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A Lovely Heritage

My fondest memories as a child are ones of the Lovely family gatherings held at my grandma and grandpa's house. There would be lots and lots of food, innocent gossip, recipes exchanged, and always there would be the music. Music that you couldn't help but tap your foot to and wish you knew the words so you could sing right along.

Being able to grow up with both my paternal grandparents was a blessing indeed. They were well worth knowing and I'm blessed for having known them. I wish that I could tell them how they both have impacted my life.

The heritage that my grandparents imparted to me is one that I have to assume was passed onto them by their grandparents and so on. The heritage my grandfather passed onto his grandchildren is a complex, fragile thing. Complex because I'm not sure I can put into words the lessons he taught by example; fragile because time has a way of erasing the rarest moments first.

Kentucky gave birth to my grandpa. It created him and haunted him. With a fluttering of the eyes he could be back in the darkness of the wooded hills of Breathitt County surrounded by sweet pines, wild berries, and tinkling streams. His stories invariably were set upon the stage of those smoky hills and dusky hollows.

He spoke of his mother, Mary Carpenter, as a woman of faith. A woman whose prayers were stronger than moonshine and who could curse with the best of them. I remember grandpa saying that when she was sick with a cough she would take two fingers and scoop out a dollop of Vick Salve and eat it! Ew! Once when she saw a group of bullies following my grandpa home from school one day she beckoned them over to her to have a quick talkin' to. The boy hesitantly obeyed, wondering at her seemingly gentle tone. When the 15-year old bully was within reach, Mary Carpenter sucker-punched him and warned him that if he ever messed with her family again he'd have her to deal with.

Although I don't know much about my great-grandfather, I do know that there was a definitive silence about him that my grandfather kept. There were few if any stories with him attached. He was a distant, shadowy figure menacing by mere omission. My dad, Roy Lovely, remembers only that the man he called grandpa was rather mean and could swear the rattle off a snake. Rather short and stocky he still commanded attention when he spoke and told stories that put fear in the hearts of his grandchildren.

(Grandpa Nelson Lovely, ca. 1989)

As I ponder the heritage of my grandfathers, I find a heritage wrought with hard lessons and hard life. Very little came easy and what you did come by you fought to keep. Grandpa was a man of steely strength - never showing weakness, never letting his guard down. That is until the end. As he lay on his deathbed, I, as a new bride visited him one last time. His elderly body was a mere shadow. His once brilliant blue eyes were shadowed and glossy. His skin, which shone brilliant bronze in summers past, now lay as tissue paper over bulging veins and weakened muscles. As his grandchild, I was not prepared to see this strong man reduced to such. I wept openly on my new husband's shoulder.

Grandpa tossed and turned in obvious anguish. The VA nurses insisted that he was in no physical pain, but there was a definitive mental process going on that disturb all of us who sat by his side. Rather shyly I snuck to his bedside and gripped the hand that I had never before held. The fingers were long and handsome, the nails yellow and frail from years of tobacco smoke. The grip of his hand was alarming. I whispered to him that I was there. His eyes searched mine and in that moment I knew he was no longer in Ohio, he was in Kentucky, somewhere deep within the wooded mountains of his homeland. He never spoke until the end, when I clearly heard him call for his mama. My heart broke and breaks now thinking of it. This man whom I had called grandpa was now no more than a boy desperately calling for his mother. My prayers stuck in my throat and I pleaded with God to take him, but not before grandpa gave his soul back to the God who had created it.

I honestly believe that grandpa did finally make peace with God before he died. My aunts and uncles say that the preacher prayed with him and he nodded at the close of the prayer to indicate that, yes, he did want to give his life to Christ. They also say that the tossing and turning ceased and for two days there was wonder that he might actually live and return home. He was eating and talking and even asked for a Bible. But God had other plans. Grandpa Nelson Lovely, born the 23rd day of December 1921 in the icy hills of Breathitt County, died the 21st day of February 1996. Buried between his wife of nearly 50 years and his daughter, Nelson Lovely has finally found rest for a world-worn, weary Kentucky soul. But the heritage of love for family, land, and loyalty remain and I remain dedicated to this Lovely legacy that I've inherited.

~Kristie Lovely-Reich

10 September 2004