and that’s when the dog bit me

or: “What Happened When I went to Harlan for the Poke Sallet Festival”

I picked up my rental car on Wednesday afternoon. When I got there, they didn’t have the car I reserved, and I almost cried. I thought to myself, If I don’t get to go this time, I’m just giving up and never trying again. This is ridiculous – you know, as if something was trying to keep me from going back again for whatever reason. But before I could complete the thought, the clerk said, “Let me call New Circle and see what they have.” They had a white HHR with XM Radio. I almost panicked, then he said the magic words. “Free upgrade and free XM.” I almost fainted. My system can’t live at that speed! I hated to give that car back Monday afternoon. It handled like it was on rails, got great gas mileage (I spent $40 on gas on a 500 mile trip), it was comfortable, and I lost the XM signal in only two places in Harlan County. I was surprised; I didn’t think I’d have signal down there at all (and had taken my mp3 player just in case), but I lost it for like three car-lengths in Baxter and about two car-lengths in Mollus. I would spend the extra $5 a day, if I had it, to rent an HHR again.

I swear it took me all day Thursday to get to Harlan County. I got up at 6, took Miss Kitty Thing into Banfield at 7, and then sat and waited. I forgot that when you get the cat’s teeth cleaned, the cat has to undergo sedation, and then you have to wait for the cat to wake up and be semi-normal before you can pick it up and take it home. I didn’t get her picked up until 4, didn’t get home until 4:30, and then didn’t get on I-75 South until 5:05. At least it wasn’t Friday so the traffic wasn’t that bad – but it was bad enough. Thankfully, I know the back way around and didn’t have to sit in the Clay’s Ferry Bridge construction traffic along with everyone else.

My original plan had me leaving Lexington between 10 and 11 Thursday morning. I thought I’d stop in Woodbine and spend a couple of hours with Bill before I went on into Harlan around supper time. I didn’t cross the Harlan County line until right at 8. That’s partly because I spent probably half an hour in Corbin when I got there. I thought since I needed to eat, I would go to the Rootbeer Stand and pig out, then head southeast. The place was packed elbow to asshole, so I drove around the high school to take pictures. I took one picture. Apparently there was some kind of ballet recital or dance team something or other going on there. I didn’t want to attract a ton of attention, so I went on.

Now, I’m not very sentimental about Corbin. I never have been. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place after high school – although I went back to have my boys there but left promptly after Tayler was born. I stopped and took one picture downtown. Otherwise, basically cried from one end of downtown to the other. Even though I’ve been back there several times over the last ten years, nothing was the same. Everything was different. Shop names, business names. I didn’t recognize much of anything except for the huge bank where the Hippodrome used to be, Hardee’s on its usual corner, and the Moonbow Coffee House (which is new, but I had a signing there two years ago). And now instead of going down Main to Center and going through the railroad underpass and turning onto Laurel to get to Masters, they’ve taken out a chunk of mountain and built a bridge over the railroad (and made Main Street one way north and Kentucky Avenue one way south). I recognized very little on Masters, as well. East Ward is no longer a school. Vankirk’s Funeral Home is still there and still looks exactly the same. Even almost everything at Trademart Center was rearranged and different.

I ended up picking up dinner at Arby’s and eating while I drove toward Harlan County. In Pineville I managed to get a picture of Chained Rock and part of Pine Mountain. But I didn’t get a picture of The Narrows. I always try, but it’s a short distance through to the light at the Highway 119 turn off – and busy. I’m probably going to have to stop at the Marathon at some point, run out into the middle of the road, snap my picture, and run back, all while praying I don’t get flattened by car, RV, or coal truck.

I passed some dude from out of state doing 30mph around Varilla. The entire way around the curve, I was thinking, Come on, boys, you can do this at 60 both ways if you know the road. Either they were overly cautious or they didn’t know the road or both. Of course, if you fuck up driving west around the curve, if you fly off the road, you land right through the Missionary Baptist Church. I’m sure they’ll take great care of you. (“Lord, be with us as we commit car, body, and soul…”) I generally fly through Bell and Harlan Counties (when the roads are dry), but I know the roads and could likely drive them in my sleep. We won’t test that, though.

The rock slide in Coldiron had been cleaned up – it got repaired not long after I was there in February. But I could see places where it had already started falling again. But the way Highway 119 is cut through Harlan County, I’m surprised the entire road hasn’t been covered county line to county line at one point or another. There are places where I swear the rocks defy gravity. If I hadn’t been so tired and in such a hurry just to get home, I would have stopped and taken pictures of a few of them on the way in – and on the way out, I was an hour late, so I didn’t stop then, either. Maybe next time.

