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Excerpt from The Bible Belt Almanac

Sending Apple Pies to Alaska: The Spiritual Life of Hannah Hamilton Adams

by Catherine A. Brereton

Snake Handling

Shirley Terry leaned in to her daughter, and gestured toward the living room. “Ask her about going to that snake handling church,” she said, “go on and ask her.”

Kopana finished rinsing the stack of dirty plates in the sink, washing the remnants of their Thanksgiving dinner away, the silverware clattering under the spray of hot water. In the other room, Hannah Hamilton Adams, Shirley’s mother and Kopana’s grandmother, reclined in her chair, hands clasped across a belly full of turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie. Always conscious of her weight, she’d eaten her Thanksgiving dinner from a small dessert plate, hoping no one noticed when she filled it for a second and then a third time.

Kopana perched on the arm of the sofa. “Mamaw?” she said, drawing her grandmother’s attention. “Mamaw, I heard you went to that snake handling church down in Camargo? What did you think about it?”

Hannah raised her head, her long silvery hair swept into a high Pentecostal bun. Her spectacles caught the light, reflecting prisms around the room. She crossed her ankles neatly at the base of the recliner, joined her hands tidily in her lap.

“Well, now,” she said, in a low, considered voice, “now you know I don’t like telling people what to believe, but I don’t think that’s what the Lord meant.” Hannah drew her words out carefully, her inflection giving her Lord’s name its rightful emphasis.

“I mean, our bodies are temples, and we’re supposed to take care of ourselves and not poison them and take up serpents like that, you know. But, now, I don’t want to tell people what to believe.”

She never went back. I think that she wasn’t aware that it was that kind of Pentecostal church when she agreed. They were having a revival, is how she ended up going, and they took a van full of people from our church to that snake handling church, and I don’t think she knew what she was in for. In fact I’m not sure any of them knew what they were in for because the Pentecostal church in the photograph is not that kind of church. But they are so much more relaxed now than they were than when I was a child fifty years ago. I remember when I was eight years old I pierced my ears and she ran speaking in tongues through the house because I was going to hell.

The church that Kopana now refers to—“our church”—is the Glenn Avenue Church of God in West Liberty, Kentucky, of which Hannah Ann Hamilton Adams was a founding member. It would be her spiritual home for more than sixty years. The photograph that Kopana refers to is currently hanging in the First Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, as part of her “Sacred Spaces” exhibit. It’s part of a triptych, three photographs, the first of the church, the second of Hannah on her ninety-eighth birthday, and the third showing Hannah’s casket on the day of her visitation.

Hannah Hamilton Adams’ life was not extraordinary by contemporary standards. She lived a simple, quiet life in a small town in eastern Kentucky; she loved her family, and dedicated her life to her Lord and her church. Yet her life was extraordinary in ways that are unimaginable to a modern world. In her eulogy, Kopana describes how Hannah “never saw the ocean, but she rode an escalator once, and lived through two world wars, The Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan. She was born before women had the right to vote. She went from riding a mule fifteen miles to camp meetings to watching forty years of the space shuttle program that ended the same week she died.” Hannah Hamilton Adams was born before women were granted the right to vote, and lived to see the first black President of the United States.

Ninety-Eight

Hannah insists that Shirley cut her hair; she’s ninety-eight today, the family is coming in, and a simple “do” won’t do. She’s sitting in her usual chair—the deep red recliner to the right of the door. Her walker waits in front of her, the carrying basket filled with all manner of essential paraphernalia. There’s a small cross above her head, hanging from a hook on the doorframe, and another, larger cross, pinned to the wall. To the right of that cross, an embroidered sampler: “Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control.” On the other side of the doorway, a large black and white poster of a rock band, incongruous with the largely spiritual décor, but the band is Stealin’ Horses, and the drummer is Kopana, her granddaughter.

Hannah is wearing a pink patterned housecoat wrapped loosely about her slight form. Beneath that, a paler pink dress, with a discreet lace trim at the neck, and delicate buttoned cuffs. She has white ankle socks on her shoeless feet. Shirley finishes her hair with a black elastic headband that holds the white strands back from her face. Hannah’s hair is too fine now, and will no longer hold in the Pentecostal buns that she wore for so many years. Instead, her snowy, soft hair brushes at her collar, an ethereal cloud, halo-like, around her head.  

