Transplanted New Yorker reflects for 'Paint Lickers'

April 12, 2004|JIM LOGAN

Rita Mackin Fox must have seemed like an unlikely person to rescue Paint Lick's past.

In a town where memories are measured in generations, she was a transplant from New York. True, she grew up in Louisville, but that was long ago and, when you get down to it, might as well be another country.

And yet, here she is, practically a one-woman preservation society, a person to whom strangers pour out their most treasured memories. As the editor and publisher of Paint Lick Reflections, a quarterly magazine about the history of the town and its people, Fox has rekindled a deep pride and nostalgia in the people she calls Paint Lickers.

"This is the best thing that ever happened to the community," said Margaret Burkett, whose family roots in the area reach to the 18th century. "It puts us to shame for a stranger to come in from New York, buy into the community and take more interest in the community than some of the people that have been here all their life."


For Fox, the magazine has nothing to do with shame or fame. Instead, it's about Paint Lick, its people, its sense of lingering in another time. She came to fear that its way of life and memories were fading into the dull, gray doom of progress. She saw that the highway to oblivion, both figurative and literal, is coming, and she's doing her best to preserve as much of the heart and soul of Paint Lick as she can.

"The people who've lived here all their lives, I don't think they realize it's really something special," said Fox, 46. "I think you can appreciate it more when you've been other places that aren't this special."

Fox lived on a 70-acre farm in western New York for 17 years with her husband, Raymond, and daughter Sara, and son, Joseph, before deciding she was homesick for Kentucky. Louisville was too big and crowded, so she focused on Central Kentucky.

The family looked in an ever-widening arc south of Lexington before stumbling on Paint Lick in 1995. They found a house with a porch Fox couldn't resist and settled in.

Fox soon landed a job at Eastern Kentucky University as an administrative assistant and worked until 1998, when she quit to be a full-time student at the school. She graduated with a journalism degree in 2001.

A mind-boggling magazine

After some prodding by her friend Dean Cornett, a community icon who initially wanted a newspaper, Fox decided to launch Paint Lick Reflections. In a town where the biggest thing to happen was a circus train wreck more than 120 years ago, the magazine was a mind-boggling proposition.

"The locals were all kind of like, 'How are you gonna find 40 pages about Paint Lick four times a year?"' Fox said. "And they just couldn't imagine what I was gonna come up with."

The first issue, which debuted Spring 2002, featured profiles of music pioneer Bradley Kinkaid and Cornett. It was heavy on memories and reminisces, and columns by local writers. It was an instant hit.

"It just snowballed after the first issue came out," said Fox, who works 30 hours a week at Berea College as an editorial assistant. "Till then they really didn't know what I was gonna do."

In the issues since, Fox has written extensively about such local luminaries as baseball Hall of Famer Earl Combs, the New York Yankee who later served as president of People's Bank in Paint Lick, prominent families, teachers and residents of the past, while page after page is full of remembrances, old photos, columns, recipes, local news, business features, calendars of events and more.

Since Reflections largely deals with families and individuals in the community's history, it's also a gold mine for genealogists.

One of the most fascinating features is the reprinting of old diaries and account books. For genealogists, arguably the most useful belonged to Dr. Charles T. Spilman, whose records from 1876-96 cover a period when vital records - particularly birth certificates - were non-existent.

Fox initially had "a really bad copy" of the Spilman's diary. Transcribing it was a nightmare.

Then Cecil Henderson loaned her the original, "And that made it so much easier because I could actually read the words," she said.

Henderson's loan and the steady stream of personal stories and artifacts from life in Paint Lick typify the community's embrace of the magazine - and of the readers' communal history.

"They're just so forthcoming with these treasures that they have and they want to share."

'I could go forever'

It's the personal stories that fascinate Fox. Her readers send pictures, diaries, tales from their childhood and stories passed down from their parents and grandparents. With few exceptions - tales of long-ago murders, bootlegging and the like - she prints it all.

"I could go forever," Fox said. "The hardest thing is getting to the ones who have great stories to tell but just don't feel like they can write it or they don't write well enough."

Central Kentucky News Articles