First of all, I thought Twinkies were gone. Apparently they’re back! Look closely at the sign in this picture and you’ll see that they’re offered deep-fried (if you don’t like your Twinkies deep-fried, you can always try the deep-fried Oreos, also for sale). I saw these signs Saturday night in a festival down in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia. My wife and I joined another couple for a weekend at a nearby state park, mainly hiking the trails and enjoying good company. We ventured into town because we heard of the “Jenny Wiley Festival Weekend” and the town-square concert by country music star Jason Michael Carroll (we had missed Friday night’s bluegrass concert, featuring Ralph Stanley II, whose legendary father had written the now-famous song “Man of Constant Sorrow” lip-synced by George Clooney in the film “O Brother Where Art Thou?“).
It was great to see, in a town I had visited while working in the hills many years back, the spirit of the Appalachian people again. Twinkies aside (obesity is as much a problem there as anywhere), you could feel the spirit of people proud to be who they are. The next day, far up on a ridge-top trail in the state park, we ran into a couple from nearby who stopped and talked for a bit (honestly, we all were a bit winded). Blake told us all about some of the elk that had been introduced to the area, while his wife, Darlene, produced an iPhone to show us a YouTube video of the elk, telling us how populous they had become since being reintroduced to the area a decade ago.
Blake told us some of the statistics around elk management, and shared us a hilarious story about how he got a wild elk to let Blake walk up and pet him (and how he then got some of his friends and neighbors–and Darlene–to come and see him do it again. It all was a reminder that people are people everywhere. When folks like Blake and Darlene are willing to stop on the trail and visit with a few Yankee tourists like us, we all walk away richer. These are the moments of goodwill that build trust between people.