Larry D. Thacker is a Kentuckian writer and artist living in Tennessee. He is a veteran of the US Army and seventh generation native of the Cumberland Gap area. His MFA in poetry and fiction is from West Virginia Wesleyan College. Larry served as a guest editor for Issue 11 of Longridge Review.
This act of constructing our unique place experiences sometimes runs too quickly to the physical. We too often go back to the homeplace and reminisce, assured we can always return to something to jog our memories, that though an old home or barn or neighborhood inevitably changes with time that the skeletal structure remains loyal to us in some mysterious relational way.
We often speak about place in the writing world. About how vital it is to preserve essences of our home worlds, our life experiences both past and present, how that assists in preparing for and appreciating a future. Much of the concept of place is a memory-dependent act. A sensual act. An act indwelled of mind, body, and spirit. Place can be a hard thing to locate. To describe. To conjure upon the page. Simple at a glance, varied and challenging from one writer to another.
I ventured out once to the old property where my grandfather built his cabin and raised my father’s older siblings. My aunt talked me through it via my mobile phone: out along a hollow, a dead-end road, down a trash-strewn four-wheeler trail, a trickle of a trashed creek, up a hill, to an approximation marked by what I described to her as probably the foundation of the cabin she knew as her first home. There were bricks and stones and decaying mortar and earth upon which to stand. I took a brick home with me. Though most of this “home” was gone, I could imagine what growing up was like for my two aunts and uncle. What visiting there was like for my father when the cabin remained. When crops grew there. When the boys were chored with moving the outhouse.
What happens when even the earth beneath your feet goes missing from a place? When it becomes impossible to walk the literal old grounds of a homeplace? When you’re left with memory. No landscape. Photos may persist. And stories, yes. But how does the literal vanishing of the landscape up the ante when we’re dealing with a concept as important as place?
Here is where I ate my first Paw Paw with my grandfather. We planted a seed and we watched that new tree grow for years.
The rumors of the Food City wanting to expand back in my hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky, started some five years ago. Before long we knew it was true after a realty representative from the corporation started feeling out property owners surrounding the store. They were eyeing an entire two-block area. That space not only included where my mother and father lived at the time, but also my mother’s childhood home, built by my grandfather, and the house I grew up in until my sophomore year of college. What’s more, the house my parents lived in at this time was owned by my sister for almost 10 years as well; in other words, this potential expansion of a grocery store seemed to require what I remembered as most everything I associated as my neighborhood – my home. How else would the store eventually vacate its current building, build another larger facility, expand parking, and add a fuel station, if not by buying up close to 20 homes and two businesses?
I wrecked my bike here in this ditch after a yellow jacket struck and stung me in the eye.
Of course I was concerned when my mother and father complained about the growing drug problem up the street. Sure the house they were in was haunted. It had problems with “visitors” back when my sister lived there. Sure the idea of them selling that tiny place and moving across town was appealing. Sure the idea of my mother finally getting away from reminders of where she grew up that also reminded her of her deceased father would be nice. Yes, the incentives for getting the hell out were there. But at what cost? What would require sacrifice for a prettier place to buy groceries, the town’s first Starbucks, and yet another fuel island?
We grew gigantic Korean tomatoes about here, and strawberries somewhere over there, and corn from here to there. The dog house was here.
From the time I was six until my sophomore year in college we’d lived in a home my grandfather had bought from the Baptist church. At the time we were renting a house across the street from my grandfather’s house. The house he bought was a two-bedroom, one-bath sort of wreck sitting behind the church parsonage down the road a bit. They wanted it gone. My grandfather obliged for a paltry five-hundred dollars and arranged to have it moved on Halloween afternoon, 1975.
I sometimes still smell that mix of horse manure and tomato vine in the summer air.
It fascinated me how an entire house could be dislodged from the earth and dragged two blocks, across a field I was accustomed to playing in, and parked on half of my grandfather’s garden plot he’d given us. That house was like a dryland ship creeping up the hill looking for some final port. We’d be his next door neighbor, right across a tiny road we called the alley.
