For What It’s Worth

For What It’s Worth

Occasionally someone would stop Elmer Newby in a store and ask him why in the world he’d help the government run people off their land. Elmer always clenched his teeth and stiffened his shoulders. His cheeks turned red. “Hell, I didn’t decide this. That was some fool in Washington,” he told them. Elmer hated that folks had no choice about leaving, but he had to make a living. Every morning as he headed out to appraise property, he reminded himself that he had a family to support. A job to do.

Elmer started his real estate appraisal business after he returned from the war in Europe and attended college on the GI Bill. In the early years he struggled to keep the business afloat. He got his real estate license and sold a few houses when the bank account grew lean, but he preferred appraising land to showing houses. He was good with numbers. Coming up with the fair market value on a piece of property required figuring parcel size, square footage of structures, and finding the value of comparable tracts. Comparables were crucial to the calculation. The goal was to be as objective as possible because, in Elmer’s mind and according to the standards of his profession, objectivity led to fairness for both the buyer and the seller.

During one long stretch without much work, Elmer decided he might need to close his business and take a job with a weekly paycheck. He knew Judy worried about the rent and whether they could afford things for the kids. He could get a route selling life insurance policies for Joe Flynn’s agency or selling clothing for the suit factory. About the time he was ready to call it quits, he heard talk about another federal dam project, this time on the Cumberland River. The dam and the resulting massive reservoir required the government’s acquisition of thousands of acres. Each parcel would be appraised to determine fair market value and a purchase price. Elmer felt like he’d struck gold.

His business took off. He appraised all sorts of property—houses, businesses, schools, tilled farmland—most of which would be under water or along the new higher shoreline when the lake filled. Entire towns were taken through the power of eminent domain. People lost homes and farms that had been in their families for generations. Old-growth forests were leveled. The sight of a mountain-sized stack of downed trees had caused Elmer to grieve for days, but that was the way of progress, even if it hurt to see. When the dam was finished, Lake Barkley would fill and flood the land, forever altering the place. There would be no going back.

The Barkley Dam project changed Elmer, too. For the first time in his life, he had money. He hadn’t inherited a copper from his people, but now he had money. He and Judy took the kids to Florida for a summer vacation. They built a modern ranch-style home with a brick façade, by far the best house he had ever lived in. Elmer wanted his children to have a better life than he had known growing up. His own father had a hard time holding a job—he was bad to drink—which meant the family moved often to find work. From one rental house to another, one school to the next, they kept moving, never calling any one place home. Elmer didn’t want that for his kids. He wanted them to know where they belonged. When he and Judy built the house, he knew exactly how much it cost, each two-by-four and every window, even down to the price of a brick or a roof shingle, and he had earned every cent needed to build it.

But he grew anxious as the last few Barkley tracts were acquired. The appraisal work would dry up with the dam’s completion. He thought his business was sufficiently established, but he hated the thought of losing everything he’d worked for.

■■■

“Did you see the paper?” Judy had said when the news broke a few years ago. She stood at the sink washing breakfast dishes, already dressed for work in a yellow sleeveless shift, her auburn hair combed, a hint of orange lipstick applied. Two days a week Judy worked in the children’s section of the Mayfield Public Library. Their three boys had caught the school bus a few minutes earlier.

“Not yet,” Elmer said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. He leaned toward her and gave her a peck on the cheek, glimpsing the freckles on the back of her bare arms. He wanted to lean down and kiss them but he didn’t. He splashed milk into his coffee, then dropped in two saccharin tablets and stirred until they dissolved. He wore a white shirt with a narrow black tie, and after he had his coffee, he would slip on a jacket grown shiny from pressing and head to his small second-floor office over the Ben Franklin on the courthouse square.

“There’s big news,” she teased.

He sat down at the table, picked up the Sun-Messenger, and read the headline: Kennedy Administration Proposes New Recreation Area Between Lakes. Elmer’s heart raced as he read.  The Tennessee Valley Authority proposed buying out every property owner on the narrow strip of land between the rivers—now lakes—to recreate a wilderness for hiking, boating, fishing, and other leisure activities. Three hundred miles of shoreline stretching from Kentucky into Tennessee. As many as 170,000 acres, 1,500 dwellings and farms to be appraised. The story quoted governors and congressional delegations from both states who were delighted with the news. So was Elmer Newby. The Land Between the Lakes project was a godsend, assuring steady income for years.

