As human beings, we all have cell memories. Certain instances and places seem familiar to us, as an apparent result of trickle down remembrances, passed down genetically from our ancestors, causing us to feel kinship with certain places, perhaps objects.
For some people it may be a house, a church, perhaps a particular piece of property or the family homestead. In my case, I have always felt connected to the area and community where I spent my earliest years, attended school, and the land my family had settled for generations before I was ever thought of being born.
Rowdy, Kentucky has always been my favorite place, and my heart will forever be trying to go back home.
The first years of my life were spent on a slice of land nestled in the valley on what is known as Rowdy Mountain. I’ll never forget my years there, and remember them as some of the happiest of my life.
In the back yard we had a brook, the offset of Troublesome Creek, where I would spend countless hours catching craw dads and setting free messages in a bottle. I remember clamoring along the creek bed, climbing on rocks and catching lizards and salamanders on the bank.
I remember the smell of wet moss on creek stones, and the smooth and cool feel of river bedrock. The sounds of distant coyotes, and bobcats would echo in the night, and bears were animals not uncommon to the area. The closest neighbor was my Great-Grandmother, and the land had been in our family for years.
Rowdy was a place frozen in a time where you really, really knew and loved your neighbors. An area where family was interwoven with family. A place where you could over to the next house over and borrow anything you needed. You could walk down the road without fear, and you could leave your doors unlocked at night because no one would harm you, or steal or pillage.
The traditions and values of East Kentucky were held in high regard here in this tiny, close knit community. Traditions where you went to church on Sundays, after logging a full week of work, and then you went home and cooked your family supper.
You gave to those who were less fortunate, and you helped out those who needed helping. You took pride in your home, your land, and yourself. You loved those who needed it, and you defended your friends, and your community.
Rowdy was a lovely place to grow up, even if some folks wouldn’t agree with me. It was magical, in my eyes. Still is. Even though I’ve been known to romanticize the people, places and things that I love. But none more so than the places…
If you google “Rowdy” Kentucky, you won’t find much. A map that will tell you that this little unincorporated community lies between the Perry and Breathitt county borders. You can count a half written Wikipedia snippet that will inform you that their post office was closed in 2011. A couple of google map pictures that show the old Robinson high-school. There is a lot more to the story and the place than what it seems, with a people and history that has been scattered, if not completely forgotten.
When my Grandfather was a young man, he taught at the “Stacy” schoolhouse. It was your typical one room school building, perched on top of Stacy Hill in what is now the portion of Rowdy that used to be close to the Red Rooster. Rowdy was once called “Stacy”. I imagine because it was settled in large part by the Stacy family, whose descendants still dot the riverbanks of Troublesome Creek. As someone who went to school at Robinson, I had many friends and neighbors who had the last name “Stacy” and now as an adult, who works at Robinson, I see many kids who come from the same line.
Back in the 1940’s or 50’s, the Greyhound bus used to run through Rowdy and pick up riders on the Rowdy Low Gap bridge, and ride them on into Breathitt County where there was a train station. Legend has it that when the bus station started to charge a toll to pick people up on the bridge, a group of rough and “rowdy” wayfarers staged an all out riot, tipping the bus over on it’s side and raising a ruckus. Hence, from then on, the area formerly dubbed “Stacy” was to be known as “Rowdy”.
Settled by families like the Campbells, Stacys’, Boggs’, Allens’ and Jones’, Rowdy became home to those of mostly Irish/Scottish descent. One thing I can say that rings true to those who come from these families, even today, is their pride in their land, and the lands that have been passed down to them from generation to generation.
It’s not hard to see it in the way they upkeep their properties, and farms, and how they have stayed in one spot for decades. Many families, remain on the ‘creek’ and live their lives scattered among familial plots, brothers and sisters side by side with Granny and Papaw in the ‘big house’ down the road. This is common for Rowdy. This is how we live. Family is so important, and once you really feel as though this land is your home, it’s unlikely you will ever be able to say goodbye to it.
