Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Tom Chaney No. 251: a review of Generations

Of Writers and Their Books, No. 251: 25 April 2010, a review of a John Edgerton's Kentucky BookGenerations
The next earlier Tom Chaney column, an essay on the complexities of life on the time change frontier: And finally Spring

By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney

Scotching the Fast Fading Past

Several good things are beginning to happen in these parts as a result of Horse Cave's being selected as a cultural arts city with a genuine downtown cultural district.

One of the most promising is a reawakening of an interest in oral history.

Some years ago there was a push to record black oral history in the town. Some of the interviewers got to a few members of the black community and recorded the stories of folks who are fast disappearing.

We have got to remember the past -- not that we want to live in it or turn back the clock -- but to see how we got to where we are now. It is the nature of the human animal to forget. Folks have brought hundreds of photographs to the Bookstore since we have been displaying them on the wall. I suspect that far more than half have no accompanying identification. Who is pictured, when, and where are lost.

Old people are dying or, as is often now the case, living beyond memory's bright image.

My hope is that as we do oral history we stop or at least hinder the disappearance of life stories in the rearview mirror of the past. The really fine oral historians have shown us a way to stem the loss of community and family memory.

Going beyond the gathering of stories, the best of these oral historians have woven their work into compelling narratives -- helping the dead to speak.

In the past couple of weeks a copy of Generations: An American Family by John Egerton [University Press of Kentucky, 1983] made its way into the store and onto my bedside reading table.

I've been partial to Egerton's work ever since I first read Generations back in the late 1980's. In the early days of the Bookstore the author was wont to meander in from time to time. I cemented our friendship with an occasional slathering of butterscotch meringue pie.

In the years around the bicentennial of the nation, John Egerton looked for and found a family whose memory began as the republic began and was still vibrant in its current patriarch and whose descendants will tumble down through most of its third century.

"The families whose successive unions had led to the marriage of Curtis Burnam Ledford and Addie King in Harlan County, Kentucky, in 1903 had followed the westward route of countless thousands of immigrants and pioneers." In a century they had come from England to the "deep and distant hollows of Harlan County."

There they put down four generations of roots as the past faded through loss of records, fading pictures, and time's slow malediction.

Nothing remained except the stories. And, even after they moved to Garrard County, Burnam and Addie Ledford kept the stories of "home" in Harlan -- three quarters of a century later when "home" to four later generations was Garrard County.

Now comes John Egerton to listen to the stories and to weave a tale encompassing at least eight generations of the Ledford clan. The tale is carefully placed into the mouths of Burnam and Addie Ledford as true as a superior wordsmith with a keen ear can make it.

And the tale can live in its broad scope for the more than a hundred children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and more to come.

The care with which Egerton records information and weaves a tale is an excellent example of how we can treat our stories.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2010-04-25 01:59:37
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.