I was born in a community snugly nestled deep within the Appalachian Mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, in the county of Perry, City of Hazard on Saturday, December 31st, 1955. I was, for the most part, raised there, but had the very rare opportunity to leave the shelter (and attendant quirks) of that home to visit other places.
I learned pretty much everything that I needed to know there. Raised in a small community of around 4,500, I grew up with a people who were, and are "peculiar", clannish and my beloved "People of the Hills". I was a very poor child, in monetary terms, even as my Father was one of the scions of the community (and the Commonwealth), and my mother was considered by virtually everyone who knew her to be a legitimate hero of her nation.
I would graduate High School there with the same classmates with whom I attended Kindergarten. We were, as a group, all friends, and we were all community.
They say you can never go home again. It's true, no matter how many times you return, or visit. You can share FaceBook friendships, communicate on community websites. You can share (or, hopefully avoid) childhood stories. But, you really can not go home again.
Follow me just below the
squiggledoodlethingey fold, and I'll tell you why I believe this to be true. During your drop into the abyss, reflect on your hometown, and the community that raised you.
In a diary I wrote only yesterday, I shared with you what THIS community has come to mean to me. But, this is but one community of which I am part. I'd like to share with you something of another.
It is my intention to share this diary with my hometown, and the community it represents for me. (You just MIGHT wanna put on yer helmets, Pilgrims!) I think they will understand not only my writing, and the meaning of it, but the purpose behind it as well. I do hope so.
I didn't know I was poor until I was notified one day by a loving Sunday School teacher, quite innocently. I didn't know what being "poor" was, or what it meant. She didn't elaborate, and I didn't know to ask. Several weeks later, I asked my Mother what it meant to be poor, and why we were.
It was the answer she gave me which caused me to begin writing, in a private journal at the age of eight years. I've been writing ever since that Sunday afternoon. As I grew up, I was a good child (Hey! I'm writing THIS diary!!) who was completely respectful of family and community. Communities know "pulse", and ours celebrated ours.
One of the most important heartbeats of a community like mine is when it graduates it's youth. Kindergarten. Elementary School. High School. College. Marriage. Death. These are, for community, not only important and proper heartbeats, but necessary ones. When I was four years old, my Mother told me that I was "smart". Even while not appreciating the statement, much less having anywhere near full appreciation and gratitude for the one having said it, I simply accepted the statement. Just as I did when I discovered I had another "tag" in my community. In other writings, I call these "The Hats We Wear!"
Another (and important, from a purely heritage-based perspective) part of our community was music. I had never NOT been involved in music. At this moment (Strokes notwithstanding), I truly cannot remember a time of my life when music was not a central part of the definition of my being. We sang at home. We sang at school. We sang at Church. We sang at family reunions. Music became a life's purpose for me very, very early on. My sister was an organist at my home church, and she used to babysit me by taking me with her to her preparation practices. Not so very long thereafter, I replaced her as an occasional organist at my home church. I would study Organ for more than 20 years. I sang, played virtually every musical instrument, with a special love for organ, piano, and anything percussion.
I even garnered some awards for myself in this area while I was in High School. We didn't know that we were special. We just kept being the best in competitions, from local to state, and to even national competitions. But, we mostly did it together. It was choir. It was band. I must tell you honestly, the Welsh heritage of our area, and the world-wide comparisons to it were absolutely accurate for us. Even as I was beginning my High School experience, the singing and playing were not expected; they were breaths of air. Yet, most of those who sang or played, or acted or debated with me were just as poor (if not more so) than I. Not all, but some. We didn't notice, and we did not care. When a friend got a new car, we were not jealous. We were proud of them, and happy for them. We knew these were merited favors, not social symbols of superiority. To do or think otherwise would be harming our community, and we just didn't do that.
I was highly favored by my community when, upon my graduation, I was voted by my class as "Most Talented". In THIS community? No way. But, I had known from a very early age that music would forever be in my life. I got a scholarship to many schools, but chose the one that could make me the best teacher. I wanted to teach music. That's all I wanted to do. I dreamed of it as a very small child. As I and my friends were experiencing High School, our community was experiencing layoffs and closures at a time that would become known as the "death of coal", the employment lifeline of our community for more than 100 years.
