Jen Jeffrey: Buried Roots – Part One

Monday, December 23, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

Getting in my Jeep and setting my GPS for Kentucky last week was exciting. Not only was I going to have a mini-vacation, but I was going to see my childhood friend who I previously nick-named Deep in a couple of stories. ‘Deep’ is actually his middle name because it was his mother’s maiden name. But after the time we have taken getting reacquainted in over 200 pages of letters and now visiting; I see that Jason is now a big part of my life.

The direction to my birthplace of Murray was different than where I later grew up, in Lexington and Frankfort. I would head towards Nashville taking I-24. The last time I had been to Murray was at my Daddy’s funeral in 1990. I never thought I would have a reason to go back as my family had moved away. When Jason and I talked of my visit, he did something that nobody has ever done for me. He began planning our days of where he would take me that I might remember and he reached that little girl inside. He knew what would be special to me and he put forth effort to make it happen.

It wasn’t hard, with our parents being best friends, to be able to find out the things he needed to find out from his parents. Where my dad was buried, where my house was that I grew up in or where my grandparents’ store was. Things of the past that may have changed would still bring the nostalgia of my little girl days and Jason made the effort to bring it back for me.

I don’t think it is an accident that Kentucky was put in my path this fall when I said goodbye to my teenage home where I lived with daddy during the 80s. When my sister was moving out of that house in Frankfort to her new home in Louisville, my kids helped me get some furniture that was my grandfather’s. That trip brought back memories of Kentucky and stirred in me a longing for my roots.

To return to where I was born in Kentucky a few months later was tugging at my heart in a way that I was not expecting. I didn’t realize that I had a need to have roots in my life or… that romance was around the corner. For the two to intertwine has been simply beautiful. 

As I headed for Western Kentucky, I passed through busy Nashville traveling nine miles an hour. Though I had my GPS and knowing that Jason was a phone call away, it still unnerved me getting through that tense section of my trip. Once I got to Clarksville, my grip on the steering wheel loosened when God winked at me. Above the road as I looked in the sky was a cloud in the shape of Kentucky. That alone brought a tear to my eye because God is even in the little things.

I had been listening to a CD from the local Chattanooga band “As Isaac”. The song “Highway” was playing with the words “I am headed for my home…” and God winked again when I looked to the left and saw a car with a license plate that read “022-KYJ”. Just then I spoke out loud to God, “Thank you for taking me home”. Seeing Jason was an exciting thing to look forward to, but going home to my roots and to see the part of Kentucky where “Jennifer Jeffrey” began gave me such a secure feeling that I had forgotten.

While growing up and experiencing the pain of my parents’ divorce, leaving home, experiencing divorce in my own life; I found my heart crying out to God many times, “I just want to go home.” I have written about this before and, though I never understood my heart cry in those moments of despair whether ‘home’ was heaven or just somewhere I would one day belong, it was always a deep welling plea that I entrusted to God.

The moment of seeing the cloud in the shape of Kentucky and listening to the words of that song talk about ‘home’ while seeing my special number 22 with KY following, it just felt as if God was swooping down and giving me a great big ol’ bear hug!

The trip barely took four hours and was an easy drive. As I pulled onto Jason’s road and saw the farms and the vast open fields, it was just so homey. I came to his drive and stopped. I got my camera out and turned the recorder on as I drove the rest of the way up to his house where he was waiting on the porch for me. Still in his attire from his work day, he couldn’t have looked more handsome. I set the camera on the dash still recording and I walked up to him and we hugged. 

After about three minutes of letting all of our letters catch up with seeing each other physically, I got back in my car and pulled in over to the side where the garage is and where I would meet his ‘kids’ who stay in the garage. Spec and Sweetie are retired racing Greyhounds and the most loving animals! At first Sweetie was hyper and it was cute seeing her skinny legs with so much spring trying to greet me face to face as she hopped up and down.

Spec just wanted to sniff me. He had a calmer manner about him, but both dogs were well behaved and did exactly as Jason asked. The kids stayed in the garage and then Jason introduced me to the other occupants of the house. Cats.

