Sentimental Journey... Remembering Polly
For Gypsy, Christian, Bryson, and Barbara Ann

It would be two more hours before the sun would struggle up through the dense mountain fog. The frost outside the window had already covered everything in the hollow like a shimmering blanket under the fall crescent moon. Edward sat in his rocking chair, pipe in hand, nervously waiting. Only the glow from the wood-burning stove lit the room. The smell of cherry tobacco and hard firewood permeated the house. After what seemed like an eternity he heard the sound of a baby crying followed by a soft voice .. "It's a girl." In the next room, dimly lit by two oil burning lamps, the midwife caringly cleaned and swaddled the newborn like she had so many times before. She called for Ed to come in then handed the baby to the smiling mother who gently cradled  her new daughter in her arms. She looked at the reddened little face then back up at her smiling husband then said.... "Her name will be Polly."

The year, as best we can tell was 1908 and many guess the month to be October. The exact date is unknown  as back then if a midwife "birthed" the child no birth certificate was given or asked for. Census records of Pike Country, W Virginia, which would have given us a more accurate date, were lost forever in the fire of 1940 which burnt the local courthouse to the ground.

I'll assume, like all other parents, Ed and Martha Loggins had high hopes for their new child. Hopes that she'd grow up to be a happy, healthy, loving daughter.  With a little luck she'd get a better education than they .. meet someone special.. fall in love.. have kids and someday, grandkids. And if God willed it.. grow old with an adoring husband surrounded by family and friends.

In spite of the dirt poor mining community in which she lived, Polly.. a true coal miner's daughter, did attend some school, met and married Carl Hunt when she was only 16 (not uncommon for the time) and went on to have 4 healthy children. Gene, Renie, Raymond, and Barbara Ann. Like her parents before her, I'm sure Polly had high aspirations for her children, but those hopes and dreams would never be realized. At least not by her.  Polly would never see her children grow up and live their lives. She would never see her grandchildren. She would never grow old. At a young 26 years she was diagnosed with cancer and just 3 years later on a cold winter day (Jan 1942) .. the angels took her away.

This is where my story really begins.  While Polly passed at an early age, her legacy lives on. Her 4 children grew up to live long, happy prosperous lives and as of this writing, all are alive and well. Her youngest daughter Barbara Ann, who was a precocious 9 year old at the time of her mothers death,  grew up, found love, married and had 2 children of her own. One of them was me. Polly, you see, was my grandmother.

As my mortality seems to be on my mind more often than not these days, I find myself thinking often about my place in the world and my lineage. All my grandparents had passed by the time I was 5 so I have no memory of any of them. I have never admitted this to anyone, friends or family, but I have always envied  those around me who grew up with loving, doting grandparents.  Somehow I always felt cheated out of something intrinsically special in life.

While visiting my 77 year old mother in October I couldn't help but notice the most wonderful framed picture on her dresser. I'd never seen it before. When I inquired who it was, she said she had just recently found it in her attic. The cracked, yellowed, faded picture was her mother in all her youth, flowers in her hair, smiling and  proudly holding her first born. My mother says it's the only remaining picture of Polly. Up until that exact moment, I had never given much thought about my mother's mother. I had heard very little about her and honestly that was the first time I can remember hearing her name. As I ask my mother about the photo, I notice that she's not only looking at the aging picture, but her eyes seem to be caressing the photo as though through the innocent eyes of a child. I can see the memories flooding back to her. Her blue eyes well up but I say nothing.. and then it hits me.. She was only 9 when Polly passed. She only knew her mother through a child's eyes. A sadness envelopes me. What must it have been like to lose your mother at such a young age? As I personally grew up with the best mother in the world, I can not imagine.

As I have some remedial photo-shop skills I offered to take the photo home and digitally repair and enhance it and mother agreed.  A few days later, I scanned it and began the laborious process of bringing the 86 year old image back to life. In essence.. bringing Polly back to life. The photo itself was printed on some sort of cardboard and looked like it was a copy of a copy of a copy.  The more time I spent studying and working on the image the more  important this project  became to me. I can only imagine how important the picture is to my mother. I realized that this image was in reality, the last and only physical link between Polly and her children, grandchildren, or future generations of our family.  Other than fading memories, this picture appears to be the only tangible proof of her existence.  All in my hands.

Polly with flowers in her hair and a smile on her beautiful face, she's holding her firstborn, my Aunt Renie. I'm guessing she's 17 at the time and the year is around 1924.

Pixel by pixel I became enthralled with this woman who died 13 years before I was born. Questions upon questions popped into my mind. What kind of woman was she really?  What must it have been like to hear at a youthful 26 years of age that you had only a short time to live?  The sobering reality that you had 4 children you'd leave behind? Over the next few weeks I spoke with my mother and her siblings asking questions about Polly. The more I heard about this extraordinary woman, the more I wanted a connection to her. As the picture slowly came back to life.. I came to a decision..