My heart's desire was to teach the music that would heal the hurt, raise up the poor, and bring a smile to a hurting heart. Many of my friends shared that dream, and many did, like me, carry out their dream in the usual, astounding fashion. Some of those friends, members of that community have brought the joy and love of music to generations in my hometown. I continued to study, and shared my passion to other communities, and other nations too.
There were doctors, and lawyers, and teachers in my community as I grew up. That's what they did. That was NOT who they were, and in my community, we definitely knew the difference. We knew divorce, death, tragedy, and sadness--as a community. I recently had occasion to remark that a certain date this year was the anniversary of the death of my sister. The very first comment that writing received was from a member of my hometown community. Her words? "Buddy, to me it was only yesterday." (Yes, some do. Most don't dare. The name is Bud.
The second I saw her name, I remembered her rushing to our home from up the street, even as the words were echoing throughout the house. I mean, this person ran full out all the way from her home to ours non-stop. It was she who explained to me that my sister was gone. It was she who held me as I drowned her dress (Blue, with White Flower print.) with the tears of a young boy who had begged his sister to stay home, only a short time before. Yes, that community.
The days, weeks, months, years and decades have, as I write this, purely flown by. I have visited my hometown many times during that time, yet I never arrived there without having a very clear exit strategy, and keeping to it. I am so very grateful for being educated, and raised there. I cannot live there. I have, in all probability, one visit there left. The point is that there is an entire community who has shared that time with me, no matter where I was physically located. The bonds which made us a community keep us a community.
And, like Mr. Holland and his Opus, I have known the incredible moments of music as a performer, conductor and educator. I sit here writing this, watching in the theater of my mind as hundreds, thousands of faces play across its stage. In fact, the person who was my High School sweetheart, who marched and sang as I did, and one of my longest friends, is the owner of the home in which I currently live. Community.
There are so many different opinions about, and within the community where I was raised. In fact, if my hometown had an official mascot, I think it would be the grudge! :)
Among my friends, there are distinct differences in opinions of their community that seem to be polar opposites. Feuds are not myth, and especially among my people. Blood feuds have been, and are today begun over those issues within my hometown that would make some shake their heads in disbelief.
Passions rage, and one of the better-known abilities of many of my friends (I mean, we won State and National Awards for it, even!) is debate. In my hometown, just like at my dining room table, having a position was a really low threshold for anyone. Being able to "apologize" for, or defend your position merely gets your ticket punched to participate.
And, yes, it is quite true. Lifelong friendships, relationships, and even community standing can be forever changed, negated or revoked because of such room table "discussions". But, not usually. Grudges among my people are multi-generational. While this may sound wildly ineffective to some, such truth is one of those ways that my people survive. I have lived within, between, and as a victim of such truths.
In my community, as I have said in other writings, no matter how strongly you hold a position, nor how much you foam at the mouth in your absolute convictions about one thing or another, there is one most important question that you must answer:
In my community, you are expected to put feet to your beliefs, to actively participate in democracy at every necessary level--to work for what you believe is right. Honor lies there, you see. The community acknowledges honor, truth, and participation in solutions.
When one member of the community hurts, the entire community hurts. When an issue splits that community, the community is not satisfied with accepting the division for long. The community does eventually come together, usually in compromise. It is the community which must, as an obligation to every member, survive. No matter what.
As many of my friends could tell you, there are moments when the community you are in make every sadness, argument, and tragedy--well, worth it. It is usually when the community "gets over" itself, remembers who, what and why it is--and begins healing with love, apologies, admissions, and forgiveness.
In my hometown, these are basics of daily life. I remember times when coal miners would not walk on the same side of the street with a Coal Company owner or Operator. Neither would sit at the same restaurant with an "enviro-nazi". Doctors fight Lawyers as a matter of daily life there, yet both share the same green at the golf course. And, only people sit in pews.
