|(another fine creation of Nimrod Studios, Richmond, VA)|
Alright, Spring, if you are still hesitating to come here, we'll go find you!
So begins the Big Fat Southern Road Trip, a 2100-mile loop from home, through western Maryland, West Virginia, the length of Kentucky, up to Paducah and down to Memphis along the Mississippi, then to Music City, lots more of Tennessee and up the spine of western Virginia to get back to the beginning. Despite lots of country dirt on the old Honda, empty water bottles everywhere and blowing a tire just 35 minutes from home, we're glad we went; the washing machine quivers in dread. Blackberry the cat is glad to have us back, offering his furry belly up as a warm greeting.
Only an airbrush of light green is to be seen on either side of the highway, the hills still brown, until the redbuds lead the way and the grass thickens in West Virginia. The soapy-white sycamores and the oaks are still all branch and no leaf. A first stop in Charleston shows some flowering trees and our hopes are up before a snowstorm gathers and follows us all the way to Lexington, Kentucky. I think we must be responsible in some way.
Lexington, with its immaculate horse estates, should be seen in its summer glory, and it did not disappoint us: the nasty weather abruptly stopped and we cruised along the state's lovely parkways (light on traffic and especially on trucks -- love it) to find the Pyron's farmstead, and their driveway, just before we run out of southwestern Kentucky completely and fall into the the always-brown river. Now this is no mean feat, given the lack of signage or landmarks in the spiderweb of narrow local routes, but it's not our doing, but that of the fine GPS on Nancy's new iPad. The reassuring voice of Siri and her impeccable navigational skills deliver us with not one delay.
I hadn't been to visit in probably a dozen years, and their home and land have changed considerably. The only animals (where once chickens and sheep roamed) in residence are Coco the lab, a mature female cat and Little Buddy, a yellow kitten who had lost his home along with some skin and fur in a neighboring house fire. Cherry Pyron had him fixed up at the vet, and he lives in the barn. We tried to warm him up to people, and urged him to stay very near his barn, since the plentiful coyotes are a nightly danger to small animals.
Kentuckians just like to have fun
We're eager to see Tom's current projects, a new Habitat house just starting in the old river town of Hickman, and a new church in the country outside of Fulton. Despite having recently retired, his expertise is in more demand than ever, and he's finding out that being a project manager for the big church construction involves, primarily, being on the phone about 18 hours a day. The foundation trench in Hickman keeps filling up with water, delaying everything there, and that's only one of his dozen problems to solve each hour.
We all relax for lunch at Miss Martha's Cornbread and Sweet Tea, a roadside cafe in Fulton that will feed you well, and make you feel welcome. Go on meatloaf special day. Trust me.
Not only can you take a long slow walk on the old tree lined country road that fronts the Pyrons', but you can do so without watching for any traffic. During our stay, one pickup truck went by (later on, while on I-81, we could hardly believe that's possible when you're imprisoned on all sides by tractor-trailers, mile after mile). Then we took a longer route on their Scorpion go-kart, with no worries about law enforcement, other cars, or anything except staying out of the ditch. I think Nancy is a more daring driver than me; when she was in the driver's seat, the pedal stayed all the way down and the dirt flew.
We headed north an hour to Paducah, a nice little city with a long history at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The floodwall (which is tall enough to convince you they must have reason to take floods seriously) is covered end to end with a historically-themed mural, and the old downtown is a delight to the eye. Nineteenth-century brick buildings are beautifully designed and restored, and there are a few Art Deco treasures scattered among them. The first floors are sometimes marred by those awful modernizations done from 1945 to the mid-60s, like everywhere else.
Our destination is a lively arts venue, nicely restored, called the Maiden Alley Cinema which tonight hosts a local band of almost ten years duration called Bawn in the Mash. All I found out about the name is that it comes from Mark Twain somehow. They (there are six of them) play a sort of psychedelic bluegrass, switching instruments alarmingly often, and those instruments are an object of wonder in themselves: a strange drum kit consisting only of a tom, bass drum and two cymbals. The lively percussionist also plays what looks like an edited version of a marimba and something I've seen in old photos of minstrel/early jazz groups. The fiddler also played what looked like an electric mandolin, but it had five strings. And it was on loud. Every seat and all standing room was filled, and one could enjoy a microbrew from the concession stand. Which we did.
The dogwoods, this week dressed in their Southern best, are plentiful in the carefully done yards of Jefferson Avenue, and were featured by spotlights. A recent tradition in this neighborhood of outstanding residential architecture, it's a good idea that has caught on like the arts downtown because, I think, Paducah has a rare spirit among small cities -- it has managed to foster both the new, fast-growing shiny suburbs and excitement in the old established areas simultaneously. Paducah is a place worth keeping an eye on, and we'd like to go back.
Tennessee is calling me
There are a lot of religious signs along the road in this part of the country, and one in particular speaks to us as we head further south from the sweet, quiet countryside to the higher-voltage sprawling city of Memphis:
"YOUR SINS WILL COME TO LIGHT."
Well, we haven't had much chance to yet, but that could be a fair warning.
--more adventures to relate, tomorrow--