She needs oxygen these days; two slender tubes in her nostrils deliver her a constant supply. Kopana brings her a celebratory cupcake from Caramanda’s, an expensive cupcake shop in Lexington, and when Hannah tries to take a bite, the high pile of frosting catches on the oxygen tubes, leaving a smear of sweet across her upper lip, on the top of her nose. She laughs, and Kopana captures the moment on camera, close up, the lens detailing Hannah’s translucent skin, preserving every fine line, every crevice that age has left on her face.

When the family sings “Happy Birthday” to her, Hannah beams, despite the fact that she can’t hear the words. She knows to smile from the smiles on their faces, from the love in their eyes. When she recognizes Kopana among the gathering, she clasps her hands together in a gesture of childlike glee.

By about the time she hit maybe eighty-nine or ninety, she had really begun to slow down. Mentally she was still fine, but ninety years old, you know? She was slowing down. And as she was slowing down, her brothers and sisters were dying. She was one of fifteen, and her younger siblings were dying. She was outliving them all.

On September 12, 1912, in Mine Fork, Morgan County, Kentucky, Hannah Ann Hamilton was born to John Ed and Sarah Ellen Cantrell Hamilton. She was the third daughter of fifteen siblings. Just a few weeks after her ninety-eighth birthday her daughters, Shirley and Janet, made the reluctant decision to move Hannah from her West Liberty home to a rest home in nearby Campton, Kentucky.

Increasingly frail, Hannah had fallen several times and her daughters—aging themselves—were unable to care for her fully. On more than one occasion, they had to call paramedics to help them lift Hannah from the floor. They could only call 911 so many times; having Hannah moved to a rest home would be their only option. 

Salvation

She didn’t ever, wouldn’t ever, talk about it.

“They just died,” she said, with a quiet force, whenever she was asked. “They just died.”    

Take Glenn Avenue out of West Liberty, and head east on route 172. About five miles along, route 172 crosses Elk Fork, and clings to the winding waterway until Elk Fork becomes Williams Creek, and Williams Creek becomes Coffee Creek. You’ll drive through Dingus, a one road town, these days without even a post office, and eventually, about thirty miles out of West Liberty, you’ll come to Ophir, Kentucky. There’s not a lot at Ophir—a whole lot of forest and a smattering of houses, not half-a-dozen, scattered along Long Branch Road. Not even enough to call a community. But there is a cemetery, and at that cemetery you’ll find their graves.

Lloyd Junior and John Edward, Hannah’s sons, died in their infancies. Lloyd Junior was stillborn; John Edward lived for two days. His death certificate gives the cause of death as “bleeding from the mouth.” Hannah refused to talk about them, and it’s unclear whether she knew how or why they died. Every question about the boys was met with the same response: They just died; they just died. In her obituary, only their first names are mentioned. Their father was not Orville Adams, the man Hannah married in 1935. Orville Adams was her second husband. Lloyd Junior and John Edward’s father was Hannah’s first husband, Simon Smith, a young boy whom she divorced—for reasons unknown—not long after she lost her second son. Her marriage to Simon is one of those family secrets that everyone assumes everyone else knows, but no one ever speaks of.

She was nineteen when she married so, 1930? The boys would have been around in the early ’30s. It would have been the Depression, the Depression era, way way up in the mountains. To a young mother. and a young father, from what I understand. And back then, people just died. And they didn’t know why they died. And even if she knew why they died, she wasn’t telling me! The death certificates don’t really say what happened. Just that they just died. She never visited the graves. In all those years. She buried them and that was it.

Hannah’s second husband, Orville “Bodine” Adams, was an alcoholic and a troubled man. He’d had a difficult childhood—his own father had treated him badly as a child, and he’d had to bear responsibility for his younger siblings when he was too young for such a weight. When sober, he was a funny, talented, and generous man. He played the guitar and the banjo, and adored his family. But when he’d been drinking, he became mean. He held a knife to Hannah’s throat, on more than one occasion; he beat her and called her names while their two daughters listened from another room. Shirley ran from him, once. Bodine Adams was wielding a gun, furious about something or other, and even though Shirley was the apple of his eye, on this particular day she was also the target of both his ire and his bullets. Running away, fearful for her life, Shirley slipped, fell into a ditch. As she hit the ground, she felt his bullet graze the top of her head.

