By: Pat Bryson
By: Pat Bryson

There is an old story about a man who moved to a new town; soon after arriving, he walked into a small barber shop and sat down in the chair of an elderly barber.


There is an old story about a man who moved to a new town; soon after arriving, he walked into a small barber shop and sat down in the chair of an elderly barber.
 “You’re new around here, aren’t you?” asked the old barber. 
 “Yep”, the man replied, “just got here yesterday. By the way, how are the people around here?”
The barber paused for a moment and then asked this question, “How were the people in the town you just moved from?”
“Oh, they were great,” the man said, “the most wonderful people in the world.”
The old barber responded slowly, “Well, the people around here are just like that.”
As we can imagine, if the people in the last town had been awful, the barber would have assured the man that the people in the new town would be pretty awful also. We usually find what we are looking for in any new town, any new church, any new school or most any new situation.  I am glad that my previous town did not set the tone for my move to Harlan, because I had not liked it or the people there very much.
When my husband, our almost two year old daughter and I drove into Harlan for the first time on a cold night in 1967, we knew almost nothing about Harlan or its people. Of course, we were aware of the stereotypical view of the mountains and its people as a place filled with coal miners, moon shiners and feuding families that are portrayed through movies, books, and national news stories. I was a little leery.
We had made the long trip to Harlan from Iowa City, Iowa, a university town in the cold, windy mid-west. We had lived there for almost two years while my husband served in the U.S. Public Health Service. After discharge, he needed a place to work for a year before moving to Atlanta to get specialty training. He had heard of the opportunity to work in Harlan through a brief “chance” conversation with a physician at the Maytag Washing Machine Plant in Newton, Iowa.   The doctor told my husband to call a Dr. Pruitt in Harlan; he did, and plans were made for us to visit. We had never heard of Harlan, Kentucky.
As we arrived in Pineville, it was almost dark on that dreary, rainy Sunday in December, and we were already tired and almost an hour late for a planned dinner with the Pruitt family. When we arrived at the Pineville Bridge, we found a sign that said, “Closed”.   We didn’t know that Hwy 119 had been under construction for several years and still had not been completed. We were directed across a small bridge, leading up Straight Creek and across Pine Mountain. By the time that we arrived at the Llewellyn Hotel on Cumberland Avenue, it was well past dinner time.
I remember my reaction to the curvy road, vowing to never drive on that mountain; my husband often tells of our first trip through town on Clover Street, past the old elementary school and gym, with lots of small houses very near the street, and out to Kitts where the Pruitts lived in a large wonderful home owned by the Whitfields. We had a great meal prepared by Shake’, and Emily was well entertained by four lively Pruitt children. In addition, Gail’s boyfriend, John Bianchi, was there. After the meal, Jerry climbed into the car with Dr. Pruitt to take John home to Evarts, since he was too young to drive. In later years, Jerry would remind John that he was the first true Harlan Countian that he met. John, in his characteristic way would reply, “I’m surprised that you ever came back!”
The next morning Jerry visited the hospital and the Daniel Boone Clinic and was so happy to find many wonderful well-trained physicians on the staff and was very pleased to find that the equipment was modern and exactly the same type that he was taught to use in Ann Arbor and Iowa City. The warm welcome there and at the Pruitt’s home helped us to make the decision that day to move to Harlan.
When we came to Harlan the next July, how happy we were to find in Harlan the priceless treasures of warm and friendly cultured people who shared many of the values that were important to us! There were so many wonderful surprises that we discovered day by day, showing us that we had made the exact right decision to come here to raise our children. We never did make it on to Atlanta.
We found great talent here and a great appreciation of music; we thrilled to the excellence of the Musettes and Boys’ Choir; we found a welcoming church led by a dynamic young minister. We loved Pennington’s Grocery Store that made deliveries twice a day, the beautiful scenery all around us, the Pine Mountain Settlement School, The Girl and Boy Scout Camps, so generous with their facilities, and very intelligent citizens. We were glad that Aunt Nancy could read her Bible stories over the radio and that Camp Nathanial’s staff could visit the schools here. Jerry would boast about having 12 channels on our TV, instead of the 3 or 4 we were used to in other places.
We were glad to leave behind the long, cold winters of the north, and we felt that the warmness of the climate here extended beyond the atmosphere and into the hearts of people. We loved the fact that individuality was welcomed and honored here. We were also glad to leave the “keeping up with the Jones’” in the south where we had grown up. Inside, we felt at home here and we thought (and continue to think) that Harlan Kentucky is a wonderful place to live and raise a family.
We loved the vibrant downtown with the sidewalks full of people from all over the county. Jerry especially liked Creech Drug, where he could get a newspaper, something to eat and catch up on all the latest sports news. Just picture a warm spring Saturday morning in Harlan in 1968. The dogwoods were in bloom, the birds singing. People from all over the county were arriving in cars and VTC busses to stream in and out of Belk, Alex’s, Jay’s, Gergeley’s, Powers and Horton, The Quality Shop, Harlan Jewelry and Hardware, TG&Y, Newberry’s, Howard Drug, Green Mill, Modern Electric, A&P, Royal Jewelers, Collins, Bissell’s Cumberland Valley Music Store, Coal City, Cumberland Hardware, Harlan Shoe Store and other charming stores until late in the day. You could always enjoy a movie at the Margie Grande and get a real milkshake afterward. The mountains were just beginning to display the life of a new season. Why would anyone want to be anywhere else?
When we moved to Harlan, we came to stay one year. That year has become over 40 years of living among wonderful people in a unique place where God has truly shown His favor. We thank Him for leading us here!
(You can reach Pat Bryson at patriciawbryson@gmail.com)
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