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Constance Alexander: A journey to Kentucky’s Holy Land, following signs to peace and inspiration

Directions are clear until the exit from Bluegrass Parkway. After that, ambiguous arrows make it impossible to know if I am really heading toward Lyons Station so I can proceed to KY 583. After that, I am to follow KY 52 to 31E, then back to 52, with a brief stretch on 49 and then 152. The unmarked route meanders up and down gentle hills and steep curves.

GPS-less, I do not know if I am lost.

An hour past lunchtime, I look for a place to eat. No hint of fast food, just intermittent Dollar Stores, until I spot a sign welcoming me to New Haven. What a relief to discover I have stumbled on Main Street.

Except for one person sitting on a bench under a shade tree, downtown appears uninhabited. Walking past a pizza shop, permanently closed according to the sign, I spot a possibility across the street.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Long Branch Saloon.

As I start to enter, two men coming out hold the door open for me.

Inside, it is dark. A spacious, semi-circular bar is on the right. On the left, clusters of tables and chairs fill the large room. Behind the dining section is a pool room. All is empty and silent at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon.

A staircase in the main room leads to a balcony that overlooks the bar, reminiscent of its namesake: The Long Branch Saloon, where Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty hung out in Gunsmoke.

Have I time-traveled to the old West and stumbled into Dodge City?

Match Game is on TV, another throwback to days of old. Host Gene Rayburn, reincarnated, jokes with ghost panelists Brett Somers, Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Riley, and Betty White.

The bar is empty but for three men, each one settled into his own separate, dark space. The woman behind the bar hands me a menu and I order a hamburger. It is a real one, not one of those flash-frozen, fast-food squares.

Hunger pangs gone, I continue my journey, muttering a prayer to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things. When I see the sign — I was a stranger and you welcomed me — I realize I have ended up in the right place.

This is Kentucky’s Holy Land, a region of the Bluegrass in the counties of Nelson, Marion and Washington, where Catholics began settling as far back as 1775. Support from Kentucky Foundation for Women has granted me a week at a convent, allowing time and space to do nothing but write.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

The residency is truly a blessing.

My little apartment is furnished with a coffee maker, hot plate, fridge and microwave. The bed is comfy. The bookcase is stocked with interesting reading. The TV is hooked to cable and my internet connection is faster than it is in Murray. I can arrange my workspace however it suits me, as long as I put everything back in its place when I leave.

At meals, I eat with the sisters. Right away it is clear that times have changed since I attended Catholic grade school. Nuns go by their first names and wear civilian clothes. No one has rapped me on the knuckles with a ruler or threatened to send me to the principal for being “bold as brass.”

As days pass, I learn how the sisters have served their Order in various parts of the U.S., South America, Africa. Former teachers, administrators, nurses who have assisted the sick, the poor, they have run organizations and provided support when others were in charge. Though most are now retired, they still work for justice and act for peace.

Almost all of us are gray-haired, unadorned by makeup and cosmetic subterfuge. They make no apologies for the ways age has left its mark. As one sister says at lunch, “I earned every one of these wrinkles.”

I spend hours a day writing. When I need a break, I can take a run around the grounds or stroll through the cemetery. Some of the graves date back to the nineteenth century.

Since April is National Poetry Month, four of us gather for a workshop on Saturday. The theme is “home” and some of the sisters dip into their childhoods for inspiration. One remembers sitting on the back steps of her long-ago home, waiting for her father. Another shares a memory of Sunday dinner and baking Buchté, a pastry stuffed with apricots.

For another, her current home is the topic. She describes sitting on the sun porch, her cat purring on her lap.

Tomorrow I will be back home, this draft of my novel complete. Still, there is more work to do. My beloved husband died nearly six months ago. Every day since then I am assailed by silence, no one to talk to, rooms as orderly as stacks of folded laundry.

This journey to the Holy Land is my first trip away from home. I was worried about getting here but am not anxious about the journey back. I have traveled through time in more ways than one, a reminder to have faith and move forward, heeding the signs that point the way.

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  1. W. Jamie Ruehl says:

    Constance, thank you for sharing your experiences in the Holy Land.

    I read your words about sharing “home” experiences and I was reminded of a more simple time in my life that I cherish: Sitting on the floor of our living room, in a sunbeam, as a young child while my mom read out loud to me. Your sharing invited me to do the same: remember home, safety and love.

    Thank you for your invitation to remember!

  2. Joan Gregory says:

    What a wonderful piece. I always enjoy your column. I am not a Catholic, but I do so admire these women who have given their lives to help others.

  3. Such a lovely description of your experience! Thanks for sharing it here.

  4. Anne Adams says:


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