The church became Hannah’s salvation. Not just in a spiritual sense, Kopana recalls, but in her everyday life. When she needed solace and safety from her chaotic and violent home, Hannah found it in her church. She protected herself with an “old-time,” uncompromising religion. With so few boundaries honored in her domestic life, the clear, bright lines between good and evil laid out by the Pentecostal church offered her safety, security, and a faith in something greater than herself, stronger than her abusive husband. The church gave Hannah the hope that one day, all that she endured would be put right by her Lord.

Supplication

Before she prays, she sings. Today, before she prays, she sings a song that speaks, she says, of her life before she became a Christian.

“This just reminds me of the condition I was in,” she says, with a soft voice “I tell you it is so wonderful to have Jesus lift you out of that dark despair when you live in sin.”

Her voice, when she sings, is different: powerful, almost strident. She sings from her belly, not her throat, her whole body reverberating with the drawn-out notes. There is no hurry to her homage; she has dedicated her life to her Lord and this time of worship is the purpose of her day. There’s a slight waver in her voice when she reaches the higher notes, but the strength of her song does not falter. She remembers every word to every hymn.

When she sings, she stands, shoulders back, arms bent at the elbow, chin lifted to the sky, eyes closed. Sometimes, her hands move with the music; sometimes she lifts a hand above her head. Sometimes, it is both hands, arms open, palms facing upwards, welcoming the benediction of her Lord.

When she sings today, of being lifted from the deep mire of sin, she breathes thankfulness into every word. She is, at once, alive and vibrant, peaceful and meditative, and when she lets the final note ebb into silence, she falls to her knees and begins to pray.

“Now upon my bound knees on this side of eternity, I thank you Lord for the beautiful morning that you have granted us, for the privilege to be able to come down upon our bound knees and seek, and grow closer to you.

“Lord, I ask you this morning to move in my life, and help me Lord; I reach out to you, and I lean upon your grace in my weakness, and I thank you Lord for another day and another night of rest and of your watch and care.

“I have so many things, Jesus, to be thankful for this morning. This morning my heart takes on asking you, Lord, to give your touch today to every heart and every life where it is needed. You see the need, Lord, the lost people around the world, that once more this morning are so unconcerned and so mixed up, Lord, with the things that are in their minds so warped and disturbed, Lord, and seeking rest and finding none.”

As she prays, her voice cracks with distress, with a desperate care for those who have not found her Lord. The calm timbre is replaced with a higher pitch as she thinks of those not yet saved.

“Help them realize this morning, Lord Jesus, that the only innocence they can have is in Christ. Jesus, in these troubled days and these times, Lord, the world is in such great turmoil. God, help them this morning, I pray, to reach out to you and to hold on to you; you hold the answer to their every need. Let the Holy Spirit this morning give them a great visitation, dear God, upon their lives and their souls.”

Tears form behind her closed eyes, spilling from the corners onto her pale skin. She lifts her hands, her voice taking on an almost frantic edge.

“Lord, let them reach out to you, and they’ll cry out to you and call upon you and seek you where you may be found and know that you’re near. Jesus, help us today to believe that you are there. My loved ones don’t know you this morning, and are unconcerned about you.

“And Lord, I thank you this morning for how you have watched over, you’ve cared for, and you’ve kept us through these years of life. Oh, I thank you Lord, for the many prayers that you have answered and the many times, Lord, that you’ve met needs in my life. Only you, Lord, could have done.

“Oh, I have so much this morning, Lord, to praise and to thank you for. Jesus, I just want to grow closer to you; I want to serve you in a closer and better way. I want to be ready, Lord, when you come or you call.”

Now, her words are tumbling, unbroken, from her lips, save for the slight, brief gasps for breath.

“Surely, Jesus, you’re going to make your return soon. Oh, Lord, let us stay covered by that precious blood that you shed on the cross at Calvary for us. Lord Jesus, it covers our sins today, all of our sins. This morning, I love you, I want you to have first place in my life. I want you to live, to rule and reign in my life, Lord Jesus. Oh, God, this morning you see my precious loved ones. I have such a host of nieces and nephews, Lord. God, ruin the world for any that don’t know you. Jesus, touch them, I pray. Help them learn to yield their eyes to you; don’t let any of them be lost, Lord, save them! Oh, God, wherever they might be this morning I know that you can let the Holy Spirit give them a great visitation! Lord, their hearts can be touched and their eyes can be changed, dear Jesus, they can decide to live for you! Lord, touch us this morning, and help us, I pray…”

Her words now are unintelligible, a quiet cacophony of vowels and consonants tangled together. Glossolalia. Still on her knees, she has her hands in the air, gesturing while her prayer spills into the air. She is no longer conscious of the room around her, absorbed utterly now into her communion with her Lord. This is her life, her reason, her being.

