After my mother moved north and married, she missed her hometown in eastern Kentucky so much that my father decided to reconstruct it in our basement. In the 1960s, he built a scale model of the town of Martin, surrounded by mountains fashioned from chicken wire and plaster. The results looked like a movie set created for a heartwarming Frank Capra film. In a valley sat a little town, its Main Street dotted with replicas of the places my mother had loved most: the Hob Nob Café, Grigsby’s Five-and-Dime and Mr. Keathley’s motion picture theater. That town is long gone.
This is how my book starts.
The town never should have existed in the first place. Built on the banks of a cantankerous creek, Martin flooded most years, forcing families like mine to stack furniture to the ceiling before they fled for higher ground.
When the water went down, my family hosed out the mud and put down new linoleum. But now, after a hundred years of floods, the sad, old houses will be demolished. The federal government is leveling a mountain so the town can be rebuilt on higher ground.
Sometimes a town is past saving. But its history shouldn’t be. Not one memento of my family’s life in Martin will survive, not a pew from the Church of Christ where my mother sat in the back row and swung her legs in time to hymns, not a brick from the high school my Uncle Red helped build in 1938, not a scratchy mohair seat from the Martin Theatre where my grandmother sat through Saturday matinees.
Some things are lost forever. But some things can be found again. I interviewed a hundred people who once lived in Martin to collect their memories and put the stories in my book. After she left Martin in the 1950s, my grandmother pined for the hills of Kentucky all the rest of her life. I know why. I just made the final changes to the book's galleys.