I am not much of a cat person, but I don’t hate them. When I tried to have a fur-ball in my apartment a year ago, Edward was a loving cat, but all his hair made my eyes itchy and watery. Jason’s two cats, Rusty and Pepper, stay in ‘the cat room’. It looks like what may be a sunroom, but it is just for the cats to roam and play and the rest of the house does not have cat hair all over the place – so I never knew they were there unless we played with them. Pepper looked just like Edward and he was just as loving. After I had pet the cats, we closed the door and brought my luggage to the room where I would stay. Jason showed me where everything was and it was very comfortable.

The first day was spent talking about things we barely remembered as kids as we tried to jog each other’s memory. Jason asked me what all I remembered about Murray and I told him about going to my “Mama Grace and Daddy Bill’s” house (my paternal grandparents). I told him about the huge water tower behind their house on Farmer Avenue that my sister and I tried to climb many times. I told him about going to their store called “Jeffrey’s Clothing” on Main Street and playing hide and seek in the dressing rooms.

It was a dream of my grandfather’s that my sisters and I would one day run a store called “The Four Sisters”. Thoughts of ever living in Murray again and possibly running my own store delighted me; by bringing Jeffrey’s back or coming up with something else just gave me an ‘anything is possible’ feeling.

Jason called his mother, Peggy, asking her where the house was that I lived in when his mom and my mom played bridge together. He found out all the things he needed to in order to take me to these places that were a part of my life.

The next day when I woke up, I passed a window and watched the sunrise across the frosty ground and I just had to be a part of the crisp Kentucky air on the farm. I told Jason that I wanted to get out with the dogs and play. We went out back where there was plenty of land for them to run inside the beautiful, white wooden fences that Kentucky is known for.

To watch a Greyhound run is amazing. Their long legs full of strength are so graceful when they run. They are very elegant dogs. Jason had their coats on them and, when Sweetie would come up to me, I ran my hands under her coat to massage her like I would Smokey. Massaging a Greyhound doesn’t take half the time that it takes to massage a horse, but it was just as pleasurable for Sweetie and she took to me. Spec didn’t seem to want to play much - I think he liked the warm bed in the garage the best. As I looked out of the pastures and fields surrounding the property, it brought tears to my eyes as I took Kentucky back into my heart.

After showering, Jason and I headed into Murray (his farm is outside of Murray) and went to his office at his insurance company to meet everyone there. Mama had told me that she also used to play bridge with Jason’s insurance partner’s mother Betty Jo. John Purdom was a tall man but with a kind, gentle spirit. I could see how his pairing with Jason would make a successful firm at the respected Murray Insurance Agency in which Jason’s father retired from.

The staff was so welcoming and friendly as Jason introduced me and then we left to drive by my grandparents’ house.

When we get older, it seems that everything shrinks. I remembered everything bigger than what it actually was through my adult eyes, but the water tower behind the house was still pretty big. I took a few photos as I heard my grandparents’ voices echoing from the rooms in my mind’s eye.

I spent many Christmases at that house and saw every stitch of furniture, every knick-knack on the cherry and marble tables throughout their house. I saw the toy closet that held my daddy’s toys and the train set in the back den. Still fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday, I saw the old television that had music playing as a slew of pocket watches with different times from all over the world slowly span across the screen - all this in a matter of minutes as we passed and I took pictures from Jason’s truck.

Close by, we drove down the road where my family lived when I was born on Sunset Boulevard. I didn’t remember it much, but I remembered the carport and the basketball goal. Then we drove down a few more roads and came to Jason’s childhood home where Peggy still lived.

I recognized their double door entry with rust-colored doors that always reminded me of the Brady Bunch house. Inside, Jason called to his momma (that’s how Jason spells mama) and Peggy welcomed me with a sweet Kentucky hug saying, “Hi Honey!” She looked almost the same except for the color of her hair. We talked with her for a while and Jason showed me pictures of him and his brother Robert at ages that I would remember them. Peggy’s boyfriend Nelson emerged as we were leaving, but he gave me that same welcoming hug.

In our talks up until my visit, Jason and I found that he insured one of my family members who still lived in Kentucky. On Mama’s side (the Mortons) she was the youngest of her family and everyone had either passed away or nieces and nephews had moved away. But a cousin of mine who was still living there (who I hadn’t seen since I was a little girl) owned a trucking company nearby where Jason was taking me around. Jason asked me if I wanted to stop and see if my cousin Rob was on the site. “Sure!” I had no idea if Rob would remember me or not, but family is family and it would be good to surprise him…

To be continued… stay tuned.

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