It needed so much work. My mother, father, and he would spend the next few years toiling on the house while we lived in it. It was home. The first dwelling our family owned. Behind us rested what remained of my grandfather’s garden, the barn he’d built in 1933 out of rail road ties, where he kept Smokey the horse we always called a pony. It was the perfect micro-farm in the middle of town.
My grandfather found the World War I French bayonet hidden on a rafter here when he and my father were building onto the back of the house.
When I say I grew up within this two-block area, I mean it. After school I’d pick up my newspapers from the Daily News which was located behind our home. Many of my customers lined these roads. I had an empire of yards I mowed regularly. I learned to be a kid in the big field behind our home. Learned to throw a football there, to fly a kite, throw Frisbee, taught our dog, Snoopy, to fetch. Played hide-and-seek there. My father timed me in the 40-yard dash there when timed trials were coming up during summer football practice. When a portion of the field was paved for a parking lot, my sister and I learned to drive there. When my parents bought the house my sister sold them (right next door to the house moved by my grandfather – a third house in a row on the same street, mind you) and began hosting annual 4th of July reunions, family members parked there and walked the few steps to the back yard where we’d barbeque, talk all evening, and wait for the city fireworks.
I would begin my paper route here, then head down the alley, turn left, then hit Cumberland. Almost everyone had porches then. I liked that.
I learned to plant and harvest a garden with my grandfather behind the house. Tomatoes, corn, green beans, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries. I was his “little buddy” when he made his rounds about town on errands. I learned so much of what I am today from just being around him. He died my freshmen year of high school. His house was sold.
I hid here and shot my BB gun at the crows pecking at our corn. I never hit one, I don’t think.
One by one the families and property owners agreed to fair market values for their pieces of the puzzle and reality started setting in. There were a few hold-outs at first, either against the idea of it all or for better money, but eventually, everyone agreed to sell off and move on – including my mother and father. I heard about much of what was happening from a distance. I’d moved on, two hours away to where I live now in Johnson City, Tennessee.
From this spot I can see where seven generations of my family have lived since the 1770s.
As deals closed, properties started emptying. Once the grocery corporation owned a property the former owners had X number of days to clean out. In fact, you could strip a property down to almost nothing, even having a sell off of the interior and exterior, leaving the property looking like locusts had striped the green from a field. They didn’t want your house, your trees, your flowers, your front porch, your furniture. Moving trucks appeared everywhere up and down the blocks. Plants and trees were dug up from the ground. Windows disappeared from houses. Piles of domestic junk, identifiable and not, accumulated along sidewalks. It was picked through like a dump. The police had to step up patrols to keep thieves out. This went on for months.
I learned to drive a stick-shift over there.
I’d visit home. Go to my parents’ place before their move. When the house was an upheaval, a mix of sudden late-life reprioritization, of unexpected optimism. The packing up process evident in every glance. Boxes sitting and stacked everywhere, empty, full, being filled. Drawers, the same. Trash bags filled with discards. Memories, reminders, everywhere, everywhere.
My best friend, Kurry, and I were watching the lightning from here just a few minutes before the tornado of ’88 hit. It hopped over our house and went tearing up Cumberland Mountain.
Our old street lined the outermost border, so right across the street was “safe,” depending on whom you asked. Those neighbors, many of them friends over decades, just watched. Some of them worried what the end result of all this mess would look like, how close the new build would be to their front doors. Some were jealous of who was getting to escape the old neighborhood. Some acted like they weren’t noticing. Others were simply entertained by the ruckus.
A lady down the street had so many cats you could smell them from the sidewalk.
My parents’ home was situated on the highest rise of the entire footprint in question. The deck my father built on the back of the house offered not only a sweeping view of town, but of this unfolding process. As more properties sold, the neglect set in. Sheer abandonment, even given unto an apocalyptic mood. It morphed with every visit I made.
Here is where my grandfather’s room was, here where I would stay on weekends when he was the sickest.
As much as I tried to avoid dwelling on what was really happening back home, it gnawed on me constantly. Who knew what the final landscape would ultimately look like, but I suspected it meant an entire removal of what I knew as my physical space of upbringing. It would, indeed, eventually require that literal of an excision. My imagination just couldn’t do justice to how horrible it would be. I was glad to not live in tow, to watch it happening bit by bit every day. The occasional visit, the updates by phone or a photo, spared me the bleeding out of what I knew was gone one square foot at a time of “my old stomping grounds.”