By the time she reached her nineties, her people were dying, but it was clear that she was going to live a very, very long time; her father lived to ninety-eight. I think she just began to draw closer and closer to God. It got to a point where it was almost impossible to have conversations with her. About anything of true importance; anything about the heart. Because inevitably, if I started the conversation, ‘Mamaw, how are you today?’

‘Honey, I give blessings to the Lord, I thank the Lord for just another day, and I thank him for all these many days that I’ve had on this Earth, and I thank him for…’

And there she’d go. ‘Maw, can you tell me about your mother?’

‘Oh, my mother was a Godly woman. My mother gave birth to fifteen babies and she was crippled by a stroke and she still had babies…’

At some point every day, in every conversation, Hannah would put her hands together in supplication. It was no longer unusual for her to interrupt her conversations with prayer; it was almost expected that Hannah’s answer to any question would begin and end with her Lord. As her body weakened, and as she confronted the passing of her loved ones, Hannah grew increasingly devout.

She had lived through a time when women, without question, did everything their husbands asked of them. She had lived through an abusive marriage, through the deaths of her infant sons, through the Great Depression. Hannah had lived so much of her life on other people’s terms, but she lived her spiritual life on her own terms. By the time she reached her ninety-eighth birthday, Hannah Hamilton Adams was ready to be freed from the limitations of her physical body and be united with her Lord.


Visitation

“I think you need to come home, Kopana. I think this is it.”

Hannah was in a bad way. She had gotten bad a couple of times, and always rallied, but this time Shirley felt it was different. She called her daughter in Lexington, begged her to come home. On a good day, it’s at least a ninety-minute drive from Lexington to West Liberty: I-64 east, out towards Ashland, pick up the Mountain Parkway about five miles shy of Morehead, and just keep going, through the Red River Gorge and on to West Liberty. It was a drive Kopana had done many, many times, but this time with a sense of urgency.

From her bed, Hannah called out for Kopana, holding out her hands for her granddaughter. She was physically weak and her skin was paler than pale, but she was still strong of mind.

"I have been asking the Lord why I am still here, and I think I know the answer.” Kopana squeezed her grandmother’s hand. “I think the Lord has given me a sign.”

“What is it, Mamaw?”

“I need you to help me.”

“What do you need, Mamaw? What can I do?”

Hannah took a breath, her chest visibly falling and rising with her labor. She gripped Kopana’s hand firmly and lifted her head from her pillow.

“The Lord is telling me that I am earthbound. I am earthbound until everybody in this family is baptized. That is what the Lord is telling me that we need to do. That is why I am still here.” Hannah let her head fall back against the pillow. “We all need to be baptized together.”

Kopana was confused. She knew Hannah was baptized; her daddy had been baptized, and her mom and her aunt, Janet, had been baptized, and she’d been baptized when she was fourteen. There was no one in the family who hadn’t already been baptized. Yet Hannah was begging her to call the church, call the preacher, gather the family. She took both of her grandmother’s hands in hers and watched as Hannah closed her eyes, peace spreading across her face.

I was raised in that Pentecostal church; I had seen people running around speaking in another language that very few understood, running like their feet were on fire, like chickens with their heads cut off. I had seen my grandmother run that church until she was so tired she fell down and just laid down in the middle of the floor. I had seen it all. But this? I had not seen this. And I wasn’t expecting it. And it freaked me out.

Knowing that her life was slipping away, Hannah tried to take control of her life the only way she knew how—through her faith. She wanted to be certain that her loved ones would be saved, that she could be reunited with them after death, and the only way she could make that happen was by making sure they were baptized. Only then, Hannah thought, could she leave them behind.

As she had so many times before, Hannah recovered. She left her bed, took up her place in the recliner, and carried on as if nothing had happened. Her plea for a family baptism was never mentioned again.

Hannah was moved to the rest home just a few months later, but her time in the rest home was difficult. Separated from her home, family, and church community, Hannah’s physical health and emotional well being swiftly declined. On July 23, 2011, in the Jackson Regional Hospital, Hannah Hamilton Adams passed away, peacefully, in her sleep.

