I’m listening to the book, Running on Red Dog Road by Drema Berkheimer. It’s a simple memoir of Appalachian childhood. I am selecting this type over and over these days. I don’t remember the names and authors, of course, but in the last couple of months I have read the opinions and recollections of several authors of the meaning of their early years. How their character was formed by the mines, by housing, by nutrition, by money, by education, by prejudice, by religion, by relatives.
In this book the author casually relates entering a building and cutting on the lights. Two friends sprang at once to mind; Nina and Starlett. You know Nina, of course. Put her name in the search box; it’s worth the detour to read about a town stalwart. I asked Nina why the phrase was cutting on and off for lights. Her explanation involved the electrical circuit and starting and stopping the flow of electricity. I let it go.
Starlett was a child of Appalachia who grew up in its suburb, Akron, Ohio. Child of the post World War II industrial boom, yet enmeshed in her parents’ dream of returning to the homeland, rural Tennessee. Starlett died this week; she succumbed to the worst of Appalachia.
My sister Jan was the big sister to Star, who grew up on the street behind us. Jan is ten plus years younger than me, and Star probably five behind Jan. I know her birthday was last Thanksgiving, so let’s say Star got sixty years from life. She always was looking for it to be better.
Star’s father worked in the tire factory. Every Friday night he and Shirley put the two kids in the car and drove to Coker Creek, Tennessee. Over the course of Star’s childhood, they built a house there, and retired to it. Starlett and her brother spent every summer in the very big extended family. Jan remained Star’s friend, all her life, and I tagged along for visits.
Star married Donnie while she still lived in Akron. She was the love of his life and his aim in life was to save her from herself. For, Star fell victim to the curse of her age, drugs. When she was sober, she held promising jobs. For the longest time of all she worked for Arbegast, a fly fishing lure manufacturer. Her flies were exquisite; the company gave her a set. But they fired her too, for excessive absence.
Finally Star moved back to Tennessee, where she met Mark. Such a wedding. Her daddy built a bridge across the branch in the yard and shaved his beard to walk her across. Jan and I went into the mountain and cut rhododendrons and azaleas to fill the buckets up each side of the aisle. Mom hemmed the bridegroom’s trousers; I took pictures.
Jan kept in touch. We visited. There was a little boy, Jordan, who grew up in the tin roofed house in a holler. The water to the house was one of the many natural springs in the mountains. Star and Mark both smoked, and Star moved heaven and earth for any narcotic. Then Jan learned Star had moved to Seattle, with a new husband, hoping to make a new life.
Of course they came back, drifted about, settled down on property of her parents. Occasionally Jan heard from Star, or from Shirley. Star was revived more than once with narcan. But her death was a quiet event in her sleep; cutting off the lights.