Apr 2, 2016

My Uncle and His Boyfriend in the Kentucky Hills

Eastern Kentucky, Summer 1973

It's the summer after seventh grade.  We're visiting my Uncle El, the only one of Mom's family to stay behind when the rest of them moved to Indiana.  Dinner is over, and we're telling stories of long-ago times, before I was born, when Mom was a little girl.   Sometimes the adults laugh at jokes I don't understand.

Uncle El's wife tells about the time she rode her bicycle all the way into Salversville to see a boy, but when she got there he was spooning with someone else.  I have no idea what "spooning" means.

An elderly lady I don't know tells about some witches.

Now it's Uncle El's turn.

"I'm going to tell about my brother, Manus, and his friend Graydon, two boys with the same soul."

I've been dozing off, but now I perk up -- sounds like this will be interesting!



Eastern Kentucky, Fall 1939

Manus and Graydon, the boy from down the holler, were born at the same moment, and some said they shared the same soul.

Oh, on the outside, they was as different as night and day:

Graydon was tall and dark, with thick arms and a tight chest, fond of wrasslin' and huntin' and fishin'.

Manus was short and slim and pale-skinned, a moody boy, always readin', but a good singer, with a clear tenor voice.

They was different down below, too.  You don't have much privacy in the hills, when you sleep three to a bed, and I saw them many times jumping nekkid into the creek, or lying on the soft grass.

Lordy, did that Graydon have a whopper!

"Eliot!  There are children present!"  the elderly lady snaps.

"Why, Marcy, surely they know that boys have something down there!"

Yet for all of their differences, Manus and Graydon were never separated, from sunup to sundown, when their parents forced them into different cabins for dinner.  Even then, they sometimes sneaked out to have secret adventures in the darkness.

Life was hard in the hills during the Depression.  Eight people in a four room cabin.

Kerosene lamps for light, a wood-burning stove for heat, and the woods outside for an outhouse.

They raised chickens and grew corn, beans, taters, and maters.  For everything else, they depended on Dad's job at a factory in Hueysville, eight miles away.

Still, they had fun. There were church socials and square dances.  In the evenings the neighbors came around to tell ghost stories and sing songs.  There'd be no dry eye in the house when Manus  sang "Barbara Allen."

Oh mother, mother, make my bed,
Make it long and make it narrow.
Sweet William died for me today,
I'll die for him tomorrow.

"I always hated that song," Mom says.  

In the summer of 1939, Graydon bought and fixed up an old clunker car.  Now they could drive all the way to Salyersville, 20 miles down the pike, to get malteds and go to the movies.

They liked Little Tough Guy, with the Dead End Kids, and Out West with the Hardys, with Mickey Rooney.

In late October of 1939, Graydon and Manus took ill, maybe from going swimming nekkid in the cold Brushy Fork Creek.  

They gave them herb medicine and mustard plasters and poltices, and Manus got better, but Graydon got sicker and sicker, and he died on November 5th, the day of the first snowfall.

His dad and older brother built a pine box to put him in, and they buried him in the graveyard up atop  the hill.

Well, needless to say, Manus was inconsolable.

He cried and cried, and after he stopped crying he wouldn't eat, he wouldn't sleep, he just sat on the bed in the room he shared with me and Edd, staring out the window, up at the hill where Graydon was buried.

Then one night he yelled to the family, "Hey, there's a light up on the hill!"

It was a swaying yellow light, like from a kerosene lamp.  But who would be up there in the middle of the night?  It was pitch dark, with just a narrow trail through the brush and trees.  

"I'm going up!"  Manus yelled, pulling on his coat.


But Mom and Dad forbade him.  It was too dangerous. He could wait until morning to investigate.

"No, I gotta go now!  I gotta!"  He tried to push past them out the door.  Dad grabbed him by the arms.  He fought.

There was no help for it: they had to lock Manus up in the room, where me and Edd could look over him.

Well, Manus paced and rumbled, and yelled, and cried, and finally sat down in a chair, still staring up at the light on the hill.  Finally Edd and me fell asleep.

The next morning, when we woke up, Manus was gone!

The door was still locked from the outside.  The window hadn't been touched.  There was no way Manus could have gotten out!

Some say one of his sisters let him out, and he went dashing up the hill and fell in a ditch, and got eaten by a bear.

El glances pointedly at my mother.  But she was only three years old at the time.


Some say a neighbor sneaked him out, and drove him to Salyersville, where he bought a bus ticket Out West, like the Hardys.

Some say Graydon came for him.

Whatever happened, no one ever saw Manus again.

But that night, up on the hill, we saw two glowing lights.

The uncensored story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.