She looked exquisite. When we brought her in that church house and I walked in and looked at her, it was like looking at an angel. She was dressed in white and she glowed. There was something incredible about her laying in that coffin. She looked otherworldly. And it was remarkable. I had an aunt walk up to me and she said, ‘You must just be devastated,’ and I said, ‘Well, you know, it’s a bad day. But this is what she has been wanting. For a long time. Do you know how lucky I am to have had my grandmother for forty-eight years of my life? Forty-six years of my life? Do you know how extraordinary that is?

Always modest, Hannah had not wanted any fuss after her death. She did not want to be laid out in the church. But she was the last founding member of the Glenn Avenue Church of God; both her family and her church community needed to recognize the place she had held in their lives and their faiths. “We overruled her on that,” Kopana said. It was only fit and proper that she should be remembered in the place that she had helped to build.

Pentecost

It was a two-mile walk up the holler to Spaws Creek, but that’s where the church was, so that’s where the congregation went. At least once a week—always on Sunday, and sometimes on other days, too—Hannah dressed her daughters in their neatest clothes, re-pinned her own hair into its tidy bun, and walked the two miles to church. A two-mile walk was nothing, when the work of the Lord needed to be done.

But they got to talking, the women of the church, and they got to thinking.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a church in town,” they said, “We’d have more time to serve our Lord.”

Someone had to keep the men fed, though. The church wouldn’t build itself, and the men couldn’t feed themselves while they were building—block by painstaking block—their new place of worship. Sister Hannah took charge.

With a clean apron over her dress, she set to work, peeling potatoes, chopping vegetables, frying chicken, rubbing butter into flour for pastry and dumplings, sweetening apples. When the sweat ran down her face, she lifted her hand and wiped it away. When she was tired, she gritted her teeth and carried on. When her feet hurt, and her hands stung, and her back ached, she knew she was doing the work of her Lord.

And while she cooked, she sang, and when she sang, the other women sang, and together they worshipped from their kitchens, pouring love and faith into every dish.

They plated the food with care, carried it in baskets and buckets to the men working at the church. Soon, rumors began to circulate: that the women building that church out on Glenn Avenue cooked like angels and if you paid them, they’d give you a plate of your own. So they did. From every county, people came to eat the women’s food. They brought their own plates, and they loaded them with chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, coleslaw, corn on the cob; every kind of dessert imaginable: pies and cakes, fruit cobblers and sweet puddings. They loaded their plates high, handed over five dollars, and went on their ways.

Hannah worked from daylight to dark. It filled her heart to know that she was doing her Lord’s work, to be part of the joyful fellowship created in their simple kitchens. And, on the Fridays of the Church of God lunches, they set aside their spiritual differences. Methodist, Christian, or Pentecostal, liberal or conservative, they left the doctrines that sometimes divided them behind, and they came together in a communion of food.

Food brings people together. And who is going to turn down some of my Mamaw’s food? I mean, this was better than Thanksgiving. You got all of the blessings of the food and none of the mess to clean up. And people knew that. They would be lined up out the door.

By the late 1970s, things had changed. Hannah was heading into her seventh decade and although she was in good health, she no longer had the energy or stamina that she had previously enjoyed. One by one, the women of her generation began to ease off, at least in their physical work. For a while, her daughters and their peers picked up the slack, but soon the numbers dwindled. Fewer women were cooking, and fewer people came to eat their food. Then, the fast food restaurants made their way into West Liberty, and the weekly dinners stopped.

Destruction

The forecast had been candid, and the tornado sirens had been wailing for hours. The status had gone from watch to warning; the local television stations broke their programming to bring news of the coming weather, and a black banner scrolled continuously across the bottom of the screen, alerting residents across the state, urging them to take shelter.

In West Liberty, Janet hunkered down in her recliner. She’d changed the house around a little since her Hannah had died seven months previously, and had moved her recliner into the spot where Hannah’s red recliner had once been. Fewer pictures hung on the walls; Hannah’s cross-stitch was gone, but the small cross still hung from a hook above the door. At the age of seventy-four, Janet had seen more than her fair share of tornado warnings, and although this seemed intense, she saw no reason to panic. Besides, she reasoned, evening was already closing in, and the storm would probably blow itself out overnight. Janet usually watched the evening news, but for whatever reason, that night the television was not switched on; she missed the Bill Meck announcing the path of the incoming twister.

Ninety miles away, Kopana did see Bill Meck announce the route of the tornado. At 5:45 p.m., the twister was on Liberty Road, the road her mom and dad lived on. It was clear that West Liberty was directly in its mile-wide path. Kopana called her mom, and her mom, Shirley, called Janet.

