A Roda native recently returned home to see her daughter’s play, set in the coal camp, and to roam the area recapturing memories and seeking new ones.
Playwright Amelia Townsend, who grew up in Big Stone Gap and now lives several hours to the north, explained that her mother is Roda native Ruby Hood Blancet.
The recent trip had dual purposes, according to Townsend: Introducing her sister, her sister’s daughter and granddaughter to the place where Blancet grew up, and to see Townsend’s play “Haint So.”
The play premiered on Memorial Day weekend at the Gathering in the Gap Music Festival, “then we did a performance fund raiser for the Lyric Theatre in St. Paul and closed out the weekend with a performance at Appalachia Cultural Arts Center,” Townsend wrote.
Following is what Blancet herself wrote about the visit:
My daughter Amelia and I made a quick run through the Gap and St. Paul recently. To Amelia, it was work related. To me, it was a wonderful “mini-vacation.”
We were met in St. Paul by Mr. Frank Kilgore and his granddaughter, Kennedy and her father, Jason, who treated us to a delicious lunch at the Western Front Hotel. It’s a place so well-kept and well managed. You will not believe the lovely décor. It was beyond great.
After lunch, Mr. Frank Kilgore and Kennedy took us to see some of God’s most beautiful country, known as Sugar Hill. While Mr. Kilgore and Amelia discussed the history of the property, Kennedy practiced for her driving permit by driving the pick-up around the grass on the property. Granny (that’s me) and the Kilgore dogs had a wonderful time looking at the beauty of Sugar Hill.
This will be the setting for a play Amelia is writing and directing for Shoestring Theatre Company, which produces original stories about our beloved mountains. The story is about an 18th century French nobleman, who bought this land, sight unseen and held hopes of creating a French colony. The play will premiere next year in St. Paul and Big Stone Gap.
We finished our day at the Country Cabin in Norton. If you haven’t been, you need to go. There’s dancing a plenty to some top of the line music. Everyone is friendly and makes you feel right at home.
I had never been to St. Paul and now it will never leave me.
Growing up on Slabtown Hill seemed so normal because everyone around me lived about the same. Some had more. Some had less. Being the oldest of seven meant being my mama’s right arm. It was very restricting and demanding. It took several years and being a mama to teach me that life isn’t easy regardless of where you are, especially for parents.
That’s when you appreciate your lessons of “do, make do or do without.” Believe it or not, you can still have a happy life. Sometimes I’d like to go back in time to enjoy simple games such as jack rocks and jump rope. Then I’d take a bath in a number 3 tub and put on my made-from-feed-sack pajamas. Then I’d sit around my mother’s knees while enjoying a pan of cornbread covered in refrigerated milk.
Going back home now brings back these memories and for some reason, they seem much better than when we lived them. I now know those were the “good old days.”
These are just things that go through my mind when I think of home and how it was perceived at the time. So much love came through our mother’s hands.