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  • Hands Across the Hills

Leverett's Eye-Witness to Flood damage in Eastern Kentucky

Our Jim Perkins of Leverett arrived in eastern Kentucky in late September to help with flood relief for two weeks. He sent these observations from the first days of his stay. He begins: Everything is needed… Everyone is making do, depending on each other. Survival depends on community cohesion, and it exists here more than in our affluent realm where we don’t depend on others.

Last night I was cold, sleeping in the big iron bed at the top of Gwen’s house. There’s no electricity so I navigated the stairs and intricacies of the house design by candlelight. The roof leaks but last night it didn’t rain. It doesn’t leak on the bed, Gwen assures me.

This morning I see that the bed coverings are thin but exquisitely worked quilts of great beauty. I note that a lot of beauty was washed away by the flood. If you send, say, a blanket, send a beautiful one. A couple of hundred airline blankets just arrived with a Delta flight attendant crew person. I didn’t ask if she stole them. There are mountains of paper towels, toilet paper, bottled water, some boots, soap and detergent, everything needed to restore the domestic routine.

Gwen’s House

If you had unlimited resources to provide a home for Gwen, you could not do better than she has done for herself – that is, the aesthetics! they perfectly express her values, her culture. It needs repairs, and it needs some safety features if it is to continue to serve Gwen as she gets older. For instance, Gwen’s driveway is what we could call a dirt road, climbing to a break in the hill enough to fit in a house, with a view of the Hemphill coal camp close below. You climb ten steps to the front door from the few hundred square feet at the end of the road that serves as car park and space to sit around a barbeque pit, a front yard.

The front room you enter was made 200 years or so ago out of four massive squared off timbers stacked horizontally to make the walls – heavy wood feeling. I can imagine princes out of Teutonic mythology living in such a place. Attached to that are lots of rooms, corridors, stairs connecting a hodgepodge of buildings moved years ago from other places. It’s all cluttered. Gwen moved in six months ago, but she hasn’t had a moment to herself.

I think it would be fun for a number of us to come here to help Gwen put her house in order. Gwen approves of this idea, I think.

The Greatest Need

I think the greatest need is for beauty. Hemphill coal camp is on a road beside a piddling creek that has carved out a hollow just big enough for that road and a row of very modest houses and businesses. The rain comes down harder than usual, as we have noted in Leverett, and the creek became rusting, debris-laden water standing to the height of the ceiling of one man I was talking to. They have shoveled the mud away, and what’s left has turned to dust. Piles of mattresses, sheet rock, insulation and such remain to be somehow disposed of. The businesses are closed and wrecked. Some of the houses are again holding people, but many are beyond redemption.

I repeat: If you are inclined to give something, give something beautiful.

Gwen’s Daughter

When I arrived in my rented car from Tri-Cities airport Gwen was off helping a young man with his PhD, and I fell into a long conversation with Gwen’s daughter. She described the numerous ways that family and community support her and her children. Her life and mine are comparably free—mine supported by the property and wealth deriving from my life with Paula, and hers by community.

The Christians

There are perhaps twelve of them from Church of Christ (a very conservative denomination) with their huge moving van filled with relief stuff when they came. They have been working in alternating groups almost from day one. They live on the ramshackle, unused second floor of the Hemphill Community Center. They are easy going and friendly. They have made themselves acceptable to Gwen because they do the dirty work. I have not yet heard them take the Lord’s name in vain or in reverence.

No evangelism. You gotta like it.

September 2022


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