The handprints of my sister and me are here in the sidewalk concrete.
My mother would call: Sew-n-Sew sold theirs yesterday. Those others are holding out still. You should see the mess down the alley right now. They clean out the Johnsons last weekend. They’ve moved over the mountain already. My father would call: Sew-n-Sew Salvage is coming in a few weeks, so you better tell me what you want before they strip this place down, son. You want any of these tools?
I was mid-stream through my low-residency creative writing MFA at West Virginia Wesleyan College at this time. I took an entire semester to write only on what was happening to my home neighborhood. And while I may have been lamenting the demise of the map of my youth, the writing I found within was as much a chronical of those years as anything. I was bringing back memories I’d forgotten. Re-remembering in the loss. It was the only way a part of me managed getting through the idea of my helplessness amid it all.
Here was the tallest banana tree my father ever grew – taller than the house.
Once all the homes were sold and vacated, real change came, and quickly. The new building – eventually twice as large as the old one, which, by the way, wasn’t being torn down – required flat land. This part of town was a sweeping hill. Heavy equipment hung ’round for months leading up to this stage. With the homes absent of life, the mass destruction commenced. The earth-moving started. Backhoes and bulldozers went to work knocking down houses, crunching it all down into a fine splintery mess enough to scoop up and haul away to some landfill. My mother witnessed her childhood home, built by her father in the early 1930s, laid waste. The house next door where I grew up was next, down in a day. Then the house my parents had just moved from. As if that wasn’t enough, several acres of topsoil, some of which my grandfather’s little garden plot contributed good ground to with all those years of horse manure, was scraped away carefully and hauled off to who knows where.
The weeping cherry tree grew just outside my bedroom window. My father brought a tiny limb to transplant here from Chicago. It’s two feet thick now.
It’s the rainy season. The bare earth is orange and tan, void of that dark and healthy soil, dotted with pocked-craters of little mud lakes like a World War I no-man’s land or an Agent Orange-poisoned field of fire you’d see in Vietnam War photos. I wonder if the scene reminds my father of that aesthetic.
We’d catch the bus at the stop sign down at the intersection, visible from our front porch.
A step further, the final stab into the heart of any lasting physical place within the land, is how the machinery dug dozens of feet down under where all our homes were in order to flatten the land and make ready a massive retaining wall. The back of the new building, its roofline eventually only at the height of our old road, will line up nearly perfectly along the old sidewalk.
I can see the steeple of our church from the back yard.
In other words, even the ground, for up to twenty feet deep under everywhere I wandered around as a child through adulthood, is removed. Carted off. Where my grandfather’s old barn stood is near the indoor Starbucks now. I stepped it off. Where his home stood is bisected by the very back wall of the new store, just like my old home and where my parents lived.
Where I ate Paw Paws off my grandfather’s trees. Carted off. Where we planted gardens. Where our dog, Snoopy, lived. The pony, Smokey. The field. So much of my old newspaper route. All the spots we’d Trick-Or-Treat.
My kite always gets hung up in this one large tree down in the field.
Yet how is all this any different than the family homeplace deserted when a coal company needs to blow the top off a mountain to get at that little seam of coal? Or how farms and towns are lost when a valley floods with water for a dam project? Or when the erosion of tides and storms eats away at the sandy ground under your family’s beach home?
We lived in a rental across the street for a little while, but the day my mother saw the snake crawl across the kitchen floor was the day we moved out and back in with my grandfather.
Two thoughts stay with me in my continued mulling of this experience: First, that our definition of place is a malleable thing; and second, that we ought to embrace an improved awareness of our feet on the ground more often. Place is so obviously varied among us. But we should wonder on what it means, not just try writing stories and poems with only a sense of place. I think we too often let place remain stationary when it, in fact, moves with us, too. What’s more, we should slow our lives enough to connect with the land and other natural elements. What anchors us. This helps feed our memories. Photographs and heirlooms are important. Family stories and songs, essential. But our grounding in the landscape feeds something mysterious within us.
