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Uncle Jack Fultz’s Memories of Carter County: No place like home

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

When I was in college at Shawnee State in Portsmouth, Ohio, and shortly afterward, there was a running joke that the area was a “black hole” that sucked everyone back in. We watched friends finish school, pack up, leave for a job in another state or region, and a short while later turn around and come home.
Sometimes they had lost jobs, but often they were just homesick. No matter how much they insisted they couldn’t wait to leave, there was something about southern Ohio and northern Kentucky that called them home after a time.

I understand this draw intimately. During my first newspaper job outside the region, on the flat, fertile plains of northwest Ohio I found the landscape too foreign, the people too stand-offish. Without the hills and hollers I had grown up in, I felt lost. Without landmarks to find my way, I often ended up literally lost. While the people weren’t necessarily unfriendly, their method of speech was different. They noticed this and commented on it, often with a touch of condescending mockery to their tone. I remember editing a story about a poetry group and – missing the open mic and poetry community I’d left behind in Portsmouth – reaching out to them to inquire about meetings. They told me they weren’t accepting any new members at the moment, something that would have never occurred with the informal group of friends who organized readings in my college town. It’s also something I could never imagine from our own Carter County Poetry Society.

Then there were the open insults. One family, chiding me for not being able to locate their “farm on the hill” – more of a road cut that I could have peeked over than an actual hill – ended their teasing by making fun of my accent and lauding me for how quickly I learned to wear shoes.

I lasted less than a year in the job before I accepted an offer from my former editor to return home.
Josh Fultz seemed to be suffering from a similar homesickness when he wrote home to the Olive Hill Times in 1908 from Washington state. So did W.F. Fultz, who was running a Kansas paper around the same time. Items in the Times indicated he had left his job there and planned to either join his family in Washington or return home to Kentucky. Eventually Fultz bought an interest in the Times and returned home, coming in time to run a successor of the paper as the Herald.

Others had a better time of it outside Kentucky, like the writer from Oklahoma to the Herald in 1915. That man, F.E. Danner, was having an easier time in the “Wichita” (Ouachita) Mountains of Oklahoma, but this was largely because of the number of other Kentuckians he was encountering.

I have spent a great deal of time in the Ouachita Mountains, on both the Oklahoma and Arkansas side of the border, and the landscape, flora and fauna are remarkably similar to those of the Appalachians, though the Ouachitas, being a younger mountain chain, are somewhat more rugged. The main difference, though, is in the people. My longest stretch of time outside the region was spent in Austin

When I was in college at Shawnee State in Portsmouth, Ohio, and shortly afterward, there was a running joke that the area was a “black hole” that sucked everyone back in. We watched friends finish school, pack up, leave for a job in another state or region, and a short while later turn around and come home.
Sometimes they had lost jobs, but often they were just homesick. No matter how much they insisted they couldn’t wait to leave, there was something about southern Ohio and northern Kentucky that called them home after a time.

I understand this draw intimately. During my first newspaper job outside the region, on the flat, fertile plains of northwest Ohio I found the landscape too foreign, the people too stand-offish. Without the hills and hollers I had grown up in, I felt lost. Without landmarks to find my way, I often ended up literally lost. While the people weren’t necessarily unfriendly, their method of speech was different. They noticed this and commented on it, often with a touch of condescending mockery to their tone. I remember editing a story about a poetry group and – missing the open mic and poetry community I’d left behind in Portsmouth – reaching out to them to inquire about meetings. They told me they weren’t accepting any new members at the moment, something that would have never occurred with the informal group of friends who organized readings in my college town. It’s also something I could never imagine from our own Carter County Poetry Society.

Then there were the open insults. One family, chiding me for not being able to locate their “farm on the hill” – more of a road cut that I could have peeked over than an actual hill – ended their teasing by making fun of my accent and lauding me for how quickly I learned to wear shoes.

I lasted less than a year in the job before I accepted an offer from my former editor to return home.
Josh Fultz seemed to be suffering from a similar homesickness when he wrote home to the Olive Hill Times in 1908 from Washington state. So did W.F. Fultz, who was running a Kansas paper around the same time. Items in the Times indicated he had left his job there and planned to either join his family in Washington or return home to Kentucky. Eventually Fultz bought an interest in the Times and returned home, coming in time to run a successor of the paper as the Herald.

Others had a better time of it outside Kentucky, like the writer from Oklahoma to the Herald in 1915. That man, F.E. Danner, was having an easier time in the “Wichita” (Ouachita) Mountains of Oklahoma, but this was largely because of the number of other Kentuckians he was encountering.

I have spent a great deal of time in the Ouachita Mountains, on both the Oklahoma and Arkansas side of the border, and the landscape, flora and fauna are remarkably similar to those of the Appalachians, though the Ouachitas, being a younger mountain chain, are somewhat more rugged. The main difference, though, is in the people. My longest stretch of time outside the region was spent in Austin and Texas Hill Country. Though the landscape there was quite different, the people and culture were much closer to Kentucky than the geographically closer western Ohio. The tacos were better in Texas, and the biscuits and gravy were nearly as good, though still not quite up to Kentucky standards. Most importantly the people were friendlier. The clerk at the local grocery remembered your face and said hello. Your neighbors waved and asked about your day. When I eventually visited the Alamo, and saw the long list of Kentuckian names among those lost there, I began to understand why.

Danner’s letter backs up what I had already figured out about eastern Oklahoma and Texas. Still, much as I enjoyed my time there, the magnetic pull of Kentucky eventually drew me home too, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Like the Fultz boys, for me, there is simply no place – no matter how lovely or prosperous – quite like home.

Editor’s Note: This is the 27th in a series of articles drawn from the historical newspaper clippings and documents in the scrapbooks of Jack Fultz. We thank Sally James of Sally’s Flowers in Olive Hill for sharing her uncle’s collected clippings with us and the community. – Jeremy D. Wells, editor, Carter County Times

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