The year was 1984, and there on a cold wintry morning I took my first breath of Harlan county USA air, thick with coal dust as it was.Ā  You see, I come from that place they portray on the TV show Justified. It’s really real.


Picture from Wikipedia

I had an odd childhood, not unlike many kids of my generation I suppose. I really “came” from two places. I have two “homes”. One was mom’s house where I did most of my living. The other was dad’s – Harlan.

The funny thing about Harlan is, as much as I loathed the place growing up, it holds my go-to memories of childhood. Why is that? From the time I was 3 until I left for college at 18, I mostly lived with mom. Harlan to me was every other weekend and half the summer. There’s just something about Harlan that is hard to shake.

The town of Harlan is a small place, population 2,000, nestled in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. It is very much cut off from the world. It’s at least an hour, if not a little more, away from the nearest interstate.

I honestly don’t know what it is about the place that holds me so deeply. I think back to my memories of growing up in Harlan probably 5 times for every 1 time I think about growing up at my mom’s – which in all fairness is where I did most of my growing up. Maybe it’s not the town itself that holds me so, but the powerful memories of my grandparents. I think about those two daily, and dream about them almost as often. I know everyone loves their grandparents, but those two were definitely special to me in ways that no one else ever will be. I can still hear my Granny say “Hey girl” as she did every time I called or walked through her door…and it kills me inside to know I’ll never hear her say that again.

Granny, Pap, and me -- sometime in the 80's.

Granny, Pap, and me — sometime in the 80’s.

I didn’t mean to get off on a tangent about my grandparents, this post began as a look at that odd, quirky, drug-laden, poor little community that almost holds an odd mystery to it for both people there and on the outside.

Maybe I’d be more willing to make a trek back to my homeland, if Timothy Olyphant were actually the US Marshall there…a girl can dream!

And no…. I never heard of anyone firing off rocket launchers…but I wouldn’t be surprised!


11 thoughts on “Harlan

  1. I love those early childhood memories too, and the later ones where we too had two “homes.” It wasn’t as bad as they all make it out to be though, the two-home thing. I’m glad my parents divorced, if they were unhappy, instead of staying together (and in so doing) teaching us that discontented was the type of relationship to have.

    • Thanks Neeks! I agree I’m glad my parents didn’t stay together. They split when I was around 3 and mom moved back to where she grew, up, a little over an hour away from dad. So the trip back and forth wasn’t as bad as a lot of kids can have it with one parent on each side of the country or something like that. My dad actually lived with my grandparents most of the time until they passed away and the house was sold, so when I went to dad’s hosue I was really going to their house, which I loved.

    • Thanks Kate! I treasure all of my pics from that house because sadly I don’t have that many. I’m sure my aunt back home does, I may have to start bribing her šŸ˜€

  2. Aw it’s funny the places that we hold dear. And the memories we recall with the most ease. My mom will say remember this and I’ll go nope. But I’ll remember going through my grandmother’s dresser and playing with her lipstick and necklaces. šŸ™‚

  3. Lovely picture of you with your grandparents!

    When my parents divorced I lived with my mum for the first couple of years (from age 5-7), and then with my Dad after that. My mum was always moving, not only house, but country too so I don’t have firm home memories with my mum, but my Dad was in the same house from when I was a couple of months old until way after I left home, so childhood ‘home’ memories are always of that house, that’s not to say I don’t have childhood memories of my mum of course! I’m rambling now. I remember both sets of my grandparents fondly too and the great times I spent with them.

    • Grandparents are the best! I have a friend that recently learned she’s about to become a grandma, I told her that just meant she’s officially entering the cool club because grandparents are always so awesome.

  4. Hi Laura,

    There is something so special about disparate childhood memories we hold onto. They continue to generate in us so intense and personal feelings that they make up the very bones and fibre of who we are.

    Loved the post.


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