My family moved to Indiana from East Kentucky in 1965. I had just turned ten years old. The second of six children, I was born May 23rd 1955, in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. Prestonsburg is in Floyd County and is smack dab in the middle of the East Kentucky coalfields. Or maybe it would be better said “coal hills.” My earliest memories are of living in a small four room house with my mother, father, and, at that time, two sisters. It seems, as I recall, a hard time. I know that we never had much. Dad raised a big garden and we killed a hog every winter. We had a smokehouse in back of the house where the salt pork was hung to be used later on, along with cans of green beans, corn, mixed pickles, and peaches and so forth. It’s what my Papaw always called “rough grub.”
My dad, Banner F. Kidd, was a coal miner, in East Kentucky. He had, at best, a 3rd grade education. He didn’t go to school very much at all. He was able to read and write, but had no real education to speak of. My mom, Verleen “Verlie Raye” (Akers) Kidd had gone through the eighth grade. That was considered pretty good at the time. If one made it through high school it was pretty amazing. But even achieving a high school diploma in Kentucky left a person far behind just about anywhere else in the country, academically. That was pretty common in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. The school system left a lot to be desired, but most people were pretty oblivious to it, until they had to go to a different part of the country and try to function in a culture that placed a higher value on education. I learned that the hard way when our family tried to relocate in the “promised land” in the north. We are good examples of Dwight Yoakam’s song “Readin’ Writin’ and Route 23.”
It was a pretty common thing for a man to leave home and family to find work, for extended periods of time, in those days. Dad had done this before. He had been in Ohio for quite a long time without the family. The goal was that he would find work and send for us. We tried to come and make a go of it in Ohio, but it didn’t work out. We stayed with some family, in Lorain, Ohio and things didn’t work out so we got on a Greyhound bus and went to Indiana. This was before our final 1965 exodus from Kentucky.
This first Indiana visit was to the town of Huntington, in Northeastern Indiana. We again lived with family there. And, again, it didn’t work out. I remember starting school there and feeling totally lost. I only went a few weeks before having to leave. It was like I was in a fog. I did not have a clue what they were talking about. I felt scared and lost. When it got too difficult for two families to live together in one house my sisters and I were sent “back home” to Kentucky. Mom and Dad stayed in Indiana. But before we went back to Kentucky we had to go back to Ohio. We stayed with my mom’s sister in her apartment for a couple of weeks before they took us back to Kentucky. That was an adventure in itself. My aunt was in fear that the apartment manager would throw she and her husband out if he knew we were there. Every time someone knocked on the door she would hide us. We eventually
ended up back in Kentucky.
Back in Floyd County again. This time without our parents. I stayed with my maternal grandparents, and my sisters stayed with my mom’s other sister. We had been out of school for several weeks. I remember not having clothes to wear to school. My granny altered some old clothes of my uncle’s so I would have something to wear to school. I remember being ashamed when I went to school and everyone was asking about where we had been. The teachers were asking hard questions about why we had not been in school for so long a period of time. I was so far behind and it took me years to ever get back on track.
Living with family in Kentucky proved just as hard as it was in Ohio and Indiana. There were numerous conflicts. We were made to endure endless talk about how worthless our dad was. I felt like I was just in the way. I was something that no-one wanted to deal with but felt they had to. And I felt abandoned by Mom and Dad. I must have been around eight years old at this time. Finally Mom came home. My next memories are of living with Mom and my sisters, alone, while Dad was working in Indiana. God’s grace and mercy were at play during these hard times. If not, I would not be here today.
We lived with Mom in a three room apartment right alongside Route 23, in Boldman, Kentucky. It was a rough existence. One of our neighbors, Bert, was always beating his wife and kids. I remember one time when Opal, his wife, hid in our apartment, with her children, from him. I remember how scared we were when he came to our door looking for her and Mom stood up to him and would not let him in. A year of so after we moved away from Kentucky for good, he beat her to death with a hammer. Opal’s brother ended up killing Bert with a shotgun. Domestic violence, huge rats, and a diet of pinto “soup” beans, corn bread, and fried potatoes made for a pretty awful life. I remember Mom making “snow cream” by scraping snow off the roof outside the kitchen window of our upstairs apartment. It was the only way she could give us some kind of treat.
