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Third Places - Pauletta Hansel

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Third Places

by Pauletta Hansel

My family moved to Jackson in 1970 because Mom forgot to turn off the coffee percolator. That’s the family story, anyway. Dad was desperate to get back into teaching, and the rest of us—Mom, my teenaged sister, preschool brother and 10-year-old me—to get back to a real town, for heaven’s sake, after a year up a Perry County holler, a failed experiment in rural life. We were packed into the family Datsun for a trip to Lexington, already halfway out the drive, when Mom made Dad pull back in so she could check if she’d turned everything off. Sure enough, once in the kitchen that little red light was still on. Just as Mom unplugged the pot, the phone rang. It was Tom Noe at Lees Junior College offering my dad a job.  

People say that the Jackson of the 1970s was not like Jackson today. And there surely were differences. Almost everything that used to be in town is now “out on the road.” Back then, north of the 15 stoplight was the Dairy Bar and Maloney’s (open on Sunday, which was a rarity), and to the south was The Teepee and the Alpine.  But downtown had everything else: the Methodist Opportunity Store (my favorite!); Douthitt’s 5&10; Roses and a couple of other dry goods stores; TWO groceries (we went to Food Fair because they delivered, and Mom didn’t drive); Nim Henson’s Western Union hardware where Mom worked before she started her daycare center; a laundromat—even an ice cream parlor for a while.  

In the summers and on Saturdays, I had a routine. Most of our Jackson years we lived on Washington Avenue and so I would cross through campus and walk down College Avenue to the library, the Opportunity Store and maybe through town to the Hope Store, down near the river. I was a weird kid—books and thrift stores were (and are) my thing! The summer between junior high at Little Red and Breathitt High I was trying to slim down, so I’d bike through town and out Quicksand Road, after a side trip across the bridge to South Jackson. That place fascinated me. There was still the shell of the old train station and houses with trees growing up through the fallen roofs. If the Jackson of now is not like the Jackson I knew, then that difference can’t be as vast as that between the 1970s and turn of the twentieth century Jacksons. The center keeps shifting—from South Jackson to downtown to the strip out on 15 which is, some of the teens I have been writing with at Breathitt High tell me, where everybody hangs out.  

I suspect, though, there is no one hangout place. There wasn’t when I was growing up. For adults, there would have been the lunch counter gang at the White Flash and at the Whiz, and some regulars at tables at the Cozy Corner. College students hung out around the big tree on campus. I had some friends who would congregate in the band room after school; I figure the sports teams had their own places too, but us chorus kids did not. The little kids had my mom’s daycare center. Teens with access to cars cruised the Dairy Bar at night.  Men and older boys hung out at the pool halls; I would skirt around them in my bellbottom jeans and not-yet-cool vintage tops on my way up or down Main Street. 

When I was in junior high my mom and some others had the idea of starting a teen center in town. I’m not sure why it never took off; from my perspective it was because my mom was there, which hardly made it a place for me to explore who I was becoming away from home and school.  

There’s a lot of talk now about “third places,” though the name was coined way back in 1989 by Ray Oldenburg in his book, The Great Good Place. If your home is your “first place” and your work or school is your “second place,” then your “third place” is where you can go to be with people not in your role as, for example, daughter or student, and maybe discover skills and interests you never knew you had. In my brief experience at the teen center I did discover I was pretty good at chess; I didn’t keep playing it as an adult, but the confidence I gained in my ability to think logically and several steps ahead has served me well these many years since.  

I wasn’t really thinking about “third places” when I asked the students at Breathitt High to make personal maps, sketching out and writing about the locations they most called their own, but the maps they made pointed my thoughts in that direction. Here are some places they named: fast food spots on 15, Douthitt Park, the library, the drama room, the football field, the basketball court, the skate park, the gas station, and church.  

So, what about you? Where are the places that you go to be in community with others? Why are they important to you? Are there places you used to go that are no longer available? What places are needed to make “Our Breathitt” a thriving community for folks of all ages? 

Pauletta Hansel is a poet, essayist and teacher from Jackson who was Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate. Her parents cared for and educated Breathitt children and young adults for many years. 

This column is brought to you by Our Breathitt, a community arts and health experience bringing together artists and Breathitt Countians from across Kentucky. Project is organized with IDEAS xLab (an artist-led nonprofit), and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Starting in August 2019, five collaborating writers, each with their own perspectives and ties to the county, will offer weekly columns and audio stories for radio and podcasts. Contact us at 859-397-1317 to join this conversation by leaving a voicemail with your response to the questions we raise and adding thoughts of your own! You may hear your responses incorporated into future posts and narratives! You can also email at ourbreathitt@gmail.com. We hope you will mark your calendars and join us at the Our Breathitt Summit, October 11-12 in Jackson, Kentucky. Information at www.ideasxlab.com/ourbreathitt.