Childhood Reflections From Eastern Kentucky

We didn’t travel often when I was a child. An automobile, might remain parked an entire week (or longer). My world was a one I could usually explore only by walking, on a bicycle or by reading books. Summer vacations did not involve traveling to a lake or a beach. My childhood reflections from eastern Kentucky are from a simpler time when people seldom traveled away from home.

Purposeful Activities

Summer vacation seldom meant travel further than 20 miles from home when I was a child. Amusement was created out of childish imagination and I don’t recall ever saying the words “I’m bored.” My entertainment involved such purposeful activities as picking wild blackberries with my brother while trying to avoid snakes and briars in a thick grove of vines.   Our reward for braving the thorns and the heat was the fresh blackberry cobbler our mother made that evening.

Our Natural Playground

After our berry picking, we escaped the hot summer sun by playing in a “mining break” (sinkhole subsidence) in Bronx Hollow.

Mining Subsidence

Mining Subsidence

There was no fear of further earthen collapse or that our natural playground would swallow us. There was only the adventure.   The subsidence had existed without visible change for decades because of a cave-in beneath the earth from underground mining. There were many such sink holes in Bronx Hollow and they grew the finest gardens because of the richness of the topsoil.

One such subsidence area was our favorite spot to play. We simply called it “The Spring.”

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

The path down to our “mining break” playground was strewn with wildflowers such as Queen Anne’s lace and Speckled Jewelweed.

Speckled Jewelweed:  My favorite wildflower

Speckled Jewelweed: My favorite wildflower

Often I would collect of bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and wild clover blooms to take home to my mother.  (She always placed them in a glass of water and placed them on our kitchen windowsill.)

A thick canopy of trees surrounded most of the area, filtering out the heat and light from the summer sun.

Over a wall of boulders, a natural mountain spring flowed over the rocks and afforded us cool drinking water. Hidden in a crevice between stones and concealed by the lush growth of water thistle was an empty glass jar with a lid our daddy had stashed there on a previous visit. We collected spring water in this glass or from one of Daddy’s empty metal Prince Albert tobacco cans.

On either side of the natural spring was a natural clay bank, also surrounded by wildflowers. Often we collected small rocks and dammed up the water below the spring, creating seals with the clay to construct a wading pond for our bare feet.

Rock Climbing

To the right of the natural spring was a steep incline of large boulders amidst an entanglement of thick grapevines. I resisted the urge to use the grape vines as swings once I surveyed my certain landing on the bed of boulders below. (I remembered my mother’s precautionary story from her own childhood.   The vine had broken, landing her hard on a pile of rocks. I didn’t have to repeat her experience to learn her lesson.)

If Daddy happened to be tending a garden nearby, he usually joined us at the spring for a cool drink of spring water. While there, he made each of us whistles from the long straight stalks of speckled jewelweed.

Ripened seed pods of Speckled Jewelweed

Ripened seed pods of Speckled Jewelweed

When the seed pods ripen in the Fall, they are the best ever touch-me-nots, and now my granddaughter and I “play” with those same wildflowers. I delight as much watching her experience one of the favorite memories of my childhood as I do joining her in the fun.


With no watches and no thought for time, my brother and I played for hours until berries weren’t enough and hunger called us home. There were no neighbors nearby, no cell phones, and sometimes no adult supervision. Nobody thought you were a bad parent if your children went off to play in their natural environment. We were protected by the remoteness and size of our small town.   There were few things we had to fear, and crime was not one of them. My childhood was one of exploration with innocence and without fear, and for that I will always be grateful I grew up in a small town.

The tradition continues with my granddaughter.

The tradition continues with my granddaughter.

A Childhood Without Fear

We never locked our doors at night, much less during the daytime. On a rare trip when we all traveled to visit a relative in neighboring Pike County and were gone for most of the day, we still didn’t lock our doors. Nothing was ever missing or stolen. Neighbors watched out for each other’s children. Neighbors talked to and helped other neighbors.   It was a real community.   There was a sense of pride and trust I learned there that has helped mold the person I am today.

Changing Times

Even when my children grew up in the same area roughly 20 years later, things were different. People changed. I’m not sure when it happened that people could no longer feel safe without locking their doors.   Highways were built and people traveled more. The world outside the protection of those eastern Kentucky hills finally found its way into my tiny hometown. With it came ideas, changed values, habits and crime that I wish had stayed out forever.

I left my hometown in the late 1980’s.   It had changed then, but is even more changed now.  Can we ever turn back that clock?

A friend recently shared a fitting and thought-provoking reflection:

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” (Heraclitus of Ephesus, c. 535 BC-475 BC)  Perhaps I’m a changed person as well.

What memories do you have of your own childhood? I’d love to hear your comments.

Pam Baker, RN

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