The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

The strange, true tale behind the mysterious …. Woman in Black

I didn’t quite know what I was looking for, or expecting,when I went driving down U.S. 27 south to find the reported “woman in black” walking along the highway.

The Woman in Black
The Woman in Black

All I had was this ominous title — Woman in Black ­— and that was enough for me to be intrigued. I had not yet discovered that this odd figure had become an internet meme or that a Facebook page had been created just for her.
What I did know was that sightings of her walking down Paris Pike from Lexington and up US 27 toward Cynthiana had sparked wild speculations all over the internet. It became an instant topic of conversation and one of the few times in my memory when people sought out the Cynthiana Democrat Facebook page with anxious questions about “the story” on this woman.
And that was my mission on Monday morning. To get the story….
By the time I was in my car, this figure had become living folklore.
I drove the highways radiating from downtown searching for anything who fit the description of a wandering woman in black.
Then I got a tip on my cell phone. The woman had been seen passing Cockrell’s Auto on the highway heading toward Cynthiana.
As I exited the roundabout to southbound 27, part of me hoped I wouldn’t find this woman.
It somehow felt right that I should search and never find this person. Then I would be free to dismiss the whole story as groundless rumor. People would be talking about sighting the mysterious woman in black and I could add my two cents by telling about how I looked for her and she wasn’t there.
But not long after I had passed the Kentucky Farm Bureau office, sure enough, there she was — dressed in billowing black robes and head scarf bearing two large linen sacks dyed the same flat black.
Usually when something of this nature occurs, our imaginations far exceed the actual event.
But not this time.
In this one rare instance, the woman in black not only met my every expectation for a strange roadside encounter but, bless that dear woman, she exceeded them by responding to my presence in the best way possible.
She completely ignored me.
I found a place to stop on the side of the road, awkwardly awaited her approach with reporter’s notebook in hand, asked permission to talk and she walked past me without a word, glance or slight acknowledgement.
I knew in that moment that there wasn’t going to be an answer to this mystery and, to be honest, I was glad.
I had occasion to see others approach her along the highway. She refused offers of water or food, but never complained, or even reacted much at all, when people took photos.
I can empathize with the criticism that this woman was needlessly bothered by the attention of the press and passers-by. However, if it was her intention to travel a great distance on foot unnoticed, she chose to dress herself in a manner that drew the maximum amount of attention towards her.
What possible reaction can one expect when you choose to be a “strange, silent woman in black robes who wanders the highway?” That’s  something right out of an episode of The Twilight Zone.
And because she chose to offer no explanation, she opened the vaults wide for all manner of weird ideas. I like to think I’m above that sort of thing – but I’m not.
By Monday afternoon, the woman ceased to be the real story, if she ever was at all.
The story was the tales and theories being circulated among those whose imaginations she had captured.
My favorite was the theory that there were multiple women in black; some figured she was staging a wordless political protest; she was a self-appointed holy person on a spiritual pilgrimage; or it could be some kind of performance art to start people talking.
One person went into paranoia overdrive, suggesting that she was randomly planting bombs along her way … sigh.
For myself, I was influenced heavily by the brutal weekend accident that claimed the lives of two young people I knew well in Nicholas County. Combined with other fatalities and suicides that have happened this month, I could not help but apply a metaphysical explanation to her. A silent, blank-faced woman in black certainly lends itself to supernatural images of a spectral figure of death, even if the subject is clearly mortal flesh and blood.
Fortunately, I was able to dispense with these ideas when I heard updates on social media that she’d been seen shopping at the Wal-Mart in Alexandria.
That bit of intelligence returned her to human form.
But I am still no less intrigued by the mystery surrounding her presence. Ironically, though, I hope we never find out the truth.
In this case, I think, truth would ruin the story.

Another version of The American Dream : From Cambodian refugee to American army veteran

When one imagines an American army veteran, it’s not likely that the image they see is that of Leon La. In fact, when he joined the army in his early 30s, there were only a few recruits in basic training that were even close to his age.
There is not very much that is typical about La. When people meet him at his family business, the Something Different nail salon in Harrison Square, one cannot imagine that this soft spoken and gentle man is not only an army veteran, but that his two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq involved just a little less risk than his own childhood in his native Cambodia.