After finding out Polly was buried in a private cemetery in the small town of Stone, Kentucky just 5 hours from our home in Asheville, NC I decided a road trip.. no a "pilgrimage" was in order to pay my respects. I did the usual Google map research which would put me to the general area, but the cemetery isn't on any map or any cemetery directory. I also heard that her gravestone may or may not be marked, although one family member seems to remember paying someone to do the work back in the 60's.

As fall is my favorite motorcycling season due to the color changes and lack of bugs, what better time to load up my bike and ride deep into the mountainous coal mining country of Kentucky to look for Polly's resting place. On October14th I packed my trusty soft luggage and Kriega backpack for the 2 day trip followed by the usual pre-flight check. I dusted off my rarely used electric vest, programmed the GPS, suited up and headed out. The predicted weather was sunny with highs in the 60s and 40s at night. The leaves would be near peaking through the entire route through NC, Virginia, Tennessee, and finally Kentucky. Work this week was slow so apparently the planets had aligned to make the weekend run stress free. Amazingly.. after checking and rechecking the route on both my paper map and the GPS, the route from my door  through 4 states ending in Stone Kentucky would entail only 2 turns.. What are the odds of that? Everything about this trip is beginning to feel pre-ordained.

This was my first real road trip in almost 3 years and once out on the road I instantly realized that I need to do this more often. Guess you get caught up in the daily routine of makin' a buck and forget what really stirs your soul.  In the cool morning air the bike is humming her sweet German tune as the fall scenery blazes by in a spectacular array of colors. As I have plenty of time to make Stone, Ky before nightfall and no turns to make for the next 5 hours,  I settle into a quasi-legal speed, set my throttlemeister, and let my mind drift ..

Just a week prior, while on quest for information on my grandmother, I spoke to my 87 year old Aunt Renie, Polly's first born who now resides in Detroit with her loving husband Chet. She was 17 and in high school when her mother passed. When I mentioned to her that I was interested in learning more about Polly, my usually stoic aunt opened up the verbal floodgates and proceeded to tell me all sorts of wonderful stories about her mother in such detail that you'd think they had happened just the week before.  It was as if she had all these beautiful memories hidden away in a long forgotten box and now someone was asking her to open it up and look inside.  She told me that Polly grew up a devout Christian woman with an apparent soft heart for those less fortunate than herself. She related that during the depression, legions of homeless passed through their little mining community riding the rails which ran behind their house.  Much to the chagrin of both her husband and her apathetic neighbors, Polly would offer up a plate of beans and slice of cornbread on her back porch to anyone who asked and refused to accept any compensation. She actually gained a reputation as someone sympathetic to the "hobos" that passed through the area looking for work and many actually asked for her by name once they got into town. Her selflessness and generosity towards the downtrodden was apparently known throughout the region.

I pull over at a rest stop to stretch my legs, pull out a ham sandwich, and sip on a Dew. The sun is out, but the gusty wind makes the temps feel cooler than the 64 degrees showing on my dash.  For whatever reason, my electric vest isn't working and the cold is seeping into my aging bones. I polish off a couple of soft chocolate chip cookies, put on a another layer of clothing, curse at my non-working vest, do a few stretches then I'm back on the road for the final miles.

All through my ride I feel both excited that I will (if I'm lucky) find and visit my grandmothers grave on this very day, but I also feel admittedly guilty that I haven't  made this sojourn earlier in my life. I ask myself  .."why am I  doing this now?"  How will I feel when I'm standing there facing my past?  What would my grandmother think of me as a person if she were alive? No profound answers are apparent.. I just feel an all consuming need to be close to her. I ride on without delving deeper into my psyche.

As the seasonal colors roll by, my mind drifts back to one of my mothers cherished memories of her mother. She said Polly loved to sing.  Every Sunday after the family would return from church, Polly would sit in her rocking chair on the front porch of their humble mountain home and sing hymns.  Her melodic voice carried across the "holler" and locals, I was told, would come out of their homes, sit on their porches and listen. I was told she had the voice of an angel. This image of her resonates in me. What must that voice have sounded like?

Towards 5pm I reach the turn-off for Stone, Ky where Polly is buried. I figure I have about an hour and a half before dark. I'm not sure what to expect except I've been told it's a really small town. I turn off and drive about a mile then pull over to ask directions at a small one room post office.  The BMW actually draws a crowd as if they've never seen one.  Sure enough one teenager actually says he's never seen a BMW sport bike. In this little valley I feel like I've ventured into Edgar Rice Burroughs' Land That Time Forgot except most of these people seem to have cell phones. When I ask how much further to Stone, I'm immediate told "You just missed it."  Really? I ask. Did you see those 3 buildings about a half mile back? That was Stone. I ask if he knows were the Taylor private cemetery is and he scratches his head for about 30 seconds then says.. "nope," but suggests that somebody at the market next door just might. I walk the 50 feet to the market, walk in and all heads turn my way. Some of the people who were outside have actually followed me in.  Fortunately.. this isn't a "Deliverance" moment.. Everyone, while curious,  seems very friendly and eager to help.  I address everyone in the store... "Anyone know where the Taylor cemetery is?"