It was hard for Mom. She did the best she could. She tried to protect us and provide for us. I don’t know how much money Dad sent or anything about that. I was too young. I just know we did not have decent clothes to wear and food to eat. I can remember how my Papaw would humiliate my mom when she asked to borrow money from him. But, Mom was a scrapper. She never gave up. I didn’t know it then, but my mom had faith in Jesus. She didn’t have a lot of knowledge about Him, but what she did have she exercised. It
might have been crude, but the Lord honored it just the same.
As I said, Mom was a scrapper. Once a man had parked his car in front of our door. Our small, shared, front porch, was only about twelve to fifteen feet from an interstate highway. Somehow the man’s car antenna got broken. I didn’t do it. I never knew who did it, but this dude accused me and wanted to beat me for it. Mom was not about to let that happen. When he came on the porch, declaring his intent to teach me a lesson, Mom was waiting with an empty Pepsi bottle in her hand. She backed this dude down and he left. I
believe she would have smashed that bottle over his head if he had persisted. Mom’s scrappiness was the reason, I believe, that we finally left East Kentucky for good. She told Dad, “We’re going back with you.”
The Christmas that we lived at Boldman Dad came home for the holidays. I can still remember seeing him coming across the road with packages under his arm He brought Christmas gifts with him. I remember my sisters getting dolls. One of them was one of those wind up musical dolls for my youngest sister, Jane. I had three sisters at that time. I remember lying in bed at night and listening to it. I got, what I remember as, a Monkey Gun. I remember playing in the snow with it. The best gift was seeing Dad, however. It had been a
long time. We waited for hours, looking out the window, for him to come. I learned later that Mom forced the issue with Dad for him to find a place for us to live in Indiana with him. Finally, in May of 1965, we left Kentucky for the last time, and headed out for Indiana. We would not know Kentucky as home, ever again. I believe that was God’s plan for our lives. Looking back, I would probably have turned out a lot different had we stayed there.
Kendallville, Indiana, in May of 1965, was a like a world that I could never imagine. I remember riding in the back of my Uncle Miles’ station wagon, passing the Kraft Foods plant on State Road 3, as we entered South Main Street, for our first view of what would become home. I say home because I’m not sure what else to call it. In fact I have never really felt like I had a home. Throughout the years I’ve felt I no longer fit in Kentucky, yet I’ve felt that I’ve never really fit in Indiana. As time passed I learned to blend in. But inside I never really felt like I really was a part of anything. Everything and everybody in Kentucky went on with their lives without us and we lost track of family. As for life in Kendallville, it would take many years to, seemingly, catch up with everyone else.
As I mentioned before, the Kentucky school system leaves a lot to be desired. Needless to say I was so far behind that I felt like a lost ball in tall weeds. My grades were so bad that I was passed conditionally to 5th grade my first year of school in this strange place. Things that all the other children just knew as a matter of fact I knew nothing about. I really knew very little about anything. They talked about what they had seen on TV, football, and kinds of food that I knew nothing about. We had never owned a TV until we moved to Indiana. On top of all that I talked funny. The name “Hillbilly” was one that was used like a bludgeon by many children. I got in quite a few fights. I would cry at night many times early on because I missed my Papaw. I just felt lost and alone. But as time went on, as I said, I learned to blend in, but the pain never really went away. In some ways it still is with me. I feel I missed so much by not growing up with “my people,” but I see the grace of God at work in taking me out of Kentucky and working it all together for good in my life, just as HE promised in Romans 8:28.
In our second year in Kendallville, as I began my 6th grade year, I was still trying to find my feet. Being passed into 6th grade, conditionally, I still had no clue what I was doing. My teacher seemed to me to be a mean old woman. I’m not sure, now in retrospect, if she really was mean or if I was just seeing her through the filter of a scared little boy. Be it as it may, I ended up failing 6th grade. Academically I was a total washout. I didn’t understand any of what was going on. I had not had the basics that the other kids had and so I had no foundation to help me grasp what should have been the next step. I had not had the first step yet. My teacher for my second try at 6th grade was Bill Whitcomb. He lived just one block away from us, on Oak Street. I liked him. He was young and athletic. He seemed to care and to take a little more time with someone who needed it. I struggled but made it into the 7th grade by the skin of my teeth. Going into 7th grade was still quite a struggle and on top of it all I did not have a good work ethic. Since I did not understand a lot I think that I avoided the work as much as possible. I was set up to fail. The remainder of my academic career is a pretty pathetic record of an underachiever. I tried athletics and achieved a little success, but was sidelined in my sophomore year with a diagnosed heart murmur. I then turned to the guitar.
