I was born in southeastern Kentucky–deep within the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Our little community originally was named Four Mile and was split by a skinny two-lane highway. Several houses, including that of my grandparents, were built on the narrow strip of land between the road and the Cumberland River. Other homes were thrust against the mountainside. Two wooden buildings completed the community–the church and Miz Bailey’s general store.
The store was a wonder. High shelves were filled with canned goods and bags of sugar and flour. Loaves of “light bread” were stacked next to the candy counter with its rounded glass bins of peppermints, chocolate drops and jelly beans.
Beyond the candy counter were mail boxes with one-digit combination locks. In those boxes lay the community’s secrets. Miz Bailey knew how long it had been between letters from sons looking for work.
One spring morning in the mid 1930s, a representative from the United States Post Office strode into the store. He jumped into the reason for his unannounced visit.
“The mail for this Four Mile is getting mixed up with the mail for the Four Mile near Pineville. That town is older, so y’all have to change your name.”
Becky knew she couldn’t fight a U.S. postal official.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll get everybody together for a meeting at the church.”
The man shook his head. “We don’t have time for that. I need a new name right now.”
Becky taped her finger against her lips. “Well, the Farleys have been here forever and have a big family. Call it ‘Farleyville.”
The man frowned. “That’s too long. I need a short name and I need it now!”
At that moment, Becky’s son, Keith, walked through the door. Becky turned to the official and snapped, “Well, just call this place Keith.”
And that’s why Keith, Kentucky is on my birth registration. I’m glad Becky’s daughter Agnes didn’t show up first!
Sadly, the community of my youth no longer exists. The wider road built in the 1960s displaced most of the homes. Several other buildings, including Miz Bailey’s store, burned. Today, not much remains except a little church few folks attend and a big cemetery nobody leaves.
But I hold those long-ago scenes close to my heart. And those sweet memories make me smile.
How about you? What childhood place do you still treasure?