By Joseph G. Anthony
“The past is a foreign country; they did things differently there,” says the narrator in the 1970 movie, The Go-Between.
I certainly hope so.
I wonder if it’s a particularly American trait that the past so quickly becomes first a rumor and then something so dead we view it with the same amazement present-day Romans must feel when they try to extend their subway only to discover yet another lost civilization. But I am not speaking of ancient cities. I’m talking of the lifetime memories of many of our fellow Kentuckians.
I say this because I’ve been researching and writing a novel—Wanted: Good Family—timed mostly in 1948 with long visits to the 1920s. It’s set in Fayette, Scott, and Estill Counties. Three of my narrators are African-American, or—as was the still-respectable and self-applied appellation—colored. My other three narrators are white. My white narrators don’t have an easy time of it: being poor and white in the first half of the century in Kentucky wasn’t, as Bette Davis said of old age, for sissies. But being poor and colored in Kentucky…well, if they had been Hindu instead of Baptists, they might have wondered just what the hell they had done in those past lives to be faced with so many challenges: spiritual, emotional, physical.