River Of Ages
River isn’t long enough to be a river, some might say. Many
believe a stream has to be a hundred miles long before it can be a
Rivers are rivers because
somebody has the audacity to call them rivers. Such a man came up
to me and my wife at Ham Days in Lebanon, took one look at our new
book Rivers of Kentucky, and asked, "Cissels River in
He had us.
As soon as we found two
minutes to rub together, we left Plum Lick Creek and went down to
the headwaters of Cissels River. West out of Lebanon, we spotted
the beginning of the little stream close by Toad Mattingly Road.
Cissels River flows over large, flat rocks until it empties into
Hardin’s Creek where a large box elder guards the confluence.
Cissels River is three miles by road, longer by twists and turns.
Cissel or Cissell is another
way of spelling Cecil. We found Charles M. "Mike" Cecil
on the edge of the St. Mary community, and he explained that his
great-great-great-grandfather Matthew Cissell settled there in
1785. His son became a "Cecil" and that’s the name that
lives on through Mike’s four children and 10 grandchildren. The
grandfather clock in the corner of the homeplace has only stopped
twice-once when Mike’s wife died, the other time when Mike had a
heart attack. "There was no one to wind the clock," says
"All I knew it by when I
was growing up was Cissels River. I fished in it-bluegill, sun
perch, catfish. Deepest holes 4 to 6 feet. Runs most of the year,
real dry summer it’ll dry up. Few snakes in it. Hunted
groundhog," says Mike. "Groundhog is like mutton, longer
you chew groundhog the bigger it gets. Cissels River Pike is now
Loretto Highway," he goes on.
Hardin’s Creek forms the
Marion-Washington County line. After flowing past Maker’s Mark
Distillery, Hardin’s empties into Beech Fork at the Nelson County
line, part of the area sometimes called "America’s Holy
Mike Cecil is the cantor at
St. Charles Church, second oldest Catholic Church west of the
Alleghenies. Father Charles Nerinckx, who fled from religious
persecution in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, founded it in 1786.
Holy Cross in Marion County is the oldest Catholic Church on the
Mike took us through another
house on the farm, the one built by his great-grandfather in
1879, after he returned from the Civil War and found everything
burned to the ground. We walked into the hallway where Mike’s
grandfather long ago lay in state, stood in the room where Mike’s
father was born and died, the room where Mike was born 55 years
ago. There sat the family washstand and the steamer trunk.
He showed us the gnarled pear
tree as old as the 1789 house, and we walked by the cistern, the
grindstone, and the 1785 Concord grape vines that came from
Maryland. Mike dug up a clump of cannas, his favorite flower, for
us to take home along with a coffee tree bean for planting next
spring. "I got my love of plants from my mother, Nina
Mae," he says, pointing to the ginkgo tree, the Chinese
chestnut, the ornamental purple butter beans, mock orange, Roma,
and the mountain yellow tomatoes, the Mississippi ivy, the Kansas
sunflowers, Florida poinsettia, Maryland lilac, and the 13
varieties of tame Kentucky blackberries.
We sat awhile to look at
family pictures, and we read from the old St. Mary’s College
yearbook: "We are truly heirs of all the ages: and as honest
men it behooves us to learn the extent of our inheritance."
On our quiet way home near
year’s end, we passed through the little Cisselville crossroads,
and the last thing in blessed sight was the American flag flying
high from a slender pole attached to the highway sign.