The day after Christmas in 2017, a dear friend sent me a letter. She wrote, “Each day I’m reminded how lucky we are to have the good and beautiful memories — and that we can remember them.” Anne Caudill was 93 when she wrote the letter.
Several years earlier, Anne had moved to New Albany to be near her three children. She’d lived in Whitesburg, Ky., a small town in the Cumberland Mountains with her husband, Harry Caudill. He was a well-known lawyer, legislator, orator and writer. He had served in World War II and was wounded when shot through one of his knees when lifting his legs from a foxhole in Italy.
Harry returned to the University of Kentucky and met Anne, also a student there. They married in 1946 and what a life they had together. Anne assisted Harry in raising their family and she collaborated with him in writing 10 books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His most noted book, “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,” described the conditions in that part of Appalachia. It captured the attention of not only the public, but also the officials in Washington. Anne and Harry travelled to Washington and several other places to give speeches and appear on television programs. In Whitesburg, Anne also worked to help save the takeover of the United Mine Workers Hospital and promoted a new library, now named the Harry M. Caudill Library. She also did volunteer work for several other organizations. To relax, they’d walk out their front door and hike up Pine Mountain, amidst natures wonders that renewed them.
After Harry died, I heard that Anne had moved to New Albany. I wanted to meet her. Fortunately, I did and was captivated by her sensitivity, intelligence and her vibrant personality. We discovered that we both had a lot in common. We both grew up in rural central Kentucky about 20 miles apart. We hit it off, so to speak, and began meeting for dinner and at other times. Anne was a fascinating storyteller, particularly stories about her life in the mountains.
Back then, Appalachia was known as kind of a wild place. It had been a time of feuds between families and other groups. Illegal moonshine stills were hidden away in the hollows, which necessitated federal revenuers literally breaking them up. There were also a few churches where male members would take poisonous snakes in their hands to prove their faith in God, who would protect them from harm.
When wealthy owners from the East established coal-mining towns in Appalachia, the people had a way to make a living other than scratching out a meager living on the small creek flats. But working long hours in a coal mine using a pick and shovel was a dismal life. When Anne moved to her new home in the mountains, she kept her faith in her Creator and she had faith in, as she said, the many good people living there.
When we’d meet, she’d tell one story and then say, that reminds me of another story. I’d sit there enthralled. The stories kept flowing, and one day, I said, “Anne, I want to write a book about your life.” “Why me?” she asked, “my life hasn’t been all that interesting.” I told her I thought it had, and asked if she'd cooperate with me. “Well, I’ll do it for you,” she said.
We met 45 times to record her stories on tape, which were then printed out. I didn’t think she’d ever stop telling stories. No one lived a life like she did. “The Caudills of the Cumberlands: Anne’s Stories of Life with Harry,” was published in 2013. She did agree that she’d had an extraordinary life.
In her letter on Dec. 26, 2017, she described the beauty currently in her life: “The red tulips continue being a lovely sight contentedly before my eyes. Everyone who comes through my door talks about them. Never have I seen the bulbs grown in a glass container. When they bloom, I’ll give them to my daughter to plant in her garden. I meant to tell you — and forgot — the orchid you gave me last year has put out one new bulb and a double stem of blooms is beginning. I had a wonderful Christmas and know yours was special, too, with family. Love, Anne”
Three days after Anne wrote the above letter, she made her transition. If I can live to 93, and live my life like Anne did, what a blessing that would be.
— Contact Terry Cummins at TLCTLC@AOL.com.