Corbin, Kentucky, a small town of about 10,000, has turned out a wide range of exceptional people. Perhaps best known is Colonel Sanders of Fried Chicken fame. But what I remember are the great football teams of the 1950’s that produce All State and All American football players. There was a spirit in that town. I was about ten years old when move into Corbin and I first felt is presence. I then experienced that feeling for the next seven years. That feeling has never left me. This is a short story written from memories about the spirit and homemade ice cream.
Southeastern Kentucky harbors a town named Corbin. Around 1950, a clearly defined place, Hart Hollow, lay just southwest. An infectious spirit inhabits the area, making great residents greater, lesser ones less so, and the mundane a near impossibility. The infectious spirit first struck the holler’s front end, then spread to the back where my family lived. The spirit, as miniscule as it was powerful, and so fine, a laboratory scale would struggle to measure a microgram, spread and marked us for life.
A boy named Hart spread the infection. He taught me and my brothers about football. He only taught us once, but the micro-spirit, like flint striking steel, showered sparks that kindled fire in our souls. On the way to church, we visited the Hart boy, his mom and dad, and their hound dogs. They shared homemade ice cream the Hart boy’s daddy made. The ice cream, a yearly treat, and friendship, the finest, beats today’s refrigerated and churned vats coldly served. Old man Hart had electricity, but cranked his machines by hand. He possessed unrelenting hound dog spirit. He mentioned his oldest boy was attending Morehead College on a football scholarship. We’d never heard such a thing.
My family moved from Hart Hollow, that heavenly enclave with angels watching over it, or so I reckoned back in 1970, when I took my wife and children to see it. That’s before the Devil took a giant spade and knocked down the south side hill. He’d extracted coal needed to keep Hell burning hot, then covered up the deed with a bypass. I wept, with only the spirit to sooth.
We’d lived “storybook” lives. Dogged by the Devil and strained economics, we moved often, attending South, Central, and Eastward schools. On Ruby Street, behind something called a stadium, we heard, for the first time, drums and trumpets announcing a Friday night football game. Church members said it was the devil. We ignored the comments and played on Eastward’s grade school team, the Green Wave. We sneaked into Friday night football games. With the spirit strong and the Devil in pursuit, we moved to a farm on Cumberland Falls Highway where I could see the backside of the holler, a premonition. Rightly so. The Devil found us. I wondered aloud if we were cursed, my brother’s suggested offering me as sacrifice, instead, my parents spirited the family across the Ohio River, north to Kokomo, Indiana, “a half-hour before the Devil knew we were gone.”
We arrived in Kokomo one week before school started. With 50,000 inhabitants, one high school, and 2,500 students, they cut more freshmen players than Corbin’s team numbered entirely. The spirit was strong, two of us made the starting lineup, one joined the Marine Corp. I remember beating the state’s number one team, Logansport High School, 13 to 6. After season’s end, we quit high school and joined the Air Force and Army. The spirit lives on.