Book Excerpt: 'Coming Home to Myself'

Our house was so far off the beaten path that there were days that we never saw a single soul or made it into a town. We seldom ate in restaurants or went to movies. But Dad was happier than I'd ever seen him, and it made me happy just to see him content. He'd run a trot fishing line across the river and bait twenty or more hooks to catch fish. At night Ashley and I swam out to check them. He'd watch as we'd swing from vines into the river. We'd take bars of soap and go out in the huge front yard that filled with water in places during a thunderstorm and take baths. Sometimes we'd play in the rain. I find myself going out into the rain with my children, just to feel that same joy from such a wonderful time in my life.

There was something about living at Camp Wig that was defining for me. As harsh as the conditions were at times, it was also peaceful. We had very little, but we relied on one another. It felt natural for me to be there. The lifestyle was simple and the people were real. We had lots of gatherings with neighbors where people played musical instruments and sang. Dad loved the Stones, Warren Zevon and Frank Zappa, so this was where I developed a real passion for rock 'n' roll. I also discovered my first "(s)hero," Joni Mitchell. Mom, Dad, Ashley and I were together. And we were family.

We were happy until an unusually wet season upped the ante for living along the river. Camp Wig flooded and kept right on flooding until almost all of our belongings were ruined. Mamaw and Papaw Ciminella were never happy about us living along the river anyway. After the worst of the floods, they drove out often to try and convince Dad that it was no place to raise children. By that time, Mom and Dad agreed.

Dad finally moved back to town, and Ashley and I stayed with him until we finished school. Mom – in true Judd fashion – grew restless, packed up and went searching for a new adventure. She had moved to a little one-room bungalow in nearby Berea, Kentucky. The town is home to Berea College, where low income students can work their way through school using their talents doing various jobs in the community. The entire area reflects an artisan spirit, with homage paid to its Appalachian roots. Berea is filled with arts and crafts stores and classes everywhere, as well as some of the most beautiful handiwork in America. There is a hotel called Boone Tavern that is run by students in the heart of the town. When Ashley and I were with Mom, and Mamaw and Papaw Ciminella came to visit, they stayed at Boone Tavern and took us to eat in the restaurant.

The day our lives changed – at least for a while – started out with another of those hard Kentucky rains. Ashley and I were in Berea visiting Mom, and we were driving home from the grocery store in the pouring rain. Mom was having a difficult time seeing the road, when she suddenly slammed on the brakes. Despite the downpour, we could see that an elderly woman had slipped off of the curb, and fallen into the street.

"We almost hit that woman!" Mom shouted as she jumped from the car.

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