Judy’s hands grazed the back of his neck. “So, what do you think?”

“That I’m the luckiest son of a gun that ever lived,” Elmer said.

She laughed and squeezed his shoulders. “I’m glad you realize that,” she said.

Elmer stood and turned to face her, putting his arms around her. He pulled her close. “I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said, then left for the office. His mind shifted into high gear, making plans, deciding who to call at the local TVA office. Because of the Barkley work, he was on a first-name basis with several of the land acquisition superintendents. It might be years before actual appraisals began – federal projects were notoriously slow and cumbersome—but Elmer wanted to be the first guy in line.

His wait for the work to begin went on and on. A few months after the LBL announcement, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. Then the feds argued over whether the land should become a national park or a recreation area. They argued with the people over how many acres would be acquired and whether commercial development would be allowed. The people fought to keep their property, now destined to become a tourist attraction. Some residents wanted to develop their own resorts on the lakes. President Johnson stepped in, insisting that landowners needed more time to protest and let their voices be heard. The people got their hopes up.

When the acquisitions finally commenced, the government took it all. The protests had changed nothing. TVA claimed every tract in the forty-mile peninsula that straddled the Kentucky-Tennessee line. Nobody wanted to leave their homes. Some claimed the government was stealing their land with low-ball offers for now-lakefront property. Every person Elmer dealt with was as mad as hell, regardless of their circumstances. Nice homes and rusty trailers, owners rich and poor, black and white, young families and old widows. A few times Elmer believed he’d not survive the work. “Don’t get out of that car” became a common greeting when Elmer arrived on an assignment.

A farmer named Adams was particularly convincing. Elmer had driven more than an hour to reach Cravens Creek, a remote area where every other homeowner had been bought out for Barkley. Only Adams remained. His house sat at the end of a long road—more dirt than gravel—that few traveled these days. As Elmer parked and reached for the door handle, he spotted a man with a headful of white hair waiting near the corner of a log corncrib. Adams was ready for him, perhaps alerted by the rooster tail of dust thrown up behind Elmer’s car as he approached.

“Stay where you are,” Adams said. Elmer saw that the man held a shotgun. From his years in the war, Elmer recognized its shape as a Winchester Model 12. The Perfect Repeater. His heart raced.

“Sir, my name is—” Elmer stopped as he saw Adams lift and shoulder the shotgun, preparing to draw a bead on him. Elmer raised his hands shoulder high. “I’m not armed, Mr. Adams, and I don’t want any trouble,” he said.

“Get off my land and we won’t have any trouble,” Adams said.

“I’m just trying to do my job, sir, but this can wait,” Elmer said. “I’m getting back in the car now.” He eased back into the driver’s seat and drove off. When he checked the rear-view mirror, Elmer saw that the old man had not moved or relaxed. He remained in a fighting stance, ready to follow through. Elmer drove on. From that day forward, he kept a loaded snub-nose Smith & Wesson in the glove box. His children understood to never turn the latch when they rode in his car.

Despite his efforts to grab as much work as he could, some jobs stayed with him. Some nights he laid awake, remembering Donnie and Evelyn Richards being forced to leave. Unlike most of these assignments, he knew Donnie and Evelyn. They were Judy’s distant cousins. Evelyn’s eyes were the kind of green that only rivers possessed and she had looked deep into his own. “Where will we go, Elmer?” she had said, refusing to blink. “We’ve never lived anywhere else. This is our home.” The fact that she had spoken so tenderly to him had struck him harder than if she had shouted or cursed. 

The clock ticked beside his bed as he wondered who came up with an idea that exiled them all and why it had ever been approved, but when morning came Elmer went back to getting the work done, keeping his family of six fed, and his business afloat.

One day he rose early to recalculate the Richards appraisal. He had kept it in a separate file and held back on submitting his final valuation, but he needed to turn it in. He needed to get paid for the job. On a fresh form, he reentered the same details—square footage, acreage, number of rooms—but he changed the home’s condition from fair to excellent. When he got to the office, he’d find new comparables to justify the higher sale price.

At breakfast Judy had to say his name twice to get his attention when they had their coffee. “What is it, Elmer?” she asked, sliding her hand over his. “I can’t stop thinking about Donnie and Evelyn,” he told her. “It’s pitiful,” and then he found that he was choking on the rest of his words and she didn’t press him further, tightening her grip on his hand. He finished his coffee and looked at her, noticing flecks of river-green in her eyes, too.

