Book Excerpt: 'Coming Home to Myself'

Mom rushed over to help her up. We got the woman into our car, and rushed her to the hospital's emergency room. We stayed at the hospital with the woman, Caroline Hovey, waiting for her husband, a professor at Berea College, to arrive. Once Mr. Hovey got to the hospital and his wife was being treated, Mom introduced us, and explained that she was a nursing student at Eastern Kentucky, and that the three of us were in Berea looking for a place to live. Because of Mom's kind deed, the Hoveys called a professor at Berea College, Margaret Allen, and told her about a single mother with two children who needed an affordable place to live.

Margaret Allen called and said she wanted to meet with us at her home in Morrill, a forty-five-minute drive from Berea. Even though we'd lived along the river and seen poverty up close, we were unprepared for the sight when we turned off the main highway and on to the long gravel road leading to Mrs. Allen's. We passed old outbuildings and run-down trailers with farm animals running loose. Malnourished dogs with their ribs showing were tied up to old tires. There were junked cars on cinder blocks.

"Mom, are we lost?" I asked.

"No," Mom answered with a frown. "This is the road."

I looked at Ashley and shrugged. Surely a professor at Berea College didn't live here.

Then suddenly, the gravel road ended and there was a huge red gate. It was open, as if we were expected. So we entered the property and drove up the paved road. It was like a scene from a movie. There on a hill sat a lovely, cared-for house as different from what we'd just driven by as could be. Mrs. Allen came out and greeted us.

"Welcome to Chanticleer," she said with a big smile.

Her estate had two homes: Windswept, where she lived, and the house she called Chanticleer, named after one of her favorite children's stories. Mrs. Allen explained that she was a music teacher, and along with the two homes, she had cabins on the property, where students stayed each year for her music camps. Chanticleer was magical! It was completely furnished, with beautiful hardwood floors and hand-hooked rugs throughout. We each got our own bedroom, with a handmade quilt on every bed. Most of the furniture was antique, and all the furnishings seemed to match. In the kitchen, beautiful china filled the knotty pine cabinets. In the living room there was a Steinway piano beside the huge picture window overlooking the front porch. There were apple trees in the front yard, and berry bushes in back. When Mrs. Allen offered to rent Chanticleer to us for a hundred dollars a month, Mom could barely speak.

That summer we raised a garden and Mom taught Ashley and me how to can. Those are things I promise that I will make time to do with my own children. Chanticleer was where my lifelong love for animals began. We had kittens being born in the barn and homeless dogs wandering into our lives. I learned how to shear sheep, spin the yarn and weave tapestries on a loom. There was no television and no telephone. We relied entirely on our own creativity for entertainment. I loved to visit my best friend, Ramona Van Winkle, down the road. We'd go to the main road and sing Loretta Lynn songs at the top of our lungs to passing motorists. This was my first experience singing as a duo. I guess I was in training and didn't realize it!

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