History paves the way to future

Published 11:51 am Monday, November 13, 2017

“Do something every day to remind this city why the hell you’re here.”


Everything in my home has a history, even my home itself. The house is known as the Judge James M. Benton House, built circa 1889.

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Our family/living room was actually his bedroom and office. My den, where I spend most of my evenings, was my husband’s bedroom growing up. In my breakfast room is a round oak table that my grandmother bought for me, or rather, I bought with money she gave me.

My upstairs bathroom has a cabinet that my father, who was both a machinist and master furniture builder, made for us, along with a cradle for our daughter, Meredith. My front door traveled more than 100 miles on the top of my father’s car to replicate the rotted one. It stands as a testament to my father’s love for me, as well as his love for things historic.

Historic buildings and historic facades are tricky things — a sticky wicket. While some find no redeeming qualities in “old stuff,” even my daughter at times, I find solace in that old stuff and older buildings.

Last year, I had a man who wanted to buy my pump in my front yard. It came from my papaw’s farm in Hitchins, Kentucky. My father brought this to me, too. I can remember standing by the well, with papaw’s huge hands and horehound-infused flannel shirt, helping me pull down to bring up the coldest, best-tasting water one could imagine.

There is something about that limestone water that runs hundreds of feet down that quenches both your physical and spiritual thirst. It evokes memories of places and people.

My memory of Sunday dinners with fried chicken and mashed potatoes began in Hitchins. There was the heat from the kitchen that would make the black bun on my grandmother’s neck droop just a tiny bit.

While ladies then did not sweat, but rather perspired, they would fan their rosy cheeks with, as the late Lewis Grizzard said, the standard “handheld funeral home fans” to drive away the heat of those biscuits baking in the gas oven.

Those were the summer days when we could take off those patent leather Mary Janes and walk through the thick grass. With my mother’s admonishment to “watch not to step on the bees,” we played tag and hide and seek in our Sunday school dresses starched until they could stand alone. By the end of the day, they were as wrinkled as they were before ironing.

History — When I visit my mother in Ashland, I often drive past my other grandmother’s house. I think of the hours spent cranking rock salt and ice to make blueberry ice cream. I remember eating sausage gravy at her house in a big iron skillet. I think back to how she hid money in the kitchen under the hot pad, because she was a survivor of the Depression.

Recently, on the Urban Loft Tour and downtown open house, I could not keep from remembering the history of our town — the smells, the people, the Saturdays at Corner Drug Store.

While I don’t like living in the past, there is a need for appreciation of the past — where floorboards reflect the endless walking of a parent of a sick child, where banisters are worn from 1,000 hands that led the way upstairs to home, where sidewalks and streets mark the footsteps of those that walked, pulled wagons and drove cars and trucks to town.

In this homage, we need to realize that in bricks, cement, wood and plaster lies the secret to success, prosperity and that ashes offer the groundwork for new beginnings.

On that little farm on John’s Run, my grandparents instilled memories. At my grandmother’s on Hampton Street in Ashland, she instilled history. And on the streets and in buildings, churches and gigantic trees that tower over each of us, let us pay reverence to centuries of believers of history and keep it alive.

History then becomes a gift that paves the way to the future.

Lisa Johns is a former teacher and librarian as well as an activist on revitalizing downtown Winchester.

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email whitney.leggett@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0049.

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