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Area native author remembers ‘Growin’ Up Kentucky’

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By JULIE BALL HAMBRICK
The Trimble Banner

We live in disposable days: get it, use it, throw it away. With eyes glued to screens all day, we fail to see life as it is and was, beyond the digital world. We miss meaningful lessons others may leave behind. Unseen, these bits of history disappear without a trace.

Area native Eva Johnson Allen, 60, made certain her heritage won’t fade away. In her new book, “Growin’ Up Kentucky,” she fondly and accurately recalls her youth in and around Carroll County—mostly in English, Ky.

Each chapter reveals footprints left along the muddy Kentucky River, in tangled green Carroll County meadows and beside one-lane rural highways. Thanks to her book, readers and her family may follow Allen’s path and rural heritage for years to come. And that’s why she wrote it.

“So many of these traditions and communities are fading,” the author explains. “We’ve become a throw-away culture; we’re losing intimacy with neighbors and friends.”

Now living in Creston, Ohio, Allen is married to Trimble native Ermal Allen. His parents are Carl and Ila Allen of Milton.

In “Growin’ Up Kentucky,” author Allen’s writing style is folksy and intimate. It’s also detailed and accurate, especially when it comes to area folkways and family trees. She balances a keen memory with affection for her childhood, home and family -- and the community.

Her book is divided into chapters named for the down-home experiences each describe: “Chores,” “Raising Chicken,” “Raising Pigs,” “Tobacco Cutting,” “The Outhouse” to name a few. For some Trimble-area residents, these activities may bring back fond (or not so fond) recollections.
Want to learn how to kill, pluck, butcher, clean, and cook a chicken from scratch? It’s here. Curious about all the ways to use a hog besides pork chops? She describes that process, too.

Allen’s book takes the reader from tobacco barns and corn cribs to Lerman’s department store and downtown Carrollton on a Saturday night. For young or city-bred readers, her descriptions reveal a colorful world that now lives largely in memory.

“Most of all, I wrote this for my kids,” Allen explains -- and for her granddaughters, with whom she stays close in spite of distance as the crow flies. “I don’t want this part of me to get lost. My boys never lived this kind of life. They’ve heard all my stories, but now they can read them whenever they want.

“My dad was a storyteller, and to him I give a lot of credit. (The book) is part of the legacy Dad left, and now I’m leaving it for my kids.”

Following a 1952 Carrollton at-home birth,  Allen and Retha Johnson, both deceased, welcomed curly top Eva Marie into the fold. The only girl, Allen grew up with brothers Johnny Johnson, deceased, Carrollton; Gary Johnson, 68, Carrollton; and “baby” brother Tony Johnson, 47, now also of Creston, Ohio. Allen and Retha briefly moved them all to Worthville, then settled in Greens Bottom, English.

“I grew up as a ‘river rat,’ less than a mile from the Kentucky River,” says Allen. “My dad and I had a special connection because he loved the river as much as I did. We’d go night fishing together, we fished and trapped all along the Kentucky, and he taught me some carpentry, too.”

Allen lived in English from age five to 17, when she graduated from Carroll County High School. After high school, she attended the Cincinnati Bible Seminary.

Later in life, Allen worked in special education, but she says her life’s path became clear at Happy Hills Christian Camp. “When I met my teenage sweetheart, Ermal (who was planning a career in the ministry), I knew I wanted to be a preacher’s wife,” she remembers with a laugh.

For 42 years, husband Ermal has ministered in the Christian Church. The author stayed active in children’s ministries for every congregation. “We’ve moved 16 times in 41 years,” she recalls. The couple raised their three sons — Ethan, Joshua and Casey — in little towns and larger towns, including Cincinnati, Ohio, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Allen says no matter where they lived, “back home” stayed with them. When the couple started a new church in Creston, the English Christian Church donated to the project. “Fifty years later and they still support us in many ways,” she explains. “They’re still taking care of that ‘curly-haired, five-year-old kid’.” In her book, Allen dedicates a full chapter to the English Christian Church.

In recent years, medical problems forced Allen to abandon her career with special needs children and adults. “It was a rough time for me, after working 40 years,” Allen explains.

Always a busy bee, she began to look for something productive to do. She wrote poems earlier in her life. Faced with time to fill, she rediscovered writing. In addition to “Growin’ Up Kentucky,” Allen self-published a collection of poetry, “...As the Clouds Uncover the Moon.”  

For “Growin’,” husband Ermal and son Joshua helped organize her Carroll and Trimble County remembrances into a book. “It was a good experience for all of us,” she says. “Some of the stories even my husband didn’t know.

“You know, I’m so proud of when I met my husband and his parents,” Allen explains. “(The Allen family) changed my life. They’re amazing people.” She regrets that she’s not able to visit her Trimble in-laws, her brother or her hometown as much as she would like. But, she joins Ermal for the five-hour trip as often as she’s able.

“Now when I visit Carrollton, the first thing my brother (Gary) does is take me to the Point, where the Kentucky River meets the Ohio. After my stroke, an Ohio friend drove me down to the Markland Dam, then out to English. It was a healing trip. That’s the river of my life.

“When I cross the Ohio, I know I’m home. And writing these stories took me back home.”

In life as in her book, Allen tempers sentiment with wit: “I told my boys that when I pass, I want you to put my ashes on a little boat and set me free on the river — just make sure you do it below the Markland Dam.”

For more information about Eva Johnson Allen, “Growin’ Up Kentucky,” or Allen’s other projects, visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com. Search for “Eva Johnson Allen” and send her a friend request.