Before her death, Mother Teresa said, “What can we do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” That is an interesting twist to the thought of world peace. In a way it seems too simple, but I can see if multiplied by millions, it just might work. Families are about the most important resource that we have in Harlan County. I used to feel really left out because I didn’t have relatives here, but we are pretty much filling up our little corner of Harlan now, and it feels really wonderful.
Erma Bombeck, born Erma Louise Fiste, was once one of America’s most popular humorists; she gave speeches all over the country and her entertaining columns were in many newspapers. Erma described her family this way: “Our strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases, toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, locking each other out of rooms, loving, laughing, defending and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”
It is very interesting to try to work through the complexities of family interaction, and it would be hard to define “family” in just a few words. The number of families here who have roots that go back many, many years intrigues us. I am almost envious, because my family is so scattered. Since moving to Harlan over 40 years ago, my husband and I have often greeted each other with this question,” Did you know that X and Y are sisters or cousins or that A and B used to be married? When you did not grow up in a town, it takes a long time to understand family connections. In case you didn’t know it, it takes longer in Harlan to figure out these configurations because lots of Popes and Howards and Hensleys and Cawoods and Smiths have lived here a long time. My husband’s hobby is people watching, and he loves to make all of the connections that he can. He has said to me before, “I’ve lived here long enough to see three generations of families, and I’ve noticed that often a child is more like the grandparent than the parent.”
Family bonds are very interesting; Erma Bombeck could have gone on to say that the same ones who are locking each other out of their rooms are also there locking each other in their arms when trouble hits. Harlan family units are tight, and we like that. Jerry nearly always has a Hicks family story to tell. We came to know and appreciate Billy Hicks when he was John’s coach at Harlan. Billy has gone on to become one of the most successful high school coaches in Kentucky. John and his friends would often lovingly tell stories of their ventures into other parts of the state. Billy and his brothers love each other in a manly way, yet the older boys still see him as their kid brother. Jerry gets a real kick out of one of the brothers telling stories on the other. One day he asked Ken when he had seen Billy, and Ken reported, “I haven’t talked to him for a while. I went by his house a few weeks ago, but he wasn’t home. I sat around there for about an hour and he never showed up; the grass in his yard was knee high, so I got out his mower, cut his grass and came on home.” Herschel keeps trying to give Billy fishing advice. One of John’s college buddies is Billy’s assistant coach, and he tells that Billy’s talks in the locker room to his team still have serious references to Ages Bottom and many other Harlan County places of interest. The Scott County boys just look a little puzzled, not exactly understanding all of the references.
When I moved to Harlan, I remember being so impressed when there were large families who liked each other and liked spending time together; that has always been a dream of mine, one that has come true.
Harlan people are well on their way to making world peace, because they know how to love their families well. They also often extend that love to those in their community. The outpouring of sympathy and concern and respect that is shown to mourners here in Harlan always touches me; connections are deep here in family and community. People are surrounded with love, food and money to help cover costs; families come back home to honor their dead. Harlan people are generous and caring.
On a happier note, I have heard more than once the statement, “Harlan is good to its brides.” I have seen the surprise on the faces of out of town mothers of the bride or groom when they see that Harlan people actually came to the shower or tea, happily bearing gifts. Harlan people love their own children, their friends’ children and their children’s friends.
The Good Book has something to say on this subject: “Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10 HCSB
(You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)