The sign telling you where Dayhoit is was missing. Or if it was there, I just didn’t see it. While I was pondering this, I drove right by the Loyall turn off, which is right around the corner. So I said, Self, this is kismet. Hie thee straight to yon Dairy Hut and purchase thine ownself a peanut butter milkshake. And I did. After I drove around downtown to familiarize myself with where I needed to be at the tourism building the next morning – which I already knew, but still. As hot as it was Thursday (albeit much cooler than it had been the day before), I wasn’t surprised to find Dairy Hut jam packed with people. I cleaned out what garbage I had in the car and went inside and up to the counter, also jam packed with people – customers and staff. One of the staff asked, “Have you been waited on?” And I said, “No, but I want the biggest peanut butter milkshake you can make me!” She said, “Are you sure?” And I laughed and said, “Of course. I drove down from Lexington just for a Dairy Hut peanut butter milkshake!” And everyone laughed. While she was away making my drink (dessert?), the woman beside me and I waxed poetic upon the wonderfulness that is the Dairy Hut peanut butter milkshake.

I had to carry this thing with both hands, y’all. I’m fairly certain it was in a 32oz cup if not a 40oz (what’s the largest to go cup you can get?). I would pay $10 for one of their milkshakes (I did pay $4.29 for it, no joke). I drank it so fast that I got brain freeze by the time I got back around to Dressen, and by the time I got back to Baxter, the whole thing was gone.

I pulled up in front of the house, took a picture, and sent it out with a “Now, I’m home!”, to which Preston replied that no, I wasn’t. Art turned Tasha, their Yorkie, out to meet me on the driveway. She remembered me from last time and wanted to play. She kept looking up at me and grinning and sneezing. A sneeze is her way of saying, “Yes.” Art asked what had taken me so long, and I said, “Well, you see, there was this fairy that met me in Dayhoit, and I don’t know what happened.” I held up my empty cup from Dairy Hut and jiggled it. “But next thing I knew, I had a Dairy Hut peanut butter milkshake in my hand!” Art and Jan laughed. We didn’t get to visit very long until I had to go to bed. I was just too tired to sit up very long.

Friday was good on the convention hall floor. I sold seven books. Which, to be honest, I thought if I went to Harlan and sold two books, I’d be happy (and make back my booth fee). And I laughed so hard all day. The day was good. My first sale, a man managed to draw blood with one of my bookmarks. I offered to dip my thumb in the blood and thumb print the book beside my signature. We laughed. One guy came by my table and said, “You know what the real Harlan County horror is?” I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Being stuck in this county with $4 gallon gas. There’s no way out!” I ached I laughed so hard – and Jan, who was on the opposite end of the hall selling cookbooks for The Relay for Life, heard me. Where my table was, I could look up through the windows and see straight onto a funnel cake cart. I starved to death all day. Funnel cakes are required summertime food, but I made myself behave. At one point, Jan watched my table for me while I walked across downtown (a whopping two blocks, let me tell you!) for some one dollar bills. I got sunburned because I didn’t have on any sunscreen (it’s almost useless on me, anyway) and because of the beta blocker I take for my blood pressure and migraines. It had turned into a nice tan by the time I got up Saturday, though, and I’m not someone who tans. After we couldn’t stand sitting any longer, Art came and picked Jan up, and we drove out to Dairy Hut (duh) for supper.

Saturday was slow, but it was so damned hot. I don’t know how the people who were outside working stood it. I couldn’t have, that’s for sure. Even though I was inside in the air conditioning, I still wore my hair in a ponytail and wished I’d worn shorts – I was in jeans and comfortable, but going outside at all was miserable. Art came in at lunchtime and gave me $10 to get a funnel cake. So of course I trotted off like a good girl and fetched myself a funnel cake. These were delicious. They had just a sprinkle of cinnamon mixed in with their powdered sugar. I died of delicious. With Art at my table all day, knowing everybody like he does, I sold another eight books. For a total of fifteen sold for the weekend.

After we I finished up at the convention center, I went upstairs and left some business cards and bookmarks on the information desk with all the other stuff. Then I drove out to the mall to run into JewelCraft and got there just in time; they were closing for the night. But I collected what they owed me and left them with six more books. They asked me to a signing on July 10th. It’s tempting, but renting a car over the weekend is so expensive, and I want to have as much cash on hand as possible when I go to Louisville the 22nd. I met Art and Jan at Ken & Paul’s for supper. Jan and I went to claim ‘our table’, but a family was already sitting there, so we took a booth. They left not long after, though, and we moved so we could be more comfortable and have more room. I told myself, Don’t order dessert. Don’t order dessert. So what did I do? I ordered dessert. The waitress came back to the table with my hot fudge cake and told Art the price, and looked at me and said, “Unless it’s your birthday. Then, it’s free.” I said, “Sure. I’ll turn 42 again right now for free cake.” It took them a good fifteen minutes to put my cake together, though. They were putting fresh cakes together when I placed my order. I kept making jokes about someone having to go out to shoot my fresh, wild, hot fudge.