“Some of these folks will never get over this,” he predicted.

■■■

The phone rang as Elmer unlocked the office door. He left the keys in the lock and scrambled to answer the call. It was Clyde Edmonds, who ran the land acquisition office over at Golden Pond. Clyde handed out appraisal assignments.

“I’ve got a holdout over in Pleasant Grove. Old colored man won’t talk to anybody. Already run off two other appraisers. We can’t have any more bad publicity,” he said. Elmer remembered the newspaper stories about Ada Chilton and the public outrage about what had happened to the old woman.

“You’ve got a bunch of amateurs working for you,” Elmer said. “You need somebody who can get the job done.”

“You want to try?”

“Have I ever let you down, Clydie?

“I’ll up your fee by fifty dollars if you can get Nate McCracken’s property appraised without any trouble.”

“Sign me up,” Elmer said. He could use a little extra money. School started in a few weeks, and his children looked like they had outgrown everything in the closets. Elmer liked a challenge. He also wanted to be Clydie’s first choice whenever the agency needed an appraiser.

But Elmer worried. He hoped Nate McCracken wouldn’t be another Ada Chilton, the old woman who had used her shotgun to blow out a windshield when another appraiser came to talk about buying her property. She, too, had been a holdout. Her land was the exact location proposed for the new dam. The Corps of Engineers wouldn’t alter the plan because an old woman refused to sell. The situation turned ugly when somebody lured Miss Chilton into town on the pretense of a meeting. While she was away from home, government-hired crews moved in with bulldozers, leveling her still-occupied residence and then torching it. As fire engulfed all of Miss Chilton’s worldly possessions, smoke was seen for miles like a signal of things gone wrong.

When Elmer heard about what happened to the old woman, he couldn’t believe something like that could happen in America. He assured friends and family that he had nothing to do with Miss Chilton’s file.

■■■

Before heading to Pleasant Grove for the day, Elmer filled a couple of mason jars with ice water, and packed two sandwiches and an apple to last him through the day. All the restaurants between the rivers had closed. A few small general stores with rough wood floors were still open if he needed a cold bottle of pop late in the day.

 Elmer drove toward Gilbertsville where two lanes of U.S. 62 crossed the top of Kentucky Dam. Built in the 1940s, the dam was the first of the big local federal projects, designed for flood control and to generate hydroelectric power for rural western Kentucky. To the right of the narrow highway Elmer glimpsed Kentucky Lake beyond the low guardrail, its surface glistening in the morning sun. To the left, in between passing cars and powerlines that carried electricity generated by the dam’s turbines, he saw the swirling currents of the Tennessee River below the gates. The lake was wide and calm; the river narrow and wild. As he gazed, he heard the honk of a horn. He looked back to the road and corrected his unintentional drift into oncoming traffic.

Two decades had passed since the first impoundment, but Elmer still viewed the lake with awe. Numbers churned in his head about the yards of concrete that went into the construction, the cost per yard, workers employed, gallons of water flowing per second. Even when he wasn’t appraising, his mind automatically put a cost-benefit analysis to everything around him.

The lake itself was stunningly beautiful, the dam a technological wonder. Elmer never imagined a body of water so big, right here in his own backyard, like an ocean had been plopped down in the middle of the country or a sixth Great Lake had formed. He never dreamed of something like this so close to home. Elmer was from an adjoining landlocked county, a place more of soil than water that hadn’t lost an acre or a dollar in tax revenues from the building of two dams, the resulting reservoirs, or Land Between the Lakes. In fact, he and his neighbors benefitted from the creation of thousands of jobs and cheap, plentiful electricity. It was progress, plain and simple.

Optimistic to his core, Elmer remained excited about what the lakes meant for western Kentucky, both for business and on a personal level. Nearly every dollar he had earned came from his own hard work, much of it connected to the federal projects. He was a self-made man. He liked progress and wanted to be part of it. A couple of summers ago, he had borrowed a musty surplus Army tent from a friend to take his family camping at the new Kentucky Dam Village State Park. Judy was six months pregnant with their fourth child.

“I’m not sleeping on the ground,” she had said.

“You don’t have to. I borrowed a cot for you,” Elmer said.

“It’s so hot, honey. My feet might pop if they swell any bigger.”

“I bought one of those inflatable rafts for you. You can float in the water to stay cool.”