In music I found that no-one cared as much about where I was from. I could hide behind the instrument and that gave me a different identity. One that I used to manipulate to try and fit in and be somebody. After spending 5 years in high school I finally achieved a diploma. I then embarked on a life of meandering and playing in a band with my best friend whenever the jobs came about. We bounced around Northeast Indiana playing high school dances, some college frat parties, and some private club gigs. In 1978 Mickey, my best friend, and I were hired by DJ the DJ. DJ was the most successful club owner and entertainer in our area. He was disc jockey on country radio and we thought we had arrived. I really went downhill then. I embarked on a life of drinking and promiscuity that ruled my life as I looked for one more experience to give me worth. The problem was that every experience just dug the hole in my life deeper and deeper. I now have to deal with thoughts and memories that I wish were never made.
In the Summer of 1979 I met my soon to be wife, Karen Jetmore, and on December 22nd we became married. I was 24 and she was only 16. I know what you’re probably thinking. But, no she was not pregnant. I was in lust and thought I would die without her, and I think she thought she was getting a bargain to get out of her home situation. That began a marriage that many said was doomed to failure. It would have failed except that after 8 years of marriage I came to end of my rope and finally accepted the advances of my LORD and SAVIOR Jesus Christ. We are still healing, but after 26 years, and counting, we are still together. I really love her now. Back then I loved how she made me feel, more than anything. But now I love her with the love of Christ. I am so grateful to the Lord’s grace and mercy. I, in my selfish ambition and desires, nearly destroyed our marriage and the both of us, and our children in the process. But HE had a plan. All along HE had a plan. I can now see how it all unfolded to bring me to where I am today. And I’m still seeing HIM work and it is yet to be seen where HE is ultimately leading.
I’ve titled this testimony of Jesus, “But for Grace” because if it weren’t for the grace of God I would not be alive and have the confidence of eternity in Heaven. One of my best friends, when I was little in Kentucky, became an alcoholic, had a failed marriage, lost a successful business and died young due to the sinful life he led. Had I stayed in Kentucky I, no doubt would have lived and died the same way. I was drinking heavy at one time in my life (I began when I was around five years old when my Papaw gave me beer), I nearly lost my marriage, lost a successful (in a worldly sense) business, and nearly died of a heart condition, BUT, Jesus sought me out and when I finally heard HIM I responded and became born again. A new creation in Christ. I have a purpose in life. I live for HIM and HE takes care of me.
Today I have been blessed with a wonderful – although far from perfect – family. I have 3 daughters and a son. The LORD blessed us with our son just over five years ago when our youngest daughter was 10 years old. My pastor called me and my wife Karen, “Abraham and Sarah.”
I have been blessed and called to teach the Word of God. I am an elder at Calvary Christian Fellowship in Howe, IN. I teach children’s ministry, Set Free (a biblical approach to addictions), and I’m a part of our worship ministry. It amazes me to see what God has done with a life that seems to only be worth the scrap heap. The LORD sees us for who we can be in HIM. It is only that I’ve turned my life over to HIM that good has come. May HE be praised.
As I continue to grow in the LORD, I look at my life as a child in Kentucky, and to a lesser degree, my life in Kendallville, as a different person in another world. Everything has changed. Traditions of the past have been replaced by God’s Biblically prescribed ways of living. You won’t find salt pork in my home any more. Growing in grace, as God writes HIS Law on my heart – my inner person, I am changing and it is being reflected in my visible life. Entitling this article of testimony, But For Grace is very appropriate. Grace changes everything. When one turns his very life over the the master and HE begins HIS work on us, HE is faithful to complete it, and we are never the same again. Those who knew us in our pre-newborn state will have a lot of trouble recognizing us. It is that way with me. I wouldn’t change anything, except I wish I had thrown in the towel long before I did.