By Carol Mills
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Everytime someone asks me where I was born, I tell them Dallas, Texas.
“So, you’re not from here,” they exclaim. They invariably wonder how I got from Dallas to London.
Well, I was raised mostly by my grandmother until I was almost 10 years old. She would travel by Greyhound back and forth from Dallas, where I had uncles, aunts, and cousins to a small town, Hartshorne, Okla., where I had an uncle, an aunt, and three girl cousins.
My parents worked in New York, N. Y. My mother was a key punch operator and my father worked for a liquor company. Since the big city wasn’t a suitable place to raise a child, I mostly stayed with my grandmother in Hartshorne. One day while I was in New York, I was only about 3 years old, but I threw the baby sitter out and she never came back. My mother took me back to Hartshorne to my grandmother. My grandmother and I moved back to Dallas, where I went to first and second grades. The elementary school in Dallas was as big as a university and my classmates and I were always getting lost because we had to change from classroom to classroom. When I was in the middle of third grade, my grandmother decided to move back to Hartshorne where I could play with two of my cousins, one of whom was one year older than I and the other one was one year younger than I. We tore up the Oklahoma prairie running around and playing and fighting. I don’t know if the dust has settled yet. In Hartshorne, I went to school with several Choctaw Indians from a nearby reservation.
When my baby brother was born, my parents came and got me so we could be a family. By this time, I was getting ready to start fourth grade. My father, who had been taking night classes in New York to become a teacher, decided to change occupations. He got a job teaching English at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
In Idaho, we drove over mountains that were so high I had to cover my ears to keep my eardrums from busting from the lack of air pressure. But those mountains in winter were so beautiful. The evergreen trees were so plentiful, we just went out into the country and cut one down at Christmas. Most of the evergreen trees, especially the pines, were so tall I couldn’t hardly see the tops of them. They were so beautiful when they were covered with snow and the smell of those pines is something I won’t ever forget.
While we were in Idaho, we spent one summer in Everett, Wash., in a ranch house out in the country — in peace and quite — so that my father could write a thesis to further his education. It rains a lot in Washington and the blackberries that grew wild along the fence in front of the house were almost as big as golf balls.
We came back to Moscow and stayed there until I finished seventh grade. Then my father got a job as an English professor at Upper Iowa University in Fayette. By this time, I had a baby sister. It snowed there so much the ground was covered until spring when it finally melted. It was so cold there, I vowed never to go back unless it was in the summertime. Since Iowa is a farming state, the boys got out of school at harvest time. School was called off one day because it was too cold, not because of the snow. If they called school off everytime it snowed, the students would never have to go to school all winter. Sometimes the buses wouldn’t run, but the parents took their children to school if they could.
Thankfully, we only spent one year in Iowa. I started ninth grade in New Mexico where my father got a position teaching English at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. There, I went to school with Mexicans with last names, such as Gonzales, Martinez, and Sanchez. They were required to speak English in class, but at lunch and on campus they huddled in small groups and spoke Spanish.
New Mexico is different than any other place I’ve ever been. It never gets real cold, it hardly ever rains so there’s no humidity, the houses have flat roofs, and most of the lawns are filled with rocks instead of grass. I graduated from Las Cruces High School with about 1,000 other students.
Since Las Cruces is near the Mexican border, we drove to Juarez, Mexico, a couple of times to bring food back because it was cheaper there.
My father then got a job teaching English at Union College in Barbourville. I graduated from Union four years later and then married a Mills from Stinking Creek in Knox County. I worked in Pineville in a business office while my husband and I ran a trucking business. I did all the bookkeeping. We hauled coal from the strip mines to the tipples where it was loaded onto coal cars. I got divorced after four years, but I still lived up the creek. I got laid off and moved to Laurel County, where my parents had moved to after my father retired. I needed to take care of my parents, who were getting elderly by this time.
I got a seasonal job in London with Adams Express Tax, and in May 1992 I got a part-time job at the News Leader and have been in the newspaper business ever since.
Although I have been fortunate to have experienced living and going to school in so many different states, I had to lose many friends I made along the way. I call Laurel County my home because I’ve been here the longest and have no plans to move again. I like living out in the country with my cats, garden, flowers, fruit trees, birds, George Cooney, and the other critters that come begging for food.