“Janet? Where are you?” Her sister’s voice was panicked. “Janet? You need to take shelter. Please tell me you’re taking shelter. Kopana called, she said it’s going to be real bad.”

“I was just fixing to make dinner, Shirley, don’t panic.”

“Janet, you just get yourself hidden. Get in your shower stall, get a pillow over your head; that’s what they say to do. Please, just take shelter.”

Janet heard the wind lash at the windows, and the house shook around her. Suddenly fearful—if Shirley was panicking, there must be good reason—she headed for the bathroom at the back of the house. Feeling slightly foolish, she stepped into the shower cubicle and hunched down to the floor.

Just minutes later, at 6:03 p.m., the tornado hit.

It was on the ground for over an hour, cutting its way through everything in its path. Later, tornado specialists would rate it as a category three tornado. The wind reached 165 miles per hour, and the mile-wide blast picked up cars and trucks, ripped roofs from buildings, uprooted trees, and injured more than seventy-five people. Six people in West Liberty would be killed that night.

While Janet hid in the shower, the tornado pulled the white pines on the hills surrounding West Liberty from the ground, as if they were no more than seedlings in soft earth. It stripped the pines of their branches, and hurled them through the air like arrows. While Janet hid in her shower, one of those white pines pierced the roof of the house and embedded itself into the floor. On its way, it pinned Janet’s recliner—the one that sat where Hannah’s recliner had been—to the ground. In the days following, the recovery team would have to saw through the trunk in order to remove it, so deeply had it been impaled.

I had gotten in because I knew the sheriff. The National Guard was out, and they weren’t letting anybody in to West Liberty and the sheriff snuck me across the river. I had my camera with me and when he let us in by the courthouse—which was as far as you could drive at that time—he said, ‘Keep your head down and don’t talk to anybody.’ And I walked right down Main Street. I had that camera with me; I walked all around that town, and nobody said a word to me. I think they all thought I was with the insurance companies, because I was dressed like I was meant to be in a disaster zone, and I had this kick-ass camera, right? So who else would I be? So they left me alone. And I walked the length of the town.

West Liberty was all but destroyed that night. The morning after, as the community woke to the devastation, the sun began to shine, and West Liberty sparkled, cruelly beautiful in the aftermath. The tornado had ground the fiberglass from dozens of buildings into tiny shreds, and those tiny shreds peppered the town like confetti. They clung to the links in the chain link fences, they hung from the trees like icicles, they piled on the branches like the softest snowfall.

Kopana walked through West Liberty, taking in the awfulness of it all. She breathed a sigh of relief when she reached her Mamaw’s house: it looked just fine. Maybe this wasn’t quite so bad? Maybe they had been lucky? When she opened the front door, she walked into a pine forest. The front of the house really was just a facade. The white pines, shot like missiles across the town, had ripped the house away from its front wall.

Every building in West Liberty was brutally damaged. Stores and businesses were wiped out. Every church in the town was destroyed. On Glenn Avenue, all the houses had been decimated. But the Glenn Avenue Church of God was untouched, save for a single missing shingle, and a rock-sized hole in one of the windows.

Sending Apple Pies to Alaska

The parcel, when it arrived, had been in transit for more than two weeks. The heavy contents were boxed up neatly, the box wrapped in brown paper. In Hannah’s neat print, her return address of West Liberty, Kentucky, and a large label addressed to Kopana’s new address in Barrow, Alaska. Kopana opened the package to the sour, alcoholic whiff of rotting fruit. Inside the box, two of Hannah’s homemade apple pies, already sporting a healthy coating of fuzzy, verdigris-colored mold.

“Did you get your pies?”

“Oh, yes, Mamaw, I got my pies and I loved them I shared them with all my friends here and they loved them too.”

“Well, I’ll be making you some more then.”

“Oh, no, no, Mamaw, don’t make me any more. We’ve had enough apple pies to last us a while. How about I let you know when we’re ready for some more apple pie.”

She just wanted to do something and she knew I loved apple pies. But she just really had no concept that I was 6,000 miles away at the top of the world. But, that was her. She was the quintessential grandmother. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that those pies were blue and fuzzy. There was probably some cure besides penicillin in there; I probably shouldn’t have thrown them away, but donated them.*

*All italicized text from an interview with Kopana Lynn Terry, November 2015.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs by Kopana Lynn Terry.

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