Back at the house, I brought in the box with what books I had left, took one out for Bill, paid for it, and put it in my backpack, and gave the rest to Jan. She was going to buy one or two for gifts and take the rest out to the hospital to put in the Gift Shop. We sat up talking until almost midnight – until the three of us just couldn’t go any further.

We got up Sunday morning; Art went out and brought back breakfast from Dairy Queen like he had the last three mornings. We had coffee and talked a bit, then decided we were tired, and went back to bed. I didn’t mean to, but I slept (I even dreamed!) until 11:30. I had told Bill I’d be in Woodbine by noon. Whoops. I left the house around 12:30, and Jan promised not to watch me leave – it’s bad luck. Neither one of us promised not to cry; it’s futile, anyway, because we always do. I stopped at the county line to take pictures of the Air Mail box and the “Welcome to Harlan” marker that’s set in a base of Harlan County coal. In Barbourville (you have to pronounce it right – “bar-vull”) to use the restroom and to call Bill to let him know I was definitely on my way. I was almost there by then. He asked me where I was, and I told him, and he said, “Driving and talking on a cell phone. Don’t do that.” I told him to stfu; that’s one thing I refuse to do. We guessed it would take me about fifteen minutes to get from McDonald’s to the new little cut off on the Corbin bypass. We timed it right because we pulled up to the corner at the same time. He turned around in front of me and led me out to his house in Wilton.

And that’s when the dog bit me.

We pulled up into the driveway and parked and hugged, and he shut the gate and yelled at Matthew to let the dog out into the yard. Before anybody knew what happened, Blackjack had jumped up on me and bit my arm twice. The first bite was the worst, but I hadn’t even realized he’d gotten me until it was all over and Bill was sending the dog back inside and making sure I was okay. Lucky for me, Blackjack’s canines are blunted, so he neither broke my arm nor ripped meat from the bone. It sure felt like he had, though, and still does! Now Blackjack ended up being a really sweet dog, and in his own way, he really did try to apologize for hurting me – and Bill didn’t stop apologizing the entire time I was there! (He probably still is, and I just can’t hear him from this far away) We treated the wounds with Neosporin, so I wasn’t too concerned. I figured, I have medical financial aid with UK Healthcare until the end of this month, and if it looked too bad, I could take myself to the ER when I got back to Lexington. As it turns out, my arm is black and blue from the wrist to the elbow. I look like an assault victim, and I guess in a way, I am.

We had a great visit. I just wish we had more time. I could have spent the night, but I had so much to do on Monday and was so tired that I just wanted to get back to Lexington and crash. Bill and Blackjack went into Corbin to pick up pizza, and while he was gone, Matthew and I found out we both like Seether, Breaking Benjamin, and Three Days Grace. He found out I’d seen them all in concert and laughed and said, “You suck,” just like Tayler always does. I gave him my external drive so he could rip my music off, but I’m not sure if he ever got it to work or not. We both also like Pantera, Megadeth, and Staind. Bill gave me a cd full of family pictures, and I swear I look like Nannie and Bertie. We didn’t talk about half what we should have. There just wasn’t time. It would take a month of sitting and talking to completely catch up, I’m afraid. And then a month after that to fill in all the gaps. It makes me mad that they were in Winchester until right around the time Thomas moved in in 2009 – and I didn’t start seriously searching until the beginning of this year. I can’t let it piss me off too much, though, because there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

And that’s about it, really. I got back into Lexington around 9:30, went to the bank and Kroger, and unloaded the car, came in, piddled around a bit to calm myself back down, and went to bed. I’ve not gone to bed that early on a Sunday evening in a very long time.

[june 13 eta: I totally forgot to blog this part! I was busy selling books, and this little boy yelled, “Mom! Mari Adkins!” And his mother looked at the table and at me and burst out laughing. She said, “I’m Mary Adkins, but with a Y.” I laughed and said, “My legal name is Mary with a Y.” We laughed and laughed. Then I got up and went around the table and asked if I could give her a hug. I’d never met another Mary Adkins before. We hugged, and she told me that Adkins is her married name, and I told her it didn’t matter. I should have gotten a picture!]

[pictures follow]

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Author: Mari Adkins

Appalachian gothic fiction writer - my works reflect a love of literature flavored by the darkness and magic residing in these ancient mountains. In my spare time, I'm a Simmer, I tumbl, I journal, but I always have a very strange sense of humor. I have lived away from the mountains and lived deep in the mountains. I currently live in Central Kentucky with my lifepartner and his cat. The mountains, their culture, their superstitions, their particular magics, will always be in my blood.