You drive east from Lexington - not on the interstate, but on the old Kentucky state highways and smaller county roads - on past Stanton and Hazard and Pikeville, on past the tiny towns and the even smaller places that used to be tiny towns before the mines closed or the new roads bypassed them or maybe just the ones where all the younger people left and the older ones finally died. You drive on into the true rural part of the state, into the mountains with their hidden turns and sharp ridge lines, their forested slopes and secret hollows. You pass the ruins of old farms and occasionally a newer place bought by some city folk who thought they would like to live out here in the middle of nowhere. At least, until they actually did live here. You see a lot of things that you would never see if you stayed on the big roads. Some of them make you feel happy. Some of them make you feel sad. And some of them - a very few - make you feel something you can never really describe.
Don Carson pulled off I-64 somewhere east of Lexington and turned into a gas station. He got out, removed the gas cap and began to pump the fuel into his tank. While it was filling he looked around. This seemed as good a place as any to leave the big highway and start off on the smaller roads. He glanced inside the little Ford, checking that his camera was on the passenger seat, ready for immediate use.
Don was a finance officer for a small firm in Louisville. A very good finance officer. But for this week he was on vacation. It was a clear, hot August day and he had exchanged his suit for an open neck shirt and jeans and planned to spend a few days traveling through the eastern part of the state pursuing his hobby of photography. In reality it was more than a hobby. A passion, actually. He had made these trips before, capturing photos of interesting things in the rural back country of the state. He had even won a couple of awards for his work.
In general, Don liked to photograph still objects. Sometimes just landscapes, but most often with some old man-made works included. He had one shot he had taken of a house located back into the edge of the mountains. It was obvious the place had not been occupied in a number of years, the paint already gone or at least peeling. It once must have been a nice house. Frame construction, two floors, a wide porch both front and back. Now it stood alone and forlorn, long grass and weeds filling the yard, a rusting swing set in the back. One swing hung on its rusty chains, ready for use but the other hung from a single support, tilted onto the ground. A large barn was visible, its loft door open to the elements, its red paint faded along with the "Mail Pouch Tobacco" sign painted on its side. Looking at the scene, one could almost see the children playing on the swings and hear their excited laughter. Now only the ghost of their image remained and one was left wondering what had happened. Did they just grow up and move away? Did some tragedy forever alter their life? It was impossible to tell, but the house still stood as silent testimonial to the earlier times.
Occasionally he would include people in the photo. A year ago he had been driving back in the hills on a Sunday afternoon in July. As he rounded a bend in the road he suddenly saw another typical rural house. This time it was in fairly good repair and there were people in the side yard. A couple and their three children: two boys and a girl. The oldest, a boy, was perhaps ten or eleven, but what caught his attention was that they were making homemade ice cream with an old fashion hand crank freezer. The three children - even the small girl who could have been no more than five or six - were taking turns sitting on the tub and turning the crank. It looked like a scene from fifty or more years ago. Don stopped, and after talking with the parents for a few minutes, got permission to take a few pictures. They asked if they could see them or maybe even buy a copy and he said he'd definitely let them know. When he had processed and printed the photos, he made a nice 11 x 14 of the best one and framed it and sent it to the family along with smaller copies of the others. He got back a very nice letter thanking him. He thought this was probably the only non-snap shot picture the family had ever owned. The whole thing had given him a very good feeling. The shot he had considered the best won him an award which now hung on his wall at home.
But perhaps his favorite photo had no people in it at all, On a small county road outside a nearly abandoned town was an old drive-in theater. It was clear it had not been used in years. There were a few small holes at one side of the screen, grass grew in clumps among the abandoned speaker posts and the concrete block refreshment stand presented a couple of cracked windows. Such old drive-ins were not uncommon throughout this part of the state but what made this one unique was what was located just behind it. Here was an auto salvage business - a junk yard - with the shells of old cars. The business had evidently run out of storage room and since the drive-in was not in use, had moved some of their vehicles into the back row of the theater. In a line were a half dozen cars, all of 1950s to 1960s vintage, lined up as though they were watching the movie. Don had looked at this row of cars and could imagine a family in the '59 Ford, a couple in the '53 Chevy, and, in the '60 Dodge, he was sure there would be two teenage couples, neither watching the movie. Probably the ones in the back seat wouldn't even be visible. He smiled to himself and positioned his camera behind the row of cars with the refreshment stand and the screen visible beyond them.
He had a large black and white print of this one hanging on his wall. Every time he looked at it he could see the ghosts of the people inside the cars and to him the cars themselves no longer looked like junkers, but rather as they had been.
Beside photography, Don had an interest in older cars. He never knew just where he got his passion for photography but he was pretty sure where his interest in older cars had originated. Don had an uncle and aunt - Fred and Mary. Fred was his father's brother, ten years older than his dad and thirty-five years older than Don himself. His father often said that if anyone collected wool from his family, they would only get black from Fred. Fred and Mary weren't really black sheep, but they were a little more wild than the rest of the family. From about the time he was fifteen, Don had found them a fantastic source of stories of a type that would appeal to a teenage boy.
His favorites were about Fred's old Chevy and his and Mary's adventures with it. Fred had bought a '57 Chevy Bel Air his senior year in high school which was 1962. It had needed a lot of work but Fred did most of it himself and by the time he graduated the big 283 V-8 engine was running perfectly and he had repaired and repainted the body so it looked almost new. He and Mary had been going together for over a year when they graduated and they decided to celebrate by taking a trip out west in the Chevy. They spent six weeks, traveling the western states and parks, camping or even sometimes just sleeping in the car.
When Don had heard this story the first time he had been nearly seventeen. Fred and Mary were both fifty-one at that time but both, especially Mary, looked much younger and were still very active. When they began telling about their trip, Mary had pulled out a scrapbook with pictures. Looking at her photo, Don decided she must have looked fantastic at eighteen. She was tall, about five-eight, with blonde hair which hung down to the middle of her back. Her eyes were still a deep blue and in almost all of the photos she was wearing either a skirt which came only to mid thigh or some of the shortest shorts Don had ever seen. Her legs and ass were everything a teenage boy could imagine - or dream of.
From the stories his aunt and uncle told about their trip he guessed that they shared more than camp chores. He felt sure they had only used one sleeping bag although they never said so directly. Still, some of the tales they told him made it pretty clear that it wasn't a platonic relationship. After the trip they had gotten married and, from what he could see, were still as interested in each other - both romantically and physically - as they must have been at eighteen.
They told him other stories, many involving the '57 Chevy. This car had become an automotive icon. The distinctive tail fins, the chrome. Not to mention it had the first of the big block V-8 engines Chevrolet had put in an auto. Fred had the largest, the 283 cubic inch, and with the light weight car, it provided unparalleled acceleration. While Fred didn't actually compete in drag racing, he was quick to point out the '57 Chevy quickly took most of the records, although often they were later refitted for racing with the bigger 409 or other large V-8 engines.
Because of their stories - or for whatever other reason - Don had developed a keen interest in older cars. In high school he was sort of a nerd, serious in his studies and not really into much in the way of outside activities, so his interest in old autos was more academic than hands-on. When he decided on a career in finance and went to college, it was much the same. He did date but never found the right girl, then or after, and thus remained single. Often he got to feeling that maybe he had missed the excitement he should have had when he was eighteen or twenty, but felt it was now too late to recapture it.
.... There is more of this story ...