Monday, February 23, 2009

Hangin' Out in Butcher Holler

Last week was pretty interesting in that "be glad you have what you have, because there are folks who are way worse off than you" sort of way. I had a trip to hills of Eastern know, that place that Diane Sawyer went a few weeks ago on 20/20?

I was about 65 miles from the area that she visited, and it felt like 65,000,000 miles away from where I live and the lifestyle I have. The natural beauty of the forest and hills was amazing, but what was equally amazing was the way people lived in this area. You can watch the 20/20 thing and know that the film makers did not intentionally pick the people with the most sensational story; they picked real people.

It took me 2.5 hours to get from Lexington to my destination, and the last hour was spent pretty much without 2 straight feet of road in a row...reminded me a lot of the Big Thunder Mountain ride at Disney World.

I arrive in Prestonsburg, Kentucky and get checked into the Comfort Inn and Suites. I realize that I am almost out of contact solution, so I decide to look for a Wal-Mart or K-Mart that would have travel sizes. (This whole 3-1-1 travel regulation has been a whole cottage industry to travel size suppliers! And you would be amazed at what I can pack into a 1-quart plastic bag.)

I dig out Jane, my trusty GPS and look for shopping centers, Wal-Marts, etc. The one problem with Jane is that she is very literal. I asked her for Wal-Marts, she popped a Wal-Mart SuperCenter option first, which was about 13 miles away....not bothering to mention the regular ol' Wal-Mart that was 2 miles from the hotel. Which, in my own defense, I could not see existed, because it was BEHIND A MOUNTAIN.

So, I take off to Paintsville on Route 321. A few miles down the road, I see a little green highway sign that says "Loretta Lynn Home Place 3.75 miles" and an arrow pointing right. Holy Flaky Crisco Pie Crust, Batman! I'm near Butcher Holler! And then, I promptly got the first 2 lines of "Coal Miner's Daughter" stuck in my head, and there was nothing else to do but turn right and head for Van Lear, KY and my date with destiny.

3.75 miles on winding, curving, backwoods eastern Kentucky roads is an experience...and it seems like it is much longer than 3+ miles. I twist, I turn, and every time when I am about to give up, I see another one of those green state road signs proclaiming the way to Loretta Lynn's house.

I finally run out of signs and am, by now, so far in the backwoods that Deliverance jokes aren't funny any more. I pop out sort of at a wide spot in the road with a little grocery store (Webb's Stop-n-Shop) and another sign, this one is handpainted. It tells me that I can go into Webb's and find Loretta's brother, Herman, and he'll give me a tour for $5. I think about this for a minute...and realize that the sun is starting to dip at an alarming rate, so if I'm going to do this, I'd better get cracking and save Herman for another time.

I go about 500 more feet and the road become some weird pockmarked combination of dirt and gravel. I'm picking my way along and I catch movement out of the left side of the car. I stop the car and look over at the hillside, where I see some whitish shapes moving in the brush. Goats? cows? Nope, it's hogs. Hogs?  Yes, hogs as big as my VW.

Now, I am not unfamiliar with farming and livestock. I spent many a weekend and summer vacation with relatives in Alabama who had a hobby farm of sorts. I've milked a cow, slopped hogs, actually picked a bush worth's of cotton, toted watermelons, and picked up more potatoes, both red and sweet, that I ever want to think about ever again. And, I've seen some mighty big pigs in my life, but never anything to rival these bruisers. Plus, it didn't look like there was any sort of fence of substance between me and them, so I decided to move along and get a picture on the way back.

So, I continue down the "road" for another quarter of a mile or so, and I see a rock painted with "Butcher Holler." Good to have some reassurance that I still on the path. I turned left onto another dirt road that kept getting progressively narrower. Another quarter mile or so (you do realize that I am just guestimating the mileage, don't you? Because, I really suck at judging distances.)

I finally see a big iron cattle gate and a sign that welcomes me to "Johnson County, Home of the Coal Miner's Daughter from Butcher Hollow, Loretta Lynn." And, there's another little sign tacked onto the bottom that reminds us that this is also "the Birthplace of Crystal Gayle." Yeah, Loretta is more famous, but it's not like Crystal wasn't wildly successful herself..18 number 1 country hits is nothing to sneeze at, no matter what hollow or "holler" was your birthplace (and according to Wikipedia, Loretta only has 16 country number 1s). It just seemed like Crystal Gayle was getting the short shrift here, but Loretta is older and more famous.

As I am paused on the side of the "road," reading the signs, I notice that there are a couple of skinny pit bullish looking dogs hanging around...and as I look closer, I see a couple more equally hungry looking pit bullish looking dogs join their friends. This is not looking good, I think...they all look capable of gnawing off a tire or two and leaving me stranded here in the backwoods where no one will hear me scream.

I ease down the one lane path to get even with the house and snap a couple of pictures. The house sits back in a clearing and looks pretty rustic...8 kids, no electricity, no running water, and no indoor bathroom...rustic, very rustic.

There's 6 dogs now, and I think it might be time to bid Butcher Holler adieu...only there's no place to really turn around, and the cow path that serves as a road seems to only go up into the hills. I manage to find a wider place in the road and execute a perfect 32-point turn to get turned around, managing to not hit a dog or fall off the enbankment.

Amazingly enough, Jane the GPS actually knew where Butcher Holler was...which I found to be hilarious, since the TomTom brand of GPS is UK-based.

Of course, those giant steroidal hogs were gone by the time I got back to that part of the dirt road.

Culinary pickings were kind of lean in the area, but we did go to lunch at a local favorite called Dairy Cheer, where I got a chili dog and deep-fried banana peppers, AND a soft-serve chocolate-vanilla twist cone. So much for that little game of "let's pick the healthiest thing on the menu this week while traveling so you can still fit into your business travel clothes."


LinC said...

I howled with laughter at your adventures. But I'm glad you didn't get out of the car. Large hogs will eat anything, including tourists. There are reasons the pitbulls looked thin -- the hogs ate their kibble. even pitbulls don't argue with hogs.

J said...

When I think Butcher Holler I'm thinkin Loretta all the way. I had totally forgotten about younger sister Crystal! This was definitely one of those trips that allowed you to see a side of America that you probably wouldn't have experienced otherwise. Fab!