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One Photo; One Story: Appalachia

I skipped my Christmas break in the winter of 1984 after some friends at Slippery Rock University asked me to join them on a trip to Kentucky.

We were going to repair and help rebuild people’s homes in Appalachia. Ten days, do some good for people, and make new friends and give back. I was all in. I was the only one who showed up at the airport on the morning of departure. Off I went to meet the Glenmary Home Missioners in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I was greeted at the airport by a Glenmarian brother who nearly crushed my hand with a vice like handshake; He said, “Hello, Slippery Rock, Where’s everyone else?” “It’s just me”; I answered.

“Well Praise God, I’m glad you’re here, welcome”. We waited for about 30 others to arrive from around the country and jumped into vans for our journey to Vanceburg, Kentucky. We rode through the rolling hills of Kentucky, past horse farms where they breed thoroughbreds and race horses, past some stately mansions of the Bluegrass state and into the Appalachian Mountains.

I met Verne from Minnesota whose friends didn’t show either and we formed an alliance. We arrived at The Farm, a 56 acre farmhouse, with no showers and a one seat outhouse, home of Glenmary Home Missioners. A large Kentucky Coonhound greeted us in the driveway. His name was Tripod (he had three legs), who showed up at the farm one day and never left. It was Verne, Tripod and I, for the next ten days.

We were in Vanceburg, Lewis County, Kentucky, and population 12,000. 28% of the county lived below the poverty line, many others just above it.

Families lived in shacks, barns, lean-tos, and dilapidated houses. I was unprepared for the shock of how some of these people lived. I had known Appalachia was poor, I never imagined the poverty and destitution.

No heat, no real possessions, no refrigerators, nothing but a roof and four walls. We went to work, painting, rebuilding, installing wood stoves, refrigerators, roofs, and just about anything to help them improve their lives.

In the evening, we would invite the community to dinner and we would share about our lives and talk about faith and love.

One thing these people had over anything was LOVE. Abundant. They shared it well, for it as the only thing they had to give.

We visited one man who didn’t have a television and all he did was carve logs. He made a roadside museum, where he would make money by charging a few cents to view his creations. His President Nixon and Washington were incredibly accurate.

Another man and his brother invited us into his home and played us the sweetest purest country and bluegrass music ever heard.

We worked for 9 days; we finally got a shower at the Morehead State College football locker rooms.On the day we were leaving, I looked over the small bridge into the creek next to The Farm and someone left a message; Adios Amigos, Love is the Only Way. On the way to the airport we drove down Rosemary Clooney Street in Maywood, Kentucky. I slept in the van, on the plane and the entire next day when I returned home. I think of those days whenever I feel sorry for myself and I ask God’s forgiveness.

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