We should talk about this mystery of place. Like anything important to us and to our mutual culture, perhaps that which we assume is immoveable, can vanish.
You can find Larry on Twitter, @Thackalachia. Follow him, he likes to chat about writing, place, art, and large red clown noses.
In 2010, a little idea for sharing essays on childhood got a big boost when Anne Clinard Barnhill submitted “Winter Solstice” to an unknown fellow West Virginian. I wanted to pursue the idea there is a lot to say about how our early experiences shape the world. Anne later sent “Melungeons and Mystery,” as well as “Staying.” It is because of Anne’s belief in Essays on a West Virginia Childhood that the project became something so much bigger, an online literary journal that publishes writers from coast to coast in the USA and beyond (Longridge Review)
The Barnhill Prize honors Anne’s generous spirit of support for all who love to read and write; her lifelong empathy with those who mine their childhood experience to understand themselves now; the natural vulnerability in her compelling prose and poetry; and her boundless generosity in sharing her writing passions with the world.
Gifts to this campaign will benefit writers of Creative Nonfiction (essays and memoir) by establishing an annual prize for excellence fulfilling our mission: To present the finest essays on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.
These funds will support a $250 cash prize, as well as provide an honorarium for an outside essay judge. Click here to make a gift: Barnhill Prize on Go Fund Me.
Any additional funds will be preserved to sustain the prize over time. Accounting for funds will be provided annually.
Unless requesting anonymity, all donors will be recognized on a unique page on our website.
One person truly can change the world for the better. Anne is one of those people who has made a difference, who has multiplied her own blessings and made other people’s lives more creative, more rewarding, and more joyful by sharing her life so freely. I can think of no finer person for whom to name the Longridge Review annual prize.
Thank you for honoring Anne, and for supporting Creative Nonfiction!
The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America.
Since 1976, hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in annual collections. Each year most of the writers and many of the presses are new to the series. Every volume contains an index of past selections, plus lists of outstanding presses with addresses.
The Pushcart Prize has been a labor of love and independent spirits since its founding. It is one of the last surviving literary co-ops from the 60’s and 70’s. Its legacy is assured by donations to its Fellowships endowment.
Longridge Review is pleased announce our 2018 nominees:
- Nora Seilheimer, Back into Movement
(published Winter 2018-February, Longridge Review, https://longridgereview.com/nora-seilheimer/)
- Luanne Castle, The Secret Kotex Club
(published Spring 2018-May, Longridge Review, https://longridgereview.com/luanne-castle/)
- Risa Nye, Visions of LaDonna
(published Spring 2018-May, Longridge Review, https://longridgereview.com/risa-nye/)
- David McVey, On the Wonder of the World
(published Fall 2018-November, Longridge Review, https://longridgereview.com/david-mcvey/)
- Aliza Dube, Loved to Death
(published Fall 2018-November, Longridge Review, https://longridgereview.com/aliza-dube/)
- Nikki Sambitsky, Penny Drop
(published Fall 2018-November, Longridge Review, https://longridgereview.com/nikki-sambitsky/)
Congratulations to each of these wonderful writers, and thank you to everyone who found a forever home for his or her essay with us in 2018!
Header art by Sharon Lyn Stackpole, “Conversation with Annie,” ink and coffee on cold press.
Our apologies, the link to Aliza Dube’s essay was not functional when we first blogged about the new issue; that error has been corrected.
You can find a link to “Loved to Death” on the home page, or via this link: https://longridgereview.com/aliza-dube/.
Aliza’s recounts one of her childhood pets’ violent end and the impact it had on her perception of love. It is one of several essays in Issue 12 to confront complicated dynamics of consent, predation, risk-taking, bigotry, and regret.
Despite these themes, there is an irrepressible strength in these narratives.
We hope you will come take a look!
Creative Nonfiction, #12 Fall 2018
Nikki Sambitsky, Penny Drop
We will open submissions again from December 14, 2018 – January 15, 2019.
- Our guest blogger in Issue 12 is essayist Heidi Davidson-Drexel. Read thoughts on how she developed the narrator voice in “Your Boss.”