Judy’s scowl lifted a bit. “We don’t have sleeping bags, either” she said.

“Roscoe let me borrow a couple. The boys and I can make a pallet with blankets. It’ll be fun,” he said. He put his arms around her. “I promise I’ll do the work.”

In a red metal Coca-Cola cooler, he packed hot dogs tinted a deep pinkish color, milk, lunchmeat, mustard and ketchup. The picnic basket was filled with potato chips, corn flakes, Little Debbie oatmeal cakes, thin-sliced Bunny Bread, hot dog buns, a large stack of paper plates, and tin mugs to use for drinks and as cereal bowls. He stashed a watermelon in one of the backseat floorboards. It rolled over the boys’ feet when Elmer braked or took a curve too fast.

At the state park, they found a campsite at the lake’s edge and Elmer tried to pitch the tent. Eventually he got it to stand by roping it to nearby trees.

“I think Roscoe forgot some of the tent poles,” he said. “It should hold for the night, though.”

For less than twenty-four hours at the lake, they swam, watched ski boats zip by, and fished from the bank with a borrowed pole they all shared. One of the boys caught his first, a small sunfish with vibrant orange markings. Around the campfire, they roasted two packages of hot dogs on straightened coat hangers and drank cold pop, something the kids didn’t get at home. The children chased tiny toads until dark when they switched to catching lightning bugs. When they could run no more, they collapsed onto a pallet made from damp-smelling sleeping bags and blankets that nearly filled the tent. As his family slept, Elmer sat alone by the fire, watching the embers and looking at the stars. Water stroked the shore at a level the old river people never dreamed possible.

“If my luck holds out and the work keeps coming, I want to buy a lot or a cabin over here,” he told Judy on the drive home the next day. “There’s something about this place.”

■■■

Pleasant Grove, a crossroads originally situated near a bend of the Cumberland River, had been settled around an iron furnace built in the 1800s by enslaved laborers. More recently the community had its own motel and restaurant, both listed in the Negro Travelers’ Green Book. They’d already been torn down. A white frame Baptist church and a one-room school had been leveled and burned last month.

Elmer thought about the tract of land owned and occupied by the holdout, Nate McCracken. A title search at the Lyon County courthouse revealed that McCracken’s family had owned the land for nearly a hundred years, the recorded deed dated shortly after the Civil War. Title had been passed from generation to generation of McCrackens. While Elmer was at the courthouse, he found several recent transfers of similar properties on which he could calculate his comparables.

As Elmer got farther from home, WNGO-AM faded to static. He spun the dial to find a closer station—WCBL in Benton—and heard the morning news, weather and livestock reports. The forecast was a hot one with a chance of rain in the late afternoon.

His dusty white Ford Fairlane rolled past razed farmhouses, dogtrot barns, and churches. He recalled the demolition work in preparation for the lakes where everything—buildings and trees—was cleared. This time was different. For LBL the forests, creeks and ponds were to be left untouched; only signs of human settlement and industry were doomed. The plan was to return the area to wilderness as if no one had ever lived there.

Elmer turned down a lane bordered by honey locusts twisted and knobby with age. A “Keep Out” sign had been nailed to the tree closest to the road. Elmer’s heart rate started to climb, and his fingers tightened around the steering wheel. He took his foot off the gas. Since the incident with old man Adams, he had changed the way he approached a property. His car crept up to the house, this one a neatly kept but unpainted frame structure sitting close to a large barn, also unpainted.

Elmer relaxed a bit when he saw a man working in a field between the barn and house. At least he knew he wouldn’t be looking down the barrel of a shotgun right off the bat. Elmer took a deep breath as he parked the car and turned off the engine. He reminded himself that his work was backed up by the law. He had it in writing, a court order that gave TVA and its agents the right to trespass to accomplish a buyout. He kept a worn copy in the glove box, next to the pistol. He hoped he didn’t have to reach for either.

He got out of the car and slammed the door. “Mr. McCracken?” he said in a loud voice as he walked toward the barn. The man’s shovel slowed and he turned, standing beside the trench he was digging. He was a tall man, unstooped, and he wore work clothes, a faded checked dress shirt and bib overalls covered in dirt. His heavy boots were caked with dried mud. He didn’t smile or wave or approach in welcome, but he leaned on his shovel as a big brindle dog of an unidentifiable breed came from under the porch, barking and loping toward Elmer. Its tail stayed in a curl over its back.

