Guest blogging today is my sister-in-law, Diane Perrine Coon. She’s an expert on the underground railroad in Kentucky and surrounding states, a speaker, a respected historian, and the daughter of one on my favorite people. Thanks for dropping in, Diane. Take it away.
It was one of those fortuitous events that many believe are God incidents, I was living in Pennsylvania and taking an early retirement from a large corporation at the same time my Dad died leaving Mom with an oversized house and yard exactly 857 miles away. So I left my daughter and grandkids up East and came back to Kentucky, to small town Kentucky. That move meant I spent the next 12 years getting to know Mom all over again in a new and fresh way. And it also meant I got bored and went back to graduate school, this time in American History.
In her last year as Mom at age 95 was dying of congestive heart failure, I was amazed at how many of her friends, some she had known for 50 years, others for 30 years, and some just 10 years or so visited her frequently. Sometimes there were shouts of great merriment. Other times it was a time of reflection, of that gentle gossip among old friends, or of Mom reading one of her favorite poems by Billy Collins. Then it dawned on me that Mom had taught Bible for over 65 years and these were her students. This was their way of thanking her for bringing a very real Jesus into their lives.
As hospice was called in, her oldest Kentucky friend, Joyce Rose now with just one kidney after her own surgery and in her late 80s, visited bringing homemade soups because Mom could not get solid food down anymore. When we moved to Kentucky in 1950 to a tiny hamlet called Pewee Valley, Joyce lived just down Maple Avenue from our house on the corner of Maple and Elm Street. She had five children and often found herself at the doctor’s office (my Dad) and visited Mom’s kitchen. Then Mom, a nurse, gave allergy shots to one of Joyce’s children and never charged for it. A deep and lasting friendship grew between them.
On one of her last visits, I asked Joyce to help me remember the people that lived on Maple Avenue, Pewee Valley, during the 1950s. It was such a momentous time in our lives. It was our first real house with a big yard and fabulous big trees. There were only 650 people in Pewee Valley when we moved there, so it was a very small town. My Dad was setting up medical practice after years in internship, residency and four years in WW II. My brother and I were adjusting to our fifth (and third) school. Of course that first Sunday, Mom trotted us all off to our new church in the next village. Within hours everyone on Maple Avenue knew who we were, and within days, we had met all the kids that lived up and down the street. And within months our side yard had baseball games going, rabbits being raised in the other side yard, and Duchess, my horse, was munching everything in sight in the back field.
A couple of months after Mom died, Joyce phoned and asked if she could come over. She brought with her a piece of cardboard. She had drawn a couple of lines to represent Maple Avenue and there along the edges were the names of all the families that lived there in the 1950s. I almost burst into tears. Instead I hugged her tightly. I could imagine how many memories had flooded into her mind and soul and she drew the map. This was such a great act of love toward my Mom from her oldest Kentucky friend. And that is the heart of Maple Avenue.
My sister-in-law Diane Perrine Coon, whom I introduced last week, will be blogging Tuesday about Pewee Valley and memories of her childhood. Pewee, as the natives call it, is a lovely town with huge trees and beautiful, historical houses.
Thursday, another blog about being frugal, about my husband this time.
So this week seems a lot like, family week but that’s okay. I married into a marvelous bunch.
By the way, Pewee Valley is named for the pewee bird seen to the left.
For the newspaper announcement of our engagement, I wrote, “George Bierce Perrine III is from Pewee Valley, Kentucky, and graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, KY.” My mother took one look at that sentence and asked, “Can’t we say he’s from Louisville?” But all of that is true. George is vaguely related to the caustic writer Ambrose Bierce. Transylvania is a small Christian Church school. The name means across the wood and is in no way related to Dracula.
During the years George grew up, Pewee Valley was a charming and tiny town east of Louisville. It’s still a charming town but Louisville now surrounds it. His family lived in a lovely antebellum house on Maple Avenue, a street, as you would guess, with huge maple trees shading the yards. Pewee Valley is best known for being the home of Annie F. Johnston who wrote the Little Colonel books in the early 1900′s.
When I became a Perrine, I inherited a marvelous sister-in-law. Diane is brilliant. She graduated from Cornell and was a business executive for many years. Now, she’s a well-known scholar and researcher, an expert in the underground railroad in Kentucky and surrounding states. She’s also a popular speaker who gives programs about Kentucky country stores and other topics all around the state.
Diane had agreed to blog today on Pewee Valley, her memories of the town and her mother. Unfortunately, I got sick and didn’t have time to set it up. Diane Perrine Coon (google her–you’ll be impressed) will blog here next Tuesday. I’m so pleased she’s agreed.