- Suzanne Farrell Smith’s essay, “The Helping Man,” is nominated by Pembroke Magazine for Pushcart Prize. Congratulations and good luck! This fall Suzanne also had an essay published in Brevity, “If You Find a Mouse in a Glue Trap.” Finally, her essay “Work and Love” is published in Issue 8 of Adanna. Way to go, SFS!
- Read our editor Mary Heather Noble’s blog post, On Writer’s Block: Notes from the Kitchen Island. “I’ve tried all kinds of ways to avoid doing this work. I tried moving far away, and when that didn’t help, I wrote and published a few scenes from that childhood path and then suffered the consequences. I’ve tried writing about other things. I’ve tried literally running away.” This is a gorgeous and vulnerable self-examination of, among other things, the mountain climbing we do as children and as adults.
- Our former guest editor for Peter Tavernise is this issue’s Featured Artist — check out his gorgeous digitally created work!
- Do you have a question for us? Write to us at Ask the Editor. In December, we will tackle the question, “What qualifies as childhood for your mission?” Read Heidi’s blog post about her authorial choices in her essay, Your Boss.
- We ask you to follow our blog! We don’t post there often, but when we do it’s focused information you can use about writing and writers, as well as updates about our journal.
- We are on Twitter and Facebook: Follow/Like us to stay in the loop on all things Longridge: @LongridgeReview and Longridge Editors LLC.
by Essayist and Guest Blogger Heidi Davidson-Drexel
I was not officially a child when I was violated by my boss, a reality which further muddied the mess of emotions I felt about it. I used to struggle with what to call the experience. I was enough of a child at the time to feel molested, but couldn’t reconcile that term with my age. For awhile I referred to it as a controlling relationship- a title modification that allowed me to skim past essential details. But it wasn’t a relationship. It seemed there were no accurate descriptions, words or phrases that fit.
To write about it, I had to allow myself to peer into my inner state at the time it all happened. It wasn’t an easy place to go. But when I finally got up the courage, the overwhelming feeling I had was one of sympathy for my younger self. The internalized guilt and self-hatred had dissipated with the years and I could see the confused young person I was, grabbing onto anything she could find.
This feeling of understanding grew as I worked on it. The barrier between adolescence and adulthood is like a line of buoys separating the shallow end of the pool from the deep end. It’s flexible- easy to cross back and forth. In all of the outer ways, I was like an adult. I started working at 14 and was supporting myself while in college. I studied hard and did well in school. But emotionally, I was still splashing around in the shallows.
When I started out writing this piece, I thought if it as an explanation to some nameless person, some naïve reader who might not understand how such a thing could happen. I wanted to show how easy it is to lose the ground under your feet, how it could happen to anyone. By the time I finished the essay and reread it, it was clear. I had written it, not for some nameless bystander, but for my younger self. For the part of me that still didn’t understand what had gone wrong, and for the parts of me that still felt I had done something to cause it. I wrote this for the child I was, in the hopes that she can begin to move on.
It has come to my attention that the $3.00 fee that should have been automatically requested when writers submitted essays for Fall 2018 was not charged.
While this is not good news for our little #litmag, we accept full responsibility for the technological glitch. If you submitted for Fall 2018, know that your $3.00 has been waived, and it will have no effect on your essay’s evaluation.
Summer is our quiet time, but we are still planning!
Please share this information with your writing friends and community.
Our emphasis is on literature that explores the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan. Take a look through some of our online essays to get a feel for what we publish.
We are committed to publishing narratives steeped in reverence for childhood experience and perceptions, but we seek essays that stretch beyond the clichés of childhood as simple, angelic, or easy. We want to feature writing that layers the events of the writer’s early years with a sense of wisdom or learning accumulated in adult life.
We welcome diverse creative nonfiction pieces that demonstrate perceptive and revealing moments about the human condition.
We will not consider trite, light narratives; genre nonfiction; critical analyses; inspirational or motivational advice; erotica or pornography; or any writing that purposefully exploits or demeans.
We will consider one creative nonfiction piece (up to 3,500 words) per submission period. Please do not submit more than once during the reading period. Individual authors will not be published more than once per calendar year. The deadline is midnight EST on the close date. Each submission requires a $3.00 fee, payable electronically via Submittable.