“Can’t you see I’m busy?” the man said with a directness that surprised Elmer. Most black men of a certain age in this part of the country still followed the well-known rules of engagement when addressing a white man, although Elmer had never set much store by that way of thinking. He decided he preferred Mr. McCracken’s rude tone to looking down a shotgun barrel, and besides, his immediate concern was the approaching dog, now closer and starting to growl. He braced himself. “Can you call off your dog, sir?”

“Rufus! Get over here,” McCracken hollered. The dog stopped, then turned and walked toward his owner.

“Thank you, sir. I see you’re busy, but I need to talk to you. My name’s Elmer Newby and I….”

“And you’re from the government,” the man interrupted.

“Not really. I’m from over at Mayfield, and I’m a real estate appraiser. I need to see your land so the TVA can make you a fair offer for your place.”

“Don’t have time today. Got to dig this ditch before the rain comes,” McCracken said. He went back to digging.

“Well, sir, we’re running out of time to give you a fair price. You’ve got a nice piece of ground and the government ought to pay you what it’s worth. If I can’t see your property, we might miscalculate,” Elmer said.

“Not today,” McCracken said. He kept digging. Elmer thought about his next move.

“How far you going to take that ditch?”

“Out to the road.”

“That’s going to take you the better part of a day.”

“Reckon so. Don’t have time to waste,” McCracken said, pointing toward the sky.

Elmer thought hard. Why the man was digging a new ditch confounded him, knowing that the government would hold title soon. But the man said he needed the ditch dug before the rain began, and Elmer needed to finish the appraisal. Pulling out the court order wouldn’t help accomplish either task.

“How about this? I’ll help you dig your ditch, as long as it takes us to finish. And when we’re done, you spend the same amount of time showing me around your place so I can finish my work,” he said.

Elmer waited. In a moment, McCracken stopped digging. “There’s another shovel in the barn,” he said.

“Alright, sir. Let me get my boots from my car.” Elmer walked back to his sedan, took off his coat and tie, and rolled up his sleeves. He exchanged his shoes for work boots and headed to the barn for the shovel. 

They worked side by side for two hours. Neither said much, only questions and answers about the ditch. In that time, Elmer thought about the years McCracken had spent working this land, surely never imagining being forced off this late in life.  He watched McCracken’s efficient movements as he cut straight into the earth and sent wide arcs of dirt into the air. By midday, they finished the job. Both were covered in sweat and dirt. McCracken extended his right hand, and Elmer shook it.

“Come get a drink and wash up,” McCracken said. He led Elmer around back of the house to a well where he drew up a bucket of fresh water. Elmer washed his hands and face, then ran his wet fingers through his hair to slick it from his brow. He cupped his clean hands for a drink of the shockingly cold water coming from deep in the ground.

“You want a bite to eat?”

“Thank you, but I’ve got a sack lunch in the car. I’ll sit here in the shade and eat if you don’t mind.” McCracken nodded and went inside. Rufus scooted under the porch.

Elmer got his food and sat on the edge of the steps, hoping for a breeze to help him cool off. He ate a bologna sandwich and listened to kitchen sounds from inside. A rattle of dishes and maybe a skillet. Then the screen door opened and McCracken reappeared. He carried a plate mounded with scrambled eggs and two pieces of light bread. He scraped half of the eggs into a tin pie pan on the porch and called his dog. Rufus leapt onto the porch and gulped his share. McCracken sat down in a straight-back chair to eat his meal.

“How long have you lived here, Mr. McCracken?”

“Name’s Nate. Been here all my life. Born here. My daddy before me, too. Never lived any place else,” he said.

 “Must be hard to give it up.”

“Never thought I’d ever have to.” Nate’s aged brown eyes looked straight into Elmer’s younger blue ones. “We worked hard so nobody could take it away from us. Now I’m supposed to just hand it over,” he said, shaking his head. “My great-granddaddy was born into slavery over in Christian County. And my great-grandmama’s people worked the iron furnaces here between the rivers. Also slaves. They worked right alongside those Chinamen.”

“Folks came all the way from China to work these furnaces?”

Nate nodded. “Paid ‘em next to nothing and worked ‘em to death. Worked ‘em like slaves. They’re buried right over by the old furnace. Never made it back home.”

Elmer looked in the direction of the barn when he heard a riot of blue jays, squawking and diving toward a calico cat that walked toward the house. He turned back to Nate.

