the good, gentle hard-working people who lived there, and yet, their negative views and the impact of having a Protestant girl move into their personal place. At present I am writing the sequel, Return to Landing Run, in which I am writing more about those home-bound, hills-loving, religious minded, plain-living, good and generous folk.