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The Good Ol’ Days

“Allow me to introduce myself.

“My name is Irene Kees. I was born in 1919. I lost my mother at 9 years old. My grandmother had a garden and we wrapped celery to bleach it (to eliminate strong taste) and carried young chickens to the henhouse every night to train them to go by themselves.”

Irene Kees’ letter comes down from Dry Ridge with a fine, clear, 89-year-old hand, but she was one of the many not included in my new book, Let There Be Light—The Story of Rural Electrification in Kentucky. Space was limited, but I believe Irene needs to be heard.

“We were very happy there (at her grandmother’s house), and when she couldn’t keep us due to bad health we went to my mother’s parents to live in Kenton County. They didn’t have electricity or water in the house. She carried water from the creek to wash the clothes on a board—no wringer either!

“It was Depression time, we learned later. Didn’t matter to us—we were all in the same boat. We rode school busses with no heat and got stuck in snowdrifts in bad weather.

“We had a crystal set somebody made from a cigar box and a piece of lead or something and you put a wire down and got the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. The headphone had one good earphone and one not so good. My brother, 18 months older than me, somehow always took the good one, but that was OK by me. We got in the double bed, covered up, and shared the program on Saturday night.

“To pass time I cut cornstalk animals in the summer and put them in the grass in the yard. I also used a catalog that wasn’t in our ‘Out House’ and ordered page-by-page whatever I wanted.

“We lived on a farm, and Ma canned and we lived well—fed all year with our own chickens and a pig killed. My grandmother cooked the sausage and put it in gallon Mason jars. With no electric, no phone, no radio, we made it and we were happy. I have only good memories of my young years and can’t understand young people today with their problems.”

Another unpublished letter comes up from Cabin Creek Road in Laurel County. Dixie Smith wants to share memories.

“There seemed to be a lot of the residents in one of the southeastern counties skeptical of the electricity, which was scheduled to be installed in our part of the county. Mother and Daddy had lived in Cincinnati for a while and electricity was a familiar utility to them.

“My older brother was about 16 years old at that time. One of our neighbors had a son the same age as my brother. They were good friends, so together they ordered a book, How to Wire Your Home for Electricity. This was a correspondence course. These boys studied the course every night in a building that was about to collapse, but held strong.

“The day finally came; our house was being wired for electricity. The two boys did the work on our house first—it took many days…we all waited anxiously for the light to come on. My brother brought a very large contraption shaped like an ice cream cone. It screwed into a wire hanging from the middle of the ceiling. Late in the afternoon about dusty dark, no stars in the sky that night, I always believed we had a cloudy night just waiting for the electricity to be turned on. Once my brother put the bulb in the socket the light bulb came on instantly, and to our amazement it kept burning!

“Our neighbor asked if one had to keep the wires held securely, or if the wire was cut would the juice run out on the floor?”

Letters such as these have been mighty good medicine, and I am grateful.

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