Image
La was the son of a farming family in Kampuchea (Cambodia) during the brief rule of the Khmer Rouge regime. His father and mother worked their farm, which had rice paddies and vegetable gardens in a village not all that far from the Thailand border.
In 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded the country and, during a one-year civil war, managed to overthrow the Khmer Rouge leadership in power.
La was 7 years old at the time. He didn’t know about the political climate in his home country, only that one day there was quiet and the next there was sporadic gun fire and explosions.
It wasn’t a safe time at all to be in country.
When things became increasingly unsettled, La’s uncle suggested that the family escape the war by crossing the border into the relative safety of Thailand.
“My uncle helped a lot of Cambodian families across the Thai border to escape the war,” La said.
Despite the obvious dangers in staying, La’s father and mother did not want to lose their farm. It had been in the family for generations and it was the only possession they had that was really worth something, he said.
“If they abandoned it, they would have lost it forever,” La said.
They chose to remain behind, but his father entrusted La to his uncle’s care. In the middle of the night, La joined his uncle’s family on an overnight run to the Thai border.
La understood the danger of this undertaking. The family was at risk whether they were discovered by Vietnamese troops or Khmer Rouge forces.
La left home with only the clothes he was wearing. He didn’t have shoes.
In the night there pockets of random shooting, jungle noises and more raw fear than he had ever experienced in his life.
“We spent the entire night sneaking through the jungle. My uncle knew the way to go, but we were always peering around trees and making sure all was clear before tip-toeing to the next place that offered cover,” La said.
Fortune smiled upon La’s family that night. They arrived in Thailand while managing to evade random patrols and border guards trying to keep people from escaping.
His one regret: there was no way a message could be sent to let his family know he had survived the night.
His uncle’s family was his family now and they took up residence in a small staked out area of a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.
This small space would be La’s home for the next two years.
Though La managed to escape the war that ravaged his own country, in Thailand they were stuck in the worst kind of limbo.
United Nations relief agencies, the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations provided medicine, supplies and other basic necessities, but that was it. There was no place to go, nothing to do except buy food from the Thai markets and exist.
“We were under guard and were not supposed to leave the camp. Not that we had any place to go,” La said. “If we were caught away from the camp or trying to escape into the mainland, we risked being beaten or even killed.”
The only hope they had during this long wait came from a sponsor they acquired from the United States.
It was a pastor from a church in Providence, Rhode Island.
Their sponsor provided some of the aid that they needed at the camp. And then they brought the family to the United States.
“It was a real culture shock. I was 10 and all I had known was my little corner of Asia. I knew rice paddies and gardens, I knew war and surviving as a refugee. And suddenly, there was none of that. I didn’t even understand the language enough to know the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’,” La said.
That became very important early when a kind woman offered him a cookie, which he wanted very badly.
“I didn’t know how to say ‘yes’ and I told her ‘no’ and she put away the cookie. It tore me up,” La said, laughing at the memory.
His family were welcomed by members of the pastor’s church in Providence. They provided the means for the family to transition to life in the United States.
Because La was an orphan refugee, not even knowing if his mother and father had survived the war, he qualified for state and federal assistance through the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which helped them build a new life here in the United States.
In his late 20s, he earned a professional degree from the International Academy of Design and Technology in Florida. In 2002, mere months after the 9-11 tragedy, he earned his United States citizenship and at age 32, enlisted in the U.S. army.
La served eight years, including two tours of duty on the front lines in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq.
Returning to war torn locations after a few years of relative peace was an interesting experience for La.
“I found that I could adapt to those conditions without much problem. But then, the army gave us food and uniforms and equipment. I had none of that when I was seven,” La said.
He spent three years in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he met his wife and the state that now serves as his home.
“I received so much assistance and aid from this country. I was proud to give something back to this country before I could go on into my own business,” La said.
Now, in Cynthiana, he feels free to pursue his own version of “The American Dream.”

Image
Several years after he left Cambodia in the darkness, he discovered that his parents and siblings were still alive. His mother has since passed away, but his father still lives. He has returned to visit on several occasions.
But La’s home, and his family, are here in the United States.

Claire Muller: Finding beauty in paper colors

Claire Muller: Finding beauty in paper colors

Image

The Maysville Community and Technical College – Licking Valley Campus (LVC) in Cynthiana, Kentucky has an art gallery in it. It shares space with the job placement center in a strip mall at the Harrison Square Shopping Center. For such a small space, though, it features a surprisingly wide variety of local artists and their works.
One such artist is Claire Muller, whose work in paper mosaics frequently captures the attention of gallery visitors.
One of her most striking works is a portrait of a white horse looking over its stable door. The entire image is made up of carefully chosen bits of  torn paper arranged in such a way as to convey the image of the horse.
This image, as it is with all of her work, is unique in that the paper she chose to create  the image was from maps.