The community is, you see, the lowest common denominator. The members of the community determine the values of the community, and are charged with keeping those values intact and safe. Methods may change. Values generally do not--but sometimes they do.
When values change, it is because the times require them. Yet, knowing the expectations of the community helps a lot in understanding the expectations of that community's members. In my hometown, for instance, we are not "Hazardians", or "Hazardites". In that community, no matter where we may have our feet planted, we are "from Hazard". There are schools there, and jails. There are many different churches, and some really important franchise operations. Hazard has a Mayor, and a City Council. It is an "All-American City". It was, for many, many years, the largest county in the United States without a single Jew, but had several beloved Lebanese families. It has State Champion bands, choirs, and sports teams (Go, Bulldogs!)
My High School friends are, of late, bragging on the graduations of their grandchildren. (I have NO idea how that happened!) Hazard is also known as the city who has created more millionaires per capita than any other incorporated community in our country. We also have held a very high rating in the per capita number of those in poverty. Black, white, brown, yellow and red: all call Hazard home. Old, young, healthy and ill are members of the community.
All pay close attention to the health of the community, and her members. If one is ill, many step up and cook, sit, talk, visit via phone or internet. If a member "goes home", it is a community event. Same with a birth, when a new member "arrives from Heaven". It is our way.
I know that many who may someday read these words will not relate to them in terms of their hometown, or their community. But, this is about mine. I can no more go home than I can change the color of my eyes, release myself from illness, or change my sexual identity or orientation. Some things matter. Some things do not.
If you are "from Hazard", you are "from Hazard" no matter where you are. The community has no fear of expansion, so long as the community's most fundamental, basic identity is kept intact. The citizens of that community take their responsibility very seriously.
That's how I was raised. That's why community matters to me. Some days, I become terribly upset when I cannot seem to find anyone I belong to. Given this explanation, you might better understand why having a community to belong to is, for me, very important indeed.
You might also understand better why I am sometimes overwhelmed by this one. It's almost like being home again. At least, on most days, it is close enough.
I still get information from my friends, and stay caught up on the goings-on in my hometown. For me, I will forever be a member of my hometown, of my community. No matter how many concerts are performed, students taught, or passions fueled. No matter where I am, or where I go, there are some things that go with me. My community is first among them. That's our way.
Given my dreams and aspirations, my experience, and my passions, I hope you might gain a better understanding of me, how I choose to participate here, and why.
I also hope you will understand that, when I first saw this video, I was stunned. By the completed arc of the first crescendo, I was crying "like a school girl". I've watched it several times since, and the same thing happens every single time.
This video is a perfect nexus for my community, and my most dearly held dream. It is also a very visible picture of THIS community for me, too. I hope you enjoy it, and let me know what you think.
Home is where you come from. Home is always with you, for you never really leave it. Home is where you hang your heart.
For those friends, and members of the community that defines me, I hope you will remember with me some of the most incredible moments of our entire lives, even as we see them carried on in this generation. From Jane Britton, Don Noderer, Nancy Ward, Lee Eggbert, Harlan Stone, Mrs. Ross, to Letha, Margaret, Sara, Jeff, Scott, Doug, David, Scott, David Z., Martha, Mrs. Copeland, Mrs. Turner, George Martin--and so many other amazing people of my life, who gave the most special gift of gifts to the community I love so very much, and who give it still. It mattered then. It matters today. It will matter tomorrow.
Calon Lan A Welsh Hymn of Prayer
Words by Daniel James (1848); Music by John Hughes (1872–1914)
" I don't ask for a luxurious life,
the world's gold or its fine pearls:
I ask for a happy heart, an honest heart, a pure heart.
Chorus: A pure heart is full of goodness, More lovely than the pretty lily: Only a pure heart can sing - Sing day and night.
If I wished worldly wealth, He has a swift seed;
The riches of a virtuous, pure heart, Will be a perpetual profit.
Late and early, my wish Rise to heaven on the wing of song,
To God, for the sake of my Saviour, Give me a pure heart."