A serious discussion breaks out with comments coming from all directions. Nobody seems to know where it is although a few remember hearing the cemetery's name. One patron is sure his grandmother might know as she was born and raised here. After making half a dozen calls to as many relatives he actually tracks her down. She gets on the phone and informs us that there used to be a sign  pointing to the cemetery just before entering Stone, but it was washed away in the flood of '93. She gives exact directions and the grandson offers to lead me to the unpaved, unmarked road. I follow his pick-up and he points to the turn-off across a creek and up a hill, then waves good-by. Less than 5 minutes later I'm at the heavily overgrown cemetery. It looks to be about 2 acres in size. I park the BMW and get off.  I'm exited. I immediately unpack my camera, some tools I brought (for clearing brush) and remove most of my riding gear. It's late in the day and before I start my search I have a seat, eat my last sandwich, then call my mother to let her know where I am.

She wishes she could be here with me (I do too) and I promise her I'll take her to her mother's grave in the spring. While I have her on the phone,  I have one last question that I had been almost afraid to ask for fear of bringing up painful childhood memories.  When Polly was told she didn't have long to live.. how did she break the news to her 4 young children? My God.. How would anyone in that position even approach that conversation?  At the time, the children's ages ranged from 9 to 17. Would she gather them together and tell them at once? Or separately? Would she tell them immediately? Or wait until her demise was imminent?  Ask yourself.. "What would I do?"

Taylor Cemetary_Stone, Ky

My mother told me that initially, Polly pulled each of her children aside one-by-one over a period of days explaining that she would be getting sick in the months to come and that she needed their love, help, and cooperation.  Her tone was strong and without a touch of self pity. In the precious time she had left, her goal was to teach each of her children to be self sufficient without alarming them that they'd soon be motherless. During the next 24 months she not only taught each child how to wash and iron their own clothes, cook, clean, and sew, but she also taught them by her actions and her words the intrinsically important fundamentals of a moral life..  courage, dignity, honesty, respect for yourself and others, and most importantly.. right and wrong.  A concept mostly lacking in today's society.  Polly put on a strong facade for her children,  rarely complaining even on the days she couldn't  get out of bed. She never once took anything for the pain. What an incredible woman. During the short time she had left, I can only imagine the countless nights she laid in the dark .. in pain.. thinking .. knowing. .. crying.

When her last days and hours were upon her, she gathered her children together and told them she was about to leave for the hospital and she wouldn't be coming back. My mother remembers Polly saying.. "Children.. I'd really love to stay here with you, but the Lord needs me more."

I start my grid-pattern search on the left side of the cemetery and slowly but surely inspect each stone. In some places the woods are thick and the under-growth heavy from years of neglect.. Some graves look recently cleared. A few  have old faded plastic flowers on them from visitors long past. Most of the headstones are from the 1800s going up through the 1950s. There's a lot of history here. Some of it belonging to me. I wonder to myself if any of these people knew my grandmother. Back and forth I go with anxious anticipation. The only sounds are the wind in the trees and the dried leaves under my boots. While the temps are dropping, my full leathers keep me warm and protect me from thorns as I push through the underbrush. As the sun wanes in the western sky and shadows grow long I find my grandfather, Carl's headstone and to his left... Polly. Their stones are covered with fallen leaves and thin vines and there's a mimosa tree growing at their feet.

As darkness closes in around me. I speak to my grandmother. I tell her about my life, about her children, about her other grandchildren. I tell her I wish I'd known her and apologize for not coming sooner. She silently listens and offers comfort, love, and understanding. I can feel her presence and she's happy I'm here. I close my eyes and can see her smiling. I sit beside her and weep.

The next morning  the temps are in the mid 30s, the fog is pea-soup thick, and a blanket of frost covers the small town of Belfry, Ky where I have overnighted.   I put on every piece of clothing I have for the ride out, curse at my not-so-electric vest one more time, then check out of the Super 8 Motel. As I'm in no hurry to face the cold blast, I linger over a particularly tasty hotcakes and sausage breakfast at a nearby Micky Ds while the temperature  rises and the fog dissipates. I get directions from a local and ride to the only flower shop in the small town. It's a Saturday morning and I'm there waiting when the door opens. I buy all the roses I can afford then  head back to the cemetery. I spend about an hour clearing  my grandparents gravesites, lay the humble offering on Polly's grave then say a few words to them before heading home. Private words. Long overdue words.


Gene, Barbara Ann, and Raymond
Above: Three of Polly's 4 "children" in 2009. Gene Hunt (83), Barbara Ann Lawson (75), and Raymond Hunt (80). Renie Addis (87) couldn't make the gathering.
Picture top right: The last remaining picture of Polly. Here she is with flowers in her hair  and a smile on her beautiful face holding her firstborn, my Aunt Renie. I'm guessing she's 17 at the time and the year is around 1924.
Above: Headstones of my grandparents.. Carl and Polly Hunt and to the right... their proud grandson and your humble author... .


 
Posted March 7, 2011 by
Jerry D. Finley... Captain
/ Pirates' Lair