October 30th, 2006 by The Lexington Herald-Leader
DSTEPHENSON@HERALD-LEADER.COM
AWILSON1@HERALD-LEADER.COM

On the coldest morning on record in Kentucky for this date, the frost has bitten hard, and even the hardiest traveler has wrapped up tight just to step out of the car. (It should be noted that the traveler has choices. Travellers Rest is only a few miles north of here.)

Out of the car now. Breath is visible. The noise from the nearby woods sounds something like that of a wild turkey feigning illness in preparation for turkey-eating season or a deer complaining about an empty corn feeder.

Or maybe, this being Mummie, it's the sound an Egyptian makes when muffled for eternity.

No, couldn't be. Though Egypt is barely 10 miles in the other direction, Egyptians tend to want to be buried in their own town and not in this backwater.

Er, Blackwater.

Here, where Blackwater Road meets Gregory Road, everything is shrouded in pre-dawn blackness. Black like the water in Blackwater Creek, which is the unofficial and unrealized true namesake of this town since, by most accounts, it was just some guy nobody remembers who named the post office Mummie even while everybody around here called it as they saw it. This here is Blackwater, they say.

Or, you could call it Chadwell -- which some have called it on account of the fact that the Chadwells were from around here and Bill, the black sheep, died ignominiously with Jesse James in Northfield, Minn., after the locals got wind of the pending bank robbery. It's said Bill deserved no better, given his life of crime and lack of repentance. But his family was nice, and nobody would have minded calling the town Chadwell in any case.

Or, says Mary May Bingham Coffey, you could call it Rabbit Flat, Rabbit Flat being where Gregory Road is now. Which gets Mary May to remembering that there never was any family named Gregory around here, and she thinks that the byway got misnamed because it should have been named for the Grears, who lived down that way.

Of course, if Mary May had named it she'd have called it Hog Camp, which was renowned for its, you guessed it, corn.

"I can close my eyes," says Mary May, "and still see old men with their gray mules grubbing out corn on that ridge."

And, it all serves to make you wonder, why don't these people ever get to name their own stuff?

Still, they are a decent and generous lot, explaining why Mary May and all her kin will acquiesce and say, yes, right here in Jackson County, after you've taken a hard left after Gray Hawk, you have indeed unearthed Mummie.

It used to be more sparsely settled, says 88-year-old Mary May, when she and her 10 brothers and sisters were born and lived in the big white house in the holler, which still is home to her brother Walter Bingham, now 93.

It was on that piece of cleared land that their daddy, Billy, a one-armed teacher, split rails and built fences and barns where tobacco hangs to dry to this day. Billy Bingham lost his arm in a horse accident when he was 7. Still, he could "wrap a bundle of wheat as fast as a man with two hands," Mary May says. It was an aunt and uncle from Missouri who sent the money to the Binghams of Blackwater to send Billy to Berea College. It is well known that he walked to and from college as the spirit moved him. It took him almost 10 hours each way.

He did everything a two-armed man could do, taking it upon himself to teach his children how to tie their shoes.

The Binghams go back further in Blackwater/Chadwell/ Rabbit Flat/Hog Camp/Mummie. In 1861, at the age of 42, their great-grandfather Robert enlisted with his two sons on the Union side of things. One of those sons was captured by the Confederates and escaped to come back home. "All the children were Republicans from that day on," Mary May says.

The other son disappeared to the record books as a war statistic of some kind. That saddens the Binghams and Coffeys to this day.

But it brightens them that they are related to the Binghams of Louisville, the ones who used to have a newspaper and some considerable coin there.

Russell Bingham, Walter's son, says it wasn't all that long back that he and his dad went looking through some old papers in the old house and found receipts for the many years that the Binghams of Upper Blackwater Road religiously bought a newspaper to be delivered to the home place.

It was the Lexington newspaper, remembers Russell, who smiles at the irony.

Mary May says the biggest thing that ever happened to Mummie was when Blackwater Baptist Church burned about 1922. The town rebuilt the church and later, for good measure, a second one and called it Blackwater #2. It was built to accommodate those who did not want to come the extra mile up the creek on Sunday.

Down at the home place, Walter is being nursed for shingles, which will not yield to modern medicine. Frail, he is nonetheless hospitable, offers everyone who comes by a free cat and says he used to hear the town called Hurricane Fork.

The reason why escapes him. He does know why they called it Blackwater, though. It was because black walnut trees skirted the creek and dyed the water an unsightly shade of brown.

Mary May Bingham Coffey used to play house on the porch on the second floor of that house that Walter now haunts.

She says nobody will let their kids up there on that porch now, too afraid they'll fall over the side.

It never occurred to her to fall over the side, she says.

Never occurred to her to stop feeling homesick for that house, even if she lived less than a mile from it for most of her adult life.

Never occurred to her to wonder how Mummie got its name.

Never thought of the place as anything but raiment for her full, unconstricted and well-lived life.

2 Responses to “Mummie: Some just call it home”

  1. I enjoyed the article. I am a granddaughter of Billy Bingham. I have several pictures of the homeplace. My poppie was Robert Elijah Bingham and Vina Jane Wright Bingham. There were 13 of us children 2 sets of twins.

  2. I’m the great granddaughter of Billy Bingham. I love reading anything on my ancestors, my father was Johnnie Bingham son of “poppie” Robert Bingham and Vina Bingham.