July 26th, 2006 by The Lexington Herald-Leader
DSTEPHENSON@HERALD-LEADER.COM
AWILSON1@HERALD-LEADER.COM

It smells like earth in Moon. Earth, with a little "e." Fecund and moist and scented with the smell of June apples, freshly fallen from limbs too high to reach. Gravity is indeed good and in proper supply here, though the trumpet vine climbs without limit and the mountains rise effortlessly all around.

Latosha Osborne, a girl who once aspired to be Miss Morgan County Sorghum Queen 2005, walks down Ky. 172 on her way through town to get to Tans by Jan for her twice- or three-times-weekly 20 minutes of sun time. It's $2 a session, on a pay-and-lay honor system set up by Bobby McGothen, who has a three-tanning-bed shed. He trusts that, if you lay down and turn on the power, you put money in the till. "You know if you pay'" or you live with the fact you didn't, McGothen says.

McGothen has, more or less, the same honor system policy in place at his carwash. Both commercial ventures have "cost me money for 20 years," he says, but since "everything I got is paid for" and because people need tans and clean cars, he supplies.

The Jan of Tans by Jan was McGothen's wife, who died seven days short of their 20th anniversary. Jan's sister was Betty, who owned the grocery where the post office once was. That grocery has closed down but the other store in town is also named "Betty's" as a kind of homage. It's run by relatives who, it should be noted, do not currently have Moon Pies in stock, "though we do have RC," says proprietress Sheila Holbrook.

The grocery also stocks generic banana-flavored marshmallow pies for $1.19 a box but even Holbrook admits that is not actually what a thinking person would rightly call a Moon Pie.

There is cheese at the Moon store but it's of the individually sliced, block or pimento variety. Holbrook isn't all that amused by the questions about cheese. She is reminded that July 20, 2006, marks the 37th anniversary of the first lunar landing. She remains unamused.

If you don't count this week, Moon hasn't spent much time in the news since 1969, when an Apache attack helicopter made an emergency landing in a large grassy field on Brenda Dickerson's land near Mile Marker 18. That made for a soft Moon landing for the two soldiers traveling between Texas and Pennsylvania. They had run into some sudden electrical malfunction and needed to put down for a night, they told locals. A Black Hawk helicopter filled with repair workers came the next day and, by that night, with all of Moon marveling, the two aircraft took off.

Latosha, the Sorghum Queen wannabe, explains that any visitor should go over to the old red post office (versus the older one, at the formerly thriving Betty's grocery store). There you can see where the sycamore tree planted by "moon seeds" used to be.

The seeds took the trip to the moon between Jan. 31 and Feb. 9, 1971, in Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roose's shirt pocket while he piloted the command module above the lunar surface. Technically, the seeds neither came from nor touched the moon but they did make the trip.

The seeds came to Moon as a sapling -- with just two leaves -- which was planted in front of the old red post office on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Also planted behind the post office is the Grissom maple, which was from the Mitchell, Ind., homeplace of astronaut Gus Grissom.

Arlene Ison was there for the tree planting, part of a celebratory ceremony that included a community sale of moon rocks (really gravel from the post office parking lot) and a complimentary Moon, Ky., postmark, ZIP code: 41457.

You can't get a Moon postmark now. After Ison's daughter, Sandy, left as postmistress years back to find better work, no one filled her shoes. Moon now has the same postal codes as West Liberty.

Arlene -- whose mother, Florence, was Moon postmistress from the early part of the 1900s -- has never heard the story that the postmaster was inspired by the moonlight to name little Moon, Ky. She holds to the theory that the town was named for founders Susannah Moonglow Hamilton and her Revolutionary War hero husband, Benjamin.

But back to the moon sycamore.

"It got huge quick," says Shaun Dalton, Sandy Ison's boy, Arlene's grandson and Florence's great-grandson. He was also on hand in 1989 when the tree went in.

Flash ahead 17 years to 2006 and, as sycamore are wont to do, its mighty branches got caught up in the power lines.

What happens next is surprisingly muddled given that it took place four or five months ago. It seems somebody gave the go-ahead for Dwayne Buckner to cut the moon sycamore down this spring. Buckner took three hours to cut it up into a truckload of firewood, which he distributed locally, he says. He also severely scored the tree trunk "like the old-timers used to," he says, so there would be no regrowth of the moon tree.

Here it gets murkier still. No one in town knows what happened to the wood. No one admits to burning it. People adamantly hold to their innocence of any sort of moon tree conflagration. When pressed, people surmise it was used by someone who got cold because, Dalton says, "it got chilly this spring."

Dalton also chooses to think that it's all the government's fault. Bureaucrats must have chosen where the tree was going to go in the first place, he says, and that was a fatal decision that doomed that tree from Day One.

The fact that the moon tree is now cut down is news to Joey Ferguson. Though he is concerned that the 1969 moon landing might not actually have happened, he laments, "Wasn't that tree supposed to be some kind of landmark deal?"

But it's gone, just like the town signs that keep being stolen and the homemade lunar module that was put up for the 25th anniversary of the moon landing, in 1994.

Gone.

But certainly not forgotten. The sign for the tree remains. The insidious, and supposedly dead, roots are digging themselves under the old post office and there is the mark of a footprint forever sealed in concrete marking the day the tree was installed.

But to think of the people of Moon as tree-axers would be wrong. The foothills of the Appalachians are graced with every manner of tree, tall and towering, short and stubby, lime and kelly green, and folks appear to cut only what they need to eat and live safely as a community.

The town is but a "dot on the highway," says Ferguson, a lifelong resident who is married to the daughter of Charlotte, who was a sister to Betty and Jan, who ran most everything Arlene and Sandy do not.

With that in mind, Moon is a fine place for women. You need only to consider that Latosha, the girl who would be Miss Morgan County Sorghum Queen but alas, is now the reigning Miss Johnson County Halloween Queen.

The county line separating Morgan and Johnson is only a few miles down Ky. 172, right after you pass Relief.

One Response to “Moon: A trip to”

  1. Just to let you know, Arlene is the Daughter in Law to Florence, I should know, Florence was my Great Grandmother, and Arlene is my Great Aunt.