Visit our full submission guidelines here: https://longridgereview.com/submit/
Ask the Editor is a resource for our readers and writers in which we review and respond to popular questions about our journal, essay writing, submissions, and literary potpourri type stuff. Have a question you’d like to see answered here? Send it to edg dot longridgeeditors dot com. Chosen questions will be kept anonymous.
Here is a question that is often on most writers’ minds: Is there a common reason you reject submissions?
Q: Like most journals, you probably reject more submissions than you publish. What’s the biggest mistake people make?
A: It’s true, we take 10% or less of the submissions we receive. I deliberately use the term “decline” vs. “reject” because it’s more accurate. There are two basic categories for our declines. The first is mathematical and straightforward. The second is nuanced and often complicated.
Category One is made up of essays that do not conform to what we request. They are over the word count, off-mission, or fiction. Those declines are especially frustrating when the writing is good — and Longridge Review attracts a lot of talented writers.
These particular mistakes happen, I believe, because people often have some writing they’d like to have find a forever home, and these pieces are sent out to various places rather than crafted specifically for us. There is not one thing wrong with that in general, I am sure it’s quite common, but it can lead to wasted time all around because the work just doesn’t fit what we do.
Occasionally, it’s obvious that the writer is penning a longer work about his or her life, something more in the memoir form. It would be great if those of us who write creative nonfiction could just cut and paste the right word counts out of our manuscripts and Ta! Da! have a great essay. But it really doesn’t work like that. Sometimes you can craft something forward, such as a collection of essays into a book, but even that is a creation that is more than the sum of its parts, and difficult to do.
Category Two is harder to explain than the first set of mistakes. It can be an essay of the right word count, optimum punctuation and grammar, even some breathtaking sentences, and still not work. These narratives can be broken down into three general types:
- The Recounting Narrative — It’s surprisingly common for us to receive pieces of writing that read as if the writer is scrolling through his or her brain and writing down whatever is recalled. Declining a piece like this is not a judgement on the value of the memory. It is usually because the narrative has no discernible structure. Why are you telling us this? is what goes through the reader’s mind. What does this have to do with me? Where is this going?
- The Not-Taking-It to-The-Pain Narrative — If you know The Princess Bride book or film, you know “to the pain” is a classic phrase the hero uses to intimidate the villain, promising not to kill him but to leave him alive and eternally suffering. Cheerful, right? (It’s actually a very funny scene in total.) You do not have to suffer eternally to write a good essay, but you know what? You do have to suffer a little bit. Often that pain is something the writing itself can exorcise from a troubled past. But a writer does have to get to it, to touch it, to own it. We can tell when an essay is dancing around what really hurts, trust me. Your readers can, too. Often we writers are the last to know. Which leads me to . . .
- The It’s-All-About-Me Narrative — Writer Brian Doyle said that bad personal essays are about the writer. Good personal essays are about the rest of us. What does that mean? you ask. How can I write about you if I don’t even know you? You can’t write about me, but you can connect your life with mine, with that of any other human being. That’s why this is art. That’s why this is important. That’s why your writing matters to the world. Not because you necessarily are instructing others, but because you are giving them the gift of the “a-ha” moment. When a reader can see him- or herself in your essay, even if it’s the most foreign thing literally speaking, that’s the win. That’s why we write. That’s why we read. An unexpected example for me in Issue 11 was Cars: An Unrequited Love Story. I’ve never been a teenage boy. Never had feelings for an automobile. I laughed a lot during this essay, and have read it several times. I realized it’s not about cars. It’s not about Scott Peterson; I mean, it is, but it’s about more than that. It’s about young ideals, about hopes and dreams, about sacrificing and working to bring something into your life that you really want, and coping with the aftermath when it doesn’t quite roll out like you hoped it would. It’s about growing up, and we’ve all done that.
“Get to the point,” he answered immediately, when I asked what advice he can offer newer writers. “I usually have a speech I make to my students. “Cut to the chase. Tell a tale. All things are stories; romance, work, education, religion and stories are how we most commonly and easily eat information, eat the world; so the storyteller has enormous power and pop if the story is naked. The best tales are direct and unadorned.”– Brian Doyle