Updated: Sep 12, 2019
I recently traveled to Kentucky. My Daddy was raised in a rural area not too far outside of Hopkinsville called Pee Dee. Yes, Pee Dee. Can you get any more country than that? His address growing up was Route 1. No street number or street name required. There are miles and miles of farmland with a country store, a post office, a couple of BBQ joints, and a few small churches. There might be a stop sign. Most of the roads have been paved now, but the fields of tobacco and corn haven't changed. Many would've called him a redneck. His dad was a contractor (they called him a carpenter back then) and his mom taught school. There was a man named Mr. Frank who ran the farm. Their life was simple according to today's standards, but not easy.
Hub and I went on a scavenger hunt to find his old farmhouse. It had been years since I'd been there. I didn't even know if it was still standing, but I had to find out. We began our search in Herndon, the "town" that was on an envelope from years gone by. The local post office only had a young man from Houston, Texas working there, so he had no historical information. He told us to go to Lumpy's for lunch and ask the locals. We had 2 hours before then to explore and try to jog my memory. We had no cell service, so calling my aunt for directions wasn't an option. Oh boy, this could be a lost cause, but we love an adventure.
I noticed a sign that said, "Little River Baptist Church". Hallelujah, I'd struck gold! That's where my daddy's family attended church, and he had taken us there a couple of times when I was young. Driving up, I noticed it had some additions, but was still the little white church I remembered. Hub and I walked down to the river behind the church, now dry, to see where my dad had been baptized in his youth. Hub has no fear and trudged down the riverbed. I stayed on the main path because I don't like snakes and had on flip flops. We were not prepared for off-path hiking.
I began to think of my dad. When he was dunked in that river, he had no idea how his life would change. This tiny church would be the place that helped mold the man who later created the Living Christmas Tree at FBC Montgomery, Alabama. The man who for over 30 years served God and others in music ministry. The man who wrote songs of praise and articles for children's choir magazines. The man who later became the President of the Southern Baptist Music Conference and was given a lifetime achievement award. The man so many came to know as not only their minister, but their friend. This place, in the middle of nowhere, is where it all began. I got goosebumps just thinking about it.
Next, we went to Lumpys. The first thing we spotted upon entering was a piece of yarn art in the shape of Alabama hanging on the wall. I figured that was a good sign. Everyone turned when we walked in and the restaurant went silent. We obviously were not from around there, so I blurted out that I was looking for my dad's old farm and asked for help. I got some guidance from a man that was probably a distant cousin and shared my grandmother's maiden name, so we hugged it out before he left. One of the owners was originally from Montgomery (small world) and helped a bit more. Over a delicious lunch we learned that all the names of the roads had changed, and many were named after members of my family. At least it would give us a place to start.
We drove by a house that seemed familiar, but I knew it wasn't Daddy's. We continued traveling down several country roads with no luck. We saw remains of houses that had been torn down and I uttered a quick prayer that they weren't his. I was trying to keep my cup half full and be thankful I'd seen the old church, but my heart was beginning to hurt as the time ticked on. Hub suggested we go back by the house that I'd originally recognized. This time, he noticed the mailbox had "Cayce" written on it and I screamed, "Pull in! That's a family name!"
Now keep in mind, I haven't been to these parts in a couple of decades. I didn't know if any of my family members still lived in this area. I also don't look like I did back then. However, I jumped out and began walking around the property shouting, "Hello! Is anyone there? I'm a Roper!" Hub hesitated and asked me if I was worried about getting shot or being attacked by a large dog. I hadn't really thought about that possibility, but he had a point. Most country folk probably don't like strangers wandering around their backyards. Still, I pressed on. Hub throws caution to the wind on a regular basis, so I knew he wouldn't hold me back. We were committed to this, come what may. Lord help us.
Hub noticed a small graveyard behind the house. As I got closer, my eyes began to fill with tears. I remembered this! My dad had brought our family here to pay our respects years ago. It was the family gravesite. I quickly snapped some photos and heard a truck pull up behind our car parked in the gravel driveway. Uh oh. I began running towards the drive yelling, "I may be your family!" hoping the man getting out of the truck wasn't angry that we were trespassing on his property. Then to my surprise he shouted, "I know who you are Beth!" It was my daddy's cousin, John! We had a "Little House on the Prairie" run and hug moment. I had reconnected to my dad's roots at last!
After catching up a bit, he led us to Daddy's old house, still standing. It's abandoned and in sad shape, but it's there. I looked in the windows and tried every door. It's not been in our family for years, but I didn't care. I was standing where Daddy grew up. Hub jokingly said we should buy the place and fix it up. My eyes lit up a little at the thought, but I knew it wasn't feasible. I took a couple of pictures and we started on our way to Hopkinsville. My heart was full. I'd found Dad's home.
We bought some lottery tickets while in Kentucky. Who knows? If we get lucky, I might buy the old place after all! More to come on the Kentucky trip. I now have a stronger connection to a Disney movie, details on that later.
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Here's some of the pics from my pilgrimage.