Jun 18, 2013

Summer 1973: Visiting My Kentucky Kinfolk

I was asked why I nicknamed Lone Star College in Houston, Texas, where I taught in 1984-85, Hell-fer-Sartain State College.  It's from a book titled South from Hell-fer-Sartain: Kentucky Mountain Folktales, by Leonard W. Roberts.

My mother was born in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and moved to Indiana as a child.  She always felt like an exile; the hills were her true home.  So she was a big fan of all things Southern, from hayseed comedies to Glen Campbell

We drove down in a camper in the summer of 1973, about a month after I saw two boys kissing at Longview Park Pool, to visit her older brothers, uncles and aunts, and sundry kinfolk left behind in the hills.

My Uncle El lived in a cabin like that in the Beverly Hillbillies, with electricity from a generator outside, and tv, but no running water.  There was an outhouse back by the chicken coop.

There was no town, just a feed store a mile away, where you could get ice cream and candy, if you didn't mind eating it beside giant bags of fertilizer.

No books of any sort.  Not even comic books.  I saw a Bible in a great-aunt's house.

No teen idols -- even the teenagers listened only to Country-Western music.

They only got one tv station, from West Virginia, with The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family on Friday nights, but otherwise nothing good on.






But:  Uncle El and his wife had something around 12 kids, with three teenage sons and some toddlers still at home. My cousins (El, Graydon, and Dayton, who I met for the first time at Uncle Paul's wedding) had tight, muscular chests and thick biceps, and wore only overalls or cut-off jeans.

At night, since water had to be trotted up from a pump outside, we had to bathe together.  And we slept three to a bed, wearing only underwear, pressed together in the night.

They had two friends, Robbie and Sam -- I never knew if they were brothers, cousins, or lovers -- who drove us in a rickety red pick-up truck up the mountain to a stream where we all went swimming.  Nude.


Not one of them ever mentioned a girl, or asked me about what girl I liked.

One night they drove us into Salyersville, about 10 miles away, for a drive in movie: Cahill, U.S. Marshall, starring John Wayne as a sheriff whose two sons escape from prison and rob a bank. Later the Duke and Danny (Gary Grimes) try to return the money.  They were father and son, but the erotic tension between them was palpable, especially on a hot night in the hills, sitting in the back of a pickup truck with a group of tanned, shirtless musclemen.

I know now that Eastern Kentucky is one of the least gay-friendly regions in the U.S.

But in 1973, I wanted to stay forever.

Instead, we spent a week at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where I met a Teenage Indian God.

See also: My Kentucky Kinfolk Grow Up; and My Grandpa Howard's Gay Connection