A collection of beautiful plots of land along Troublesome Creek, Rowdy has become known as the land of swinging bridges. Plots of homes lie across the creek, some places look very much like those rolling plateaus and farmlands of Ireland or Scotland.
The scenery is worth the drive, and sometimes when I am just passing through, despite the fact that I’ve been gone for nearly 18 years, I get a feeling of dreadful homesickness that can only be quelled by pulling over on the shoulder and setting for a spell.
Landmarks such as Rowdy Low Gap, Rowdy Mountain, and Mount Carmel Church are familiar marking spots for directions among the local people. Old timers remember the Red Rooster, and RedWood Store.
I myself, can remember coming home from kindergarten and my Mother taking me inside Redwood General Store to get a popcicle and bag of gummy bears. I can recall a coal burning stove and an old oiled wooden floor that was slightly uneven and creaked with every single footstep. These landmarks have been long gone for years, but not forgotten, especially in the hearts of those who were born and raised in the area.
Many a tale has been told to children of past generation to “not be caught on Rowdy Mountain” past dark. Fear of boogeymen, wild horned mountain goats, UFO’s and other nonsensical, mystical creatures fill up pages of folklore passed down from family to family. Ghosts and shadowy figures are said to roam hollers and walk forest trails in Cockrell’s Fork, William’s Branch and other well worn paths.
Mostly meant to frighten and fascinate the children of those were born and raised knowing these stories, Rowdy became a place of wonder to me at a young age and still seems to absolutely bewitch me when I tell these same tales and drive my kids down these same roads.
My Great Grandmother, Lottie Campbell Gwinn Boggs always told me she was born, would die and eventually be buried in Rowdy. She did just that. The family burial plot lies adjacent to a country church house that is so old no one really remembers it’s age. She rests between her husbands, sister and a tiny tombstone dedicated to Cora, the daughter she lost to measles in the 1930’s. She dedicated herself entirely to making a life within the rough confines of “Rowdy” and she did so with perseverance, intelligence and a strong sense of love for her land and family. A trait that is wholly shared by those who also come from Rowdy, especially those wild and wonderful mountain kin, like her, who really and truly helped to instill those qualities in us all.
As I sit here and smile while writing, thinking of all the people who will read this and agree, or maybe laugh and disagree, I have to say that it makes me feel better to write about the place that I miss so much, and remember with such fascination. To some, Rowdy may just seem like a regular place, but to me it’s much more, and I’ll bet that the majority of people who are from East Kentucky feel the same way. We all have those special places in our minds and hearts. For my husband, it’s his beloved Caney, for my Mom, it’s Lost Creek, but for me, it’s always been Rowdy.
The sentimental bone for East Kentuckians, is grown at a young age and seems to only double in size as the years pass by. Especially when it comes to love of our homes, our mountains and our land.
As my thoughts and words come to a close, I must say that I’m not sure why the area has almost a supernatural strong hold of sentimentality on the people who live within it’s borders, but it surely does. I’ve heard any number of folks tell me the only way they were leaving Rowdy would be feet first, and I understand now what they mean.
It’s a continuous, recurring theme in Eastern Kentucky. The bonds of kinship and family ties are nearly unbreakable, and the area you were born, and come to call home is as much a part of who you are as your family, and the blood that runs through your veins. Despite the fact that I am now defacto Rowdy-ite, (living in the “city” to county folks is the same as being a Yankee, basically) I will always count that area as home, and I will forever be counting the days down to when I can really go back, to the land of swinging bridges.
Being Scots-Irish and mighty proud of it, I think Margaret Mitchell said it best when she said:
“Why, land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for because it’s the only thing that lasts.”And to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them, why the land they live on is like their mother. Oh, but there, there, you’re just a child. It’ll come to you, this love of the land. There’s no getting over it if you’re Irish.”