The Cast of Characters:
Jimmy and Bonnie
We all enjoyed living at Sam’s house. We really wanted to buy the house and 100 acres he offered to sell, but there was always only enough money to survive. So during the time we were there, we lived paycheck-to-paycheck and started settling into the community.
It took some time, but we made friends with a couple of the locals: Jimmy and Bonnie were two of the few mountain people that didn’t seem to have an automatic dislike of outsiders. They lived with their little girl down a long, treacherous driveway in an old mechanics’ garage that Jimmy had converted into a beautiful little cabin.
Jimmy did odd jobs to make a living, but mostly, Jimmy grew pot. He had his spots in the woods that nobody knew about, and every spring he would go out “farming.” The income from his fall harvest would always get his family through the winter, but just barely. Jimmy was also able to get ahold of some of the finest mountain moonshine ever distilled. One summer, the helicopters found and destroyed his growing crop. It was financially devastating for them.
For all their illegalities and questionable business practices, Jimmy and Bonnie were actually the two most honest, kind, and hospitable locals we met. My grandkids played with their daughter, and we spent many fun days at their place: Fishing for catfish in their stocked pond, visiting outside amongst the free-ranging chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, and one incredible birthday blowout with a bunch of locals and the most incredible food, including fried snapping turtle. Jimmy and Bonnie were able to “grease the skids” with some of the other locals, and we felt a bit more welcomed by the community. Mind you, we would always be outsiders, but the locals finally started lowering their guard with us a bit.
With the exception of Jimmy and Bonnie, all of our other close relationships on the mountain were formed with other outsiders.
Shere and Wanderer and Bird and Jason all lived together in a too-small, run-down homestead on the mountain. Shere home-birthed her second son in a kiddie pool in their living room and was a miracle worker with herbs and natural remedies. Her husband Wanderer was a deep thinker, and we had many incredible conversations together. Bird was (and is) a beautiful Soul who simply radiates Love to all. Jason was, well, Jason. After we left Kentucky, we heard he had gotten involved in some heavy drugs and kind of drifted away. We all spent many winter evenings huddled in the old camper (macabrely dubbed “the tornado shelter”) behind Sam’s house deep in philosophical and esoteric conversations. These lovely young people were true “woods hippies”, and they opened our eyes to new ways of thinking about things, especially spiritual things. Fortunately or unfortunately, people and situations change, and all four have gone their separate ways. I am blessed to still have regular contact with the young ladies through social media, and enjoy watching them both become even more incredible humans.
Phil was an unconventional entrepreneur who had long ago left his Northeast Jewish roots. Before he settled down in a cozy little cabin with his two young daughters and their mom, he made bank weaving hats and baskets for tourists on the beaches in Hawaii.
Phil was the homesteader we were aspiring to be. He always had several irons in the fire, always figuring out ways to make money. While we were there, he converted an old schoolbus into a mobile BBQ restaurant, and today he owns his own place in the Red River Gorge.
Phil built beautiful raised beds for his vegetables, and even made a huge walk-through frame for his squash, loofa, and moonflowers. I spent many summer afternoons weeding his tomatoes (weeding is therapeutic for me; I’m weird).
We enjoyed many summer days at his farm and had awesome conversations. Phil always had great ideas
One day this short little dark-haired lady strolled up our driveway and introduced herself. She told us her name was Betsy, and she had left her home up north and came to Kentucky to go to school. She had recently rented out Victor’s little cabin and was our new neighbor. We didn’t know it then, but it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that continues to this day.
Betsy was brilliant. She was able to talk intelligently and animatedly about nearly any subject. I am normally a very reserved person and have a hard time opening up to people, especially strangers. But Betsy was different. From the moment I met her I was able to completely be myself and not hide behind my usual “polite” mask.
Betsy was all alone in Kentucky, healing from some family issues, and basically trying to figure out where to go with her life. Big existential questions she needed to sort out. It was such a blessing for us to be able to be her stand-in family for awhile.
Betsy was also the only other person I could ever tolerate in my kitchen. Together we would cook up scrumptious meals, laughing like idiots. Then in the evenings, we would all gather on the huge front porch with some of Justin’s home-made blackberry wine (it didn’t last long!), smelling the honeysuckles that hung in the trees next to the porch, having most excellent conversations, and laughing. Always laughing!
The school thing never got off the ground for Betsy, and eventually she decided to go back north to her family to try to work things out. Our family is still close to her; she and her family even crashed here at our current homestead in Missouri for a couple months while life evened out for them.
Betsy was one of the best things to happen to us in Kentucky, and we all wish nothing but happiness and contentment for her.