Hidden Lives

TALKING TO MYSELF: 5 Oct 2013  Over the past five years, I've talked to groups in all parts of Kentucky about the importance of preserving their local and personal stories. I begin to feel like the Johnny Appleseed of family storytelling, scattering my own memories as I travel in hopes they will take root and encourage others to nurture their own. Although libraries are filled, rightly, with the tales of the famous and the infamous, I believe that the "unhistoric acts" of those "who lived faithfully a hidden life" have made "things ... not so ill with you and me as they might have been."  But let me allow George Elliot to speak for herself:

Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. -- from the final paragraph of George Eliot's 19th century novel Middlemarch with thanks to longtime friend, Carole Palmer, for reminding me of these words. 

Here then is what I call my "Writing Manifesto." Some will have read this before since it was included as the epilogue in my first book YOU CAN GO ANYWHERE. It bears repeating from time to time, I think, to encourage new readers as they begin their efforts to preserve their own stories in whatever ways they are inclined, as genealogists, oral historians, in family memoirs, in poetry or literary non-fiction. 

At the Beginning of Time

At the beginning of time – so the stories went - my people decided to leave the far away land of Virginia, and made a great pilgrimage across the mountains, and through the Gap, seeking our Promised Land.  Having started a little later than some, we found the best land was already taken up by the quick and the privileged. Discouraged but not defeated, seeking a spring that would quench our thirst and protect us from disease, we took off vaguely toward the northern hills, across the great meadows of the Bluegrass Region, until we happened upon the broad, rich bottoms of Eagle Creek.  

It was the singular most extraordinary event in our history, and we never, ever got over our amazement at having done it. We had faced Indians, bears, hunger and cholera to claim our Eden.  Having once done the magnificent, there was never again a need to do more. We stayed put, and reigned, here on Eagle Creek, just about forever.

To be born on the creek, into the Hudson clan, was to know from the cradle that one was bred from pioneer stock -- though  refined and improved, of course, by the Methodist Church and a good sense of humor. No English lord could have felt greater entitlement to his land. No Middle Eastern royal family could have rivaled our regard for kinship, which was carefully calculated and recorded into at least the eighth generation. Our people became legends, our stories myths, our place hallowed. 

Despite the external poverty of our lives, despite the outhouses, despite the coal burning stoves and sooty ashes, despite the linoleum on the floors of our drafty houses, despite our under-served schools and unpaved roads, I was a near grown woman and long gone from the county before I understood that the Hudsons were unknown off the creek  The Hudsons were not, after all, Roosevelts or Kennedys.  We were common folk in the eyes of the world, people of small consequence. 

At first, this realization stunned me into a profound insecurity. Later, it made me laugh out loud at our wonderful, through to the bone pride. Much, much later I came to appreciate the sublime rarity of my childhood -- the unique privilege of growing up immersed in a family’s culture, a family’s history, a family’s place on earth.   

Now I am the one left who remembers the stories of how it was – the triumphant, proud, wise, laughing, merry, tragic, vengeful, weeping, regretful stories of my people. And so I feel obliged to become a storyteller myself. I decide to try and speak their piece, over and over, this way and that, loudly and softly, to my children, to passing strangers, in the dark, until I sleep.