Image
It is tempting to infer a meaning from the intentional use of maps in the portrait, but as with most of her paper mosaics, the images on the paper are incidental.
There are two noteworthy exceptions to this rule in her past work. One is portrait of Abraham Lincoln, a print of which is on display in the LVC art gallery. In that portrait, Lincoln’s face is made up of important figures in Lincoln’s life while the background is made up of events in his life.
The other is on display in the dental office of Dr. Neil Rush. It is a pastoral scene of a farm fence. Some of the papers she uses intentionally depict farm animals enclosed by the fence.
Most of time, though, the torn bits of magazine merely provide the color palette for her images, she said.
The portrait of the white horse presented her an unforeseen challenge, she said.
White magazine paper does not conceal the print or the color on the reverse side of a sheet. The colors “bleed” through the white.
In her search for opaque white paper, she found her answer in maps.
“I was surprised to discover the vivid colors used in printed maps,” Muller said.
Maps of the sea come in shades of sea-foam or turquoise. Road maps have patches of yellow to contrast populated urban areas from the countryside, which are in shades of white.
The black maps that provide such a vivid contrast to the horse’s face are all taken from star maps and charts, she said.
The only significance in the images are in her initials. In keeping with her medium, she “signs” her work with strips of paper.
For the white horse, the pieces of her name are from a map of Verdun, France, where Muller was born and where her father, now a retired lieutenant-colonel, was stationed for a time.
As an army brat, Muller said it is difficult to say that she is “from” anywhere. She has lived in several places in the U.S. and abroad, including a brief stint from eighth to ninth grade in Kentucky.
Muller is neither a native of Harrison County nor a lifelong resident of the Bluegrass state. But for all the places she has lived so far, there is no finer place on Earth to live than central Kentucky’s horse country, she said.
“Horses are one of my first loves. My parents told me that ‘le cheval’ was the first word I ever spoke,” Muller said. “I consider France my home and I love returning there from time to time. But I’ve always felt at home in Kentucky,” Muller said.
Describing herself as a very “right-brained” person with a passion for creativity, her parents enrolled her in classes at the Art Institute of Boston.
“It was sort of a hole in the wall place when I took classes there, but it gave me an outlet to express myself,” Muller said.
Her art is a part of her life, but it is not the only thing.
Until recently, she and her husband provided foster care for medically fragile children. They have six children, two of whom are theirs biologically. The others are adopted through the foster care program.
The Mullers also support missionaries and their work. They coordinate a program that provides missionaries with a car while visiting in this area of Kentucky.
But art is an important aspect of her life, one that is more than just a hobby or a means to simply pass the time.
She has only been working in paper mosaics since about 2010. Before then, she worked in other types of media such as pastels, oil painting and papier-mache.
She was inspired to experiment in paper mosaics when she saw a California artist’s work during the 2010 World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.
“I knew instantly that I wanted to try this. Magazine paper offers an interesting and vivid pallette of colors in which to work,” she said.
Not certain if she wanted to commit her first work to an expensive canvas, her first piece, a portrait of her husband and grandson, was put together directly on a blank wall in her home in Kelat.
Pleased with the outcome, she went on to create several other works, each a bit different and presenting a new set of challenges, Muller said.
Most people are familiar with her larger portraits: the white horse, the elephant, the swans, the lion’s heads. They are titled according to lines of poetry that have inspired her, she said.
But some of her most accomplished pieces are these smaller pieces. One of them, a 5-inch by 5-inch portrait of an owl, was a painstaking process. She used an exacto knife to cut fine pieces of paper to capture details in the feathers, beak, and facial expression.
She received compliments from friends and family on her mosaics. However, it is another thing to receive artistic validation from others.
Muller got that validation when she donated a small horse portrait for an auction in support of Horse-Aid, an organization dedicated to providing shelter for aging and retired horses.
She didn’t anticipate it would bring much to the organization, but every little bit helps, she said.
At the Fasig-Tipton auction, Muller was stunned to find out that the portrait  was bought for $3,000 in fairly competitive bidding. She was delighted that her work had brought support to a cause she cared about. It was also some personal validation for her work in this medium.
“My husband [Tom] is incredibly patient with me when I work on these mosaics. There is just tons of paper pieces everywhere in the house and kitchen,” she said.  “It’s no wonder I’ve been insanely in love with him for 37 years.”
Muller has no idea how long she will work in this medium. For the time being, it is presenting her some new creative challenges. But she knows herself and there will come a time when some new form of expression fires her imagination.

