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.  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!

My Old Kentucky Home


I’m from a real winner of a town that goes by the name of Harlan. I guess you could say I’m “from” a couple of places in Kentucky. My parents split when I was 3, and so I moved away from my birthplace to live with mom. But, dad stayed there, where he was from, and so I went back there every other weekend and part of the summer as ordered by the good ole court system.

Harlan, Kentucky.

It can go by other names…Bloody Harlan… or Hell on Earth as I like to refer to it.

I’m only writing about it today, because I can’t get that place out of my head. More specifically, my grandparent’s house. I grew up in that house. It was the first place that was home to me, when I was born. As a kid, when I “went to dad’s house”, it was really their house I was going to, because he lived there. I think it haunts me. I think it haunts everyone that has ever spent a significant time there.

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

I dream about it. A lot. It’s not always a house either. Sometimes I’ll be dreaming I’m working, but it’s there. Or I’ll dream it’s my house. Sometimes my grandparents are there too, and sometimes they aren’t. My granny and pap are gone, I lost them both in 2009. Now some new family owns their home, and I wonder, does the place haunt them too?

If you have doubts that there are ghosts in this world, visit that house. Your doubts will fly away.

My uncle killed himself in that house. I didn’t know him, it happened before I was born.

Another uncle was killed Christmas of 1984 – I wasn’t even a year old yet so I don’t remember him, but I’m pretty sure I have felt his spirit.

They are there, they are still there in that house. It wasn’t always scary thinking that, but for some reason I always had to run past my pap’s bedroom if the door was open, because I was scared of it.

I had a weird childhood. I grew up there at my dad’s parent’s house, I grew up at my mom’s parent’s house, I grew up in a trailer mom rented from the college she attended, I grew up in a house on a hill, I grew up in a different house on a different hill….but when I think back to my childhood memories, more often than not, I think of that house.

I think it’s part of my soul, my psyche, and I can’t even explain why.

I’ll never be able to go back into that house, and that hurts. I’m terrified of the house. I love the house. I can’t explain it. It’s just a house. My grandfather’s grandfather built it – I wish it was my house. I hate that town though. It’s a bad seed. It bears rotten fruit.

Someday I will think of the right words to turn that house into a ghost story. It wouldn’t all be fiction.