Introducing Young Rader

This week in Little Star Weekly we feature the first of a three-part serial of “Passage,” a story by Young Rader. Read it also in the forthcoming Little Star #5 (2014) available here for a special pre-publication price.

The family did not live far from Mammoth Cave. In 1773, the great-grandfather brought his wife and son west to Kentucky from Pennsylvania. He built a timber house beside the Green River, at a distance of ten kilometers from the nearest settlement. In 1784, an Indian ambushed and killed the great-grandfather in the woods. He was laid to rest beneath a large stone. During the War of 1812, his son mined nitrate for saltpeter in Mammoth Cave, and in 1823, the miner’s son became a bridge carpenter, constructing covered bridges all along the Green River. This son was a father now, with two sons of his own, and a wife he’d met while working on a bridge in Morgantown in 1829. When the family crossed the river on a bridge the father had helped build, he would mention the names of those who had worked beside him.

The mother, in her homespun clothes, looked after the sons. In 1842, the boy was nine years old and his older brother was twelve. The mother sought to fill all hours of daylight with work, carrying out household duties with a Bible beside her and a hymn in her head—though she could not read and did not attend services, living at a considerable distance from the town. The boy and the brother helped the mother, chopped wood, played chuck-a-luck with the dice, and if the construction of a bridge led the father elsewhere for several days, hunted. The boy and the brother carried their muskets into the forest and pretended they were shooting Indians when they sighted carefully along the barrels at a turkey or a deer.

In 1839, for the price of ten thousand dollars, Franklin Gorin sold Mammoth Cave to Dr. John Croghan, who believed in the healing properties of the cave’s air. The mother and the sons had heard about the purchase from the father, who had heard it from the men he worked alongside. The men also spoke of Franklin Gorin’s slave, Stephen Bishop, who had made remarkable discoveries inside the cave. The father described to the mother and the sons the blind fish and silent crickets that had been found there, the bodies of Indians and bats that had remained intact for hundreds of years. The father had never been to the Mammoth Cave. He did not speak of this fear outright, but it was clear in the way he spoke about the cave, staring into the wormholes in the chinked and square-hewn logs of the house.

One winter evening, in 1842, the mother set minced beef, corn pone, and beans cooked with molasses on the table and the father kindled the fire in the hearth, told the boys to wash up. The sons combed their hair in the room they shared and took their assigned places at the table, across from one another, and flanked by the mother and the father. The father conveyed news of sixteen patients living in the cave, suffering from pulmonary consumption. “From what I hear, Dr. Croghan is planning on a hotel being built inside the cave,” the father said.

“Pass me some corn pone, brother,” the boy said.

“Can I take ourn to see the patients?” the mother asked.

“What for? To catch ill?” The father chewed minced beef, swallowed with a pull of blackstrap. “It is a sin to Moses visits are being led past the dying. It is savage as a meat axe is what I think.”

“I ask no odds of you but this,” the mother said. “To show ourn the Lord’s natural wonder and care for the ill.”





Read more in Little Star Weekly

Young Rader lives and works in St. Louis.



This entry was posted in News and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

Comments are closed.