This past week-end I traveled to eastern Kentucky. It is easier to get around in the coal fields nowadays, due to improvement in the main roads. Our primary stop was the home place of Loretta Lynn and her sister Crystal Gayle. The home is located near Paintsville, KY in a hollow called Butcher Holler, a part of the mining community of Van Lear.
Butcher Holler is about as deep as you can go into the Kentucky hills and still keep on the topside of the earth. Some of Loretta and Crystal’s family, including a brother, still live in the holler. A niece of theirs gave us a tour of the house. There is no sign directing you to Butcher Holler, except it is written in white paint on a large rock. You don’t want to meet another car on the narrow little road leading to the house.
Living in this region of the Appalachians, most of us have some identity or knowledge of humble living standards. But material comforts is a false measurement of a man or a family. That was never more evident than Butcher Holler.
Loretta Lynn’s story, as well as the rest of the Webb musical family, is bigger than their music, and , of course, their music is sizable. Years ago I read Loretta’s autobiography, and I pulled it off the bookshelf for this trip. I remember watching Loretta at a county fair, when she was just coming into her own in the 60’s. Same with Crystal Gayle. I saw her at the Ramp Festival in the Smokies very early in her career.
The home place, albeit humble, gave me the impression of peace, love, and tenderness. It is the less common story of survival and even flourishing when the odds are stacked sharply against you. It is the American story. A story that will move you. It is being duplicated, even now, somewhere.
Material well-being is important, but it is overvalued in our culture. Reading her autobiography, and watching the movie “Coal MIners Daughter” will give you insight into the higher ranking values. Faith, family love, sacrifice, and perseverance are just a few qualities that made their family “well-off”.
Once, someone inquired of the financial standing and credit worthiness of an acquaintance of A. Lincoln’s. The person was obviously materially poor. But, Lincoln converted his real assets into monetary terms. As I recall he started with a good wife and put a monetary sum of her worth. There were several children and Lincoln valued them at about 50K each and so on. Finally, he mentioned a hole in the man’s wall that Lincoln suspected contained a measure of currency. When he added it all up he could recommend the man as sort of wealthy.
So it is with the family of Butcher Holler.