“You’ve always farmed?”

“All I know is farming and tending this place.”

“Ever think about selling it?”

“Never, but we about lost it a couple of times. It’s hard to hang on after a bad flood like ’37. We’d have a flood once or twice a year. Or we’d have a drought, like in ’52. Hard to pay the taxes when your crops don’t make nothing,” Nate said.

“How’d you manage?”

“We’d get work at another farm over in Hopkinsville or Paducah, getting in hay or setting tobacco. Sometimes my daddy got on with a road crew,” he said. “We might not have much else, but we paid those taxes. As long as we owned this farm, we were free. And we wouldn’t starve to death, either.”

Elmer nodded. His throat tightened; he didn’t say anything for a few minutes. His face grew hot as he thought about the damned fools who came up with this plan, who decided to take this tract and many others from the rightful owners. Those damned fools were the same ones who paid his fees. He sighed, feeling the weight of his own complicity in the plan but there was no going back. He thought about Nate’s parents and grandparents, how they’d worked for generations to provide this home, a rightfulness in their title that derived from the good-faith exchange of taking care of the land then living from its bounty. Elmer had never experienced a long connection to one spot. He’d never known a homeplace, but he understood the desire to provide for a family. He carried it with him every day as he headed to work, and he wanted his numbers to reflect that common ground.

When he saw that Nate had finished his food, he stood up. “I need you to show me all the good parts of your property. Just the good. Don’t show me anything bad or tell me about a leaky roof or a well about to go dry,” he said.

Nate called for his dog then offered some advice. “You watch your step. We’ve got plenty of rattlesnakes and water moccasins since the lake came up. Guess they’re looking for high ground, too,” he said. “Rufus here is good at finding snakes before they find me.”

For the next two hours, Elmer followed Nate across his cornfields, hayfields, and meadows blooming with cardinal flower and goldenrod, through woods thick with tulip poplars, oak and beech. They walked along gravel creek beds, ponds and former river bottom land that had become lakeside property. Elmer paid close attention as Nate explained his farm and his practices, details spoken with a quiet confidence that stemmed from years of working the same land. They stood on the shore and looked across the lake, its waves lapping against his fifty-five acres.

“When they built Barkley, did they pay you right for your river bottoms?”

“Not near enough. That was my best ground. It’s been hard to make up for it,” Nate said.

They stopped by a small, fenced cemetery with simple limestone markers. All the names began with M. “There’s my mama and papa,” he said, pointing where small bouquets of faded red plastic flowers were planted at the headstones. Grandparents and great-grandparents were nearby. Nate looked around the cemetery.

“It’s just as well, I figure. I’m the end of the line. Got no children, no cousins, nobody to heir it anyway,” he said.

Elmer’s view of the property shifted, and he began to see the land through its owner’s eyes, not as a collection of objective facts and figures. A few times he had shaved small corners by reconsidering one subjective assessment or another when a price didn’t reflect true value. Evelyn Richards’ river-green eyes and her soft, haunting voice had nudged him before. He looked at the McCracken house, its unpainted boards, wavy-glassed windows, each log in the old barn, and decided he had no measure of its worth. The generational labor that had built the place made his numbers feel thin, his own new house cheap by comparison.

It was late afternoon when Elmer walked toward his car to leave. The western sky had darkened.

“Looks like we got our work done just in time,” he said, pointing to a line of clouds moving in. Nate eyed the storm and nodded. The men shook hands, and Elmer patted the dog’s head. Before Elmer got in the car, he turned back.

“Where will you go, Nate?” he asked.

“Some of the neighbors plan to stay together. They’ve bought a piece of ground not far from that new town. Fairport. I guess I’ll go with them,” he said.

As Elmer drove off, the rain began to fall. He turned on the windshield wipers and thought about Nate McCracken having to pack up and leave a homeplace that had withstood floods, droughts, births, deaths, joy, hard times. A true home. Elmer started working the numbers in his head, wondering how he’d calculate a fair price. There were no comparables. ■

Jayne Moore Waldrop is the author of Retracing My Steps, which was a finalist in the 2018 New Women's Voices Chapbook Contest (Finishing Line Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Still: The Journal, New Limestone Review, Minerva Rising, Deep South Magazine, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and other journals. Drowned Town, Waldrop's linked story collection, is forthcoming from the University Press of Kentucky. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

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