I blame my love of vintage housedresses and boots on my half-hillbilly blood, courtesy of my daddy.
Daddy grew up at the head of Millstone holler in the great Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky, a family of five boys and five girls–and of course, Mommy and Daddy, how they still refer to their parents even though some of the “kids” are now in their 70s.
When I tell people about Millstone, they generally ask:
“What’s a holler?”
And I answer, “A holler is a very narrow, often remote and thickly vegetated valley, or “hollow.”
The road ends at my Daddy’s childhood home, nestled at the head of the holler, and surrounded by trees towering 140′ overhead in a sea of vibrant green. When the fireflies come out at night, the world transforms into a twinkling fantasy–truly a spectacular sight, or as my best feller said, “Even better than Disneyland!”
Getting to the Holler
The single lane road leading to the holler’s head can sometimes be tricky, narrow, with few places to pull off. If you meet another car, someone has to go into reverse until a wider spot is found, with no hard and fast rule about who should, as my great-grandfather long ago established.
Great-grandpa Elbert settled this 260 acre plot in 1913 and raised his family there. It’s also where he learned to drive.
Elbert, though, never mastered reverse, and often put the car in the ditch trying. One day, he encountered another old dude on the narrow road, who also didn’t know how to reverse–and since both were too stubborn to admit they couldn’t, they remained grill-to-grill, shouting, until someone came and solved the problem.
Elbert divided the land between his four sons (the seven girls weren’t included), and my Papaw Enoch raised his family of ten there. The land now belongs to my Uncle Steve and his wife Mynette, who also grew up in the holler. Crazy to think they’ve known each other their entire lives. Steve remembers going to the Reynolds house to see the new baby, “all red-faced and ugly,” or so eight-year-old Steve thought. Mynette grew up lovely, inside and out, and Steve was smart enough to snatch her up.
Over the years, Uncle Steve has pieced the original four plots back together, and even after living here a lifetime, believes in the magic of the place where he raised his three girls.
Hillbilly Family Reunion
When Daddy told me there’d be a reunion this year, I rearranged my vacation so I too could return to the holler. All but my sixteen-year-old niece Megan came.
As a kid, I loved Millstone–still do. It may sound silly, but I feel a deep connection to the place. Sitting on the front porch, I can picture my dad as a kid, horsing around with his brothers and sisters, playing under the house, swinging from the vines, and making up games since they didn’t have toys, like the ball over the house game. My Aunt Mynette said the Bentley kids were like a bunch of crazy, fearless monkeys.
Bentley Family Storytelling
The stories of their childhood are legendary, like when they were playing Cowboys and Indians and my Uncle Carlie used a bow to shoot my dad out of a tree, pinning his ear to his head with an arrow. Or the time my Uncle Arden asked my dad to put his face up against the screen door so he could hit him with a hammer to see if it hurt (he did, and yes, it hurt). Or when dad fell down the stairs and bit a hole through his tongue. Funny how so many of the stories were about my dad’s mishaps. The family thought he was “special”–which he is, of course, but not in the way they implied.
A Short Kentucky Stint
When I was six, we left Tucson Arizona to move to Kentucky, so my brother and I could get to know the family better. Sadly, the recession hit, and we had to leave after a year and a half, but even so, we still went back every summer for family reunions.
Sadly I never got to meet my Mamaw, Reba, who died the year before I was born. My Aunts and Uncles said she was stern, but loved her children dearly. Papaw, on the other hand, was a card–funny, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He also died too young, when I was in junior high, but I’m thankful we got to know him well during the time we lived in Kentucky.
For this reunion, Uncle Steve had a special treat for his brothers and sisters. When he realized no photo existed of the entire family, his assistant photoshopped Mamaw into the photo below, taken in Clay City in the seventies. All twelve at last in a photo together. A large print became the focal point of the reunion.
And if you’re wondering about Uncle Steve’s pose, he’s been forever teased about this, and by popular demand, recreated it.Six of the original ten made it to the reunion. Two couldn’t make it, and two have passed: my Uncle Arden, the oldest of the boys, and my Aunt Faye, who died in her thirties, both of whom are greatly missed.
We ate and laughed and listened to stories. Most of all, we enjoyed being together. I’m sure Daddy appreciated having all but one of his immediate family there. He asks for so little, and seeing the joy he exudes in this place, truly made my heart happy.
Until next time…