Last night Mom and I were horrified to hear an alert on the ten o’clock news that there was a fire at the Rabbit Hash General Store. My worst fears were confirmed by later reports–the entire treasure of a building was burned to a total loss. Actually, that wasn’t my worst fear; my initial scare was that people were in the store when it caught fire and maybe someone was injured or killed. Fortunately, there was no human toll, at least not in lives lost. In terms of devastated folks mourning the destruction of a beloved landmark, there is a toll. (Update: If you’d like to contribute to rebuilding the store, click here for the legitimate GoFundMe page.)
Lately I’d been experiencing Rabbit Hash vicariously through old clogging friends with whom I reconnected on Facebook a year and a half ago. One of them held her seventieth birthday party just weeks ago in the general store; unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. It sounded like such fun. Another friend and her husband play in the Rabbit Hash String Band. Friends of my friends were always posting about the general store, from old time days in the summer to recent music jams around the wood stove. The place was in my mind more than it ever had been before, and I was going to get there again one of these days. Maybe in the spring.
I have been to Rabbit Hash. Most recently was in 2011 with Diamondqueen, the Hooligans, and Mom. It was as part of one of Diamondqueen’s elaborate “summer camps” she devised for the kids. That year they got Girl Scout-like “patches” for doing certain things, and the day of our visit was road trip patch day. We’d already made several stops, including the cathedral in Covington and the little stone chapel at Thomas More. Our long trek culminated in Rabbit Hash. We visited the store, of course, and asked about the famous mayor, but she wasn’t in town right
then. Another dog we deemed the “vice mayor” seemed to conduct us on a tour and even tried to encourage us down to the river. It was a gorgeous summer day, perfect for such a visit.
I’d been to Rabbit Hash several times before as well. The one that stands out took place in 1985, another July day. Frequently I took Grandma Martha on country rides on Sunday. Usually she drove as far as my apartment in Columbia-Tusculum, then I’d take over as we drove all through the back roads of Warren County, many of them the scenes of her childhood.
This particular Sunday was different: The following week, Grandma would have a mastectomy to treat the recently diagnosed breast cancer. I don’t know if she didn’t feel like driving from the Florence, Kentucky area over to my neighborhood or if she actually came up with the idea of going to Rabbit Hash that day as something special. I was familiar with the name Rabbit Hash since childhood; my uncle (my mom’s sister’s husband) had lived near there growing up. I don’t recall whether this pre-surgical visit was my first, but it might have been the first time I actually looked around in the general store.
A couple of years later I wrote the following poem about that visit with Grandma:
AT THE RIVER
The Sunday before Grandma’s surgery
we sit along the bank beside the General Store
at Rabbit Hash. For an hour
we have debated taking the ferry
to Rising Sun, but the boat
chugs in, chugs out and we stay put,
lulled by the backwash lapping
the stubbled beach.
about rivers. Immersion,
she states, is the only
salvation, to hell with sprinkling
over marble basins. At fifteen,
pregnant, she swam each day
across the shallow tributary near her home,
buoyed by her extended belly,
until Great-Grandma made her stop.
“I never was afraid
of a river,” she swears, eyeing
the ever-present ferry which seems always
to be just leaving. We could sit like this
all day, putting crossings off
as Grandma hums snatches
of old-time gospel hymns
where water saves, and the Almighty
pilots the holy ship to Zion.
from How Time Got Away by Nancy Susanna Breen, Pudding House Press (c) 2004
There is fear and projected mourning behind these lines; that Sunday I didn’t know what to expect. Grandma did live until 1991; but the sense of mourning reverberates again for me with the loss of the general store. On this Valentine’s Day, so many hearts are broken.