Cynthiana, Kentucky couple are Cubs fans to the core

Cynthiana, Kentucky couple are Cubs fans to the core

 

The four unmistakable signs of spring time in Cynthiana, Kentucky: The Cynthiana Democrat’s Home and Garden Show, the opening of the Farmer’s Market at Flat Run Veterans’ Park, dogwoods and tulips in full bloom, and the annual unfurling of the Chicago Cubs flags in the front yard of Jamie and Karan Russell’s home.
Image

 The Kentucky Wildcats can boast all they want about the national appeal of the Big Blue Nation in NCAA basketball. In the world of major league baseball, at least as far as the Russells are concerned, there is only the Chicago Cubs. And they are as mad for the Cubs’ season-opening game as Wildcats’ fans are for Midnight Madness.
Any other time of the year, the Russells’ home is just as quietly dignified as any other family dwelling on Church Street. But on opening day, the Cub’s signature blue and red colors blossom all around the yard, along with images of the baseball team’s famous logo.
Pinstriped cards featuring the numbers and names of past Cubs’ hall of famers line the sidewalk leading to their front door.
In honor of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary celebration this year, the Russells had an image of the ballpark’s famous sign custom-painted to the rear window of their car.
Now, if they were just Chicago area residents, the level of the Russell’s Cubs fandom would barely register. They’d still be considered diehards, but they’d hardly be alone. Anyone who has visited Wrigley Field for a Cubs’ home game knows the extent to which the fans will express themselves.
But when fans live six hours south of the corner of W. Addison and N. Clark Streets, the Russell’s home is a Wrigleyville oasis that adds a unique note to their block in downtown Cynthiana.
The decorations don’t fail to make an impression on passers-by, especially those who are unfamiliar with the passion of the Cubs’ fanbase.
“Jamie had some friends who didn’t know that we were such huge Cubs fans. They were coming to our house and the woman saw our decorations and said, ‘now that’s tacky.’ I quickly owned up to them and said I aspire for the tastefully tacky,” Karan said.
Karan can’t help it. She and her husband love their Cubs.
“We have Braves’ fans in the neighborhood who threaten to sneak little tomahawks onto our lawn. Our friends who are Reds fans tease us every year we fall short in the playoffs. But someday…” Karan said with a prayerful gesture to the baseball gods.
Karan introduced her husband to the pleasures of wearing the red and blue.
She grew up in Rockford, Ill., which is still about two hours away from Chicago.  Her family got cable television in 1980, that ancient time when there weren’t 500 stations on the box.
When it came to baseball,  there was the so-called “America’s Team” on that Atlanta station, but Karan and her dad preferred to watch the Cubs on WGN.
That was the beginning of the one relationship that has lasted longer than her marriage. In fact, Karan said, she and Jamie planned their honeymoon vacation around Cubs games.
Just as some Kentucky boys realize that marrying a young girl meant marrying into her family, Jamie knew soon after he’d met Karan that the Cubs were going to be a part of his wedding vows.

Image
He’s never regretted accepting the Cubs into his life, although early on he still had some learning to do about being a fan.
His first lesson came before they were even married.
“He [Jamie] suggested we just take off for Chicago one morning for a game. This was before we had kids, so we could do things like that. Or at least he thought so. I kept saying it wasn’t a good idea. But next thing I know, we were arriving at Wrigley Field at 3:15 in the afternoon,” she said.
Unfortunately, the game was sold out and scalper tickets were just out of their range.
They managed to make the best of it, Karan said, but from then on, they’ve made sure to get tickets before taking off to a game.
“I wasn’t all that into sports when we first met. But I keep up with them in my own way now,” Jamie said.
For Jamie, that means not only traveling to Cubs games, but also taking in games with the minor league affiliates like the Tennessee Smokies and the Daytona Cubs.
For the family, vacation planning often centers around Cubs games, even if their trips are to destinations down south to Georgia or Florida.
Their kids, Westin and Miranda, have shared the Cubs experience with their parents, but have not yet acquired the same level of appreciation for the team.
“We once asked Westin where he wanted to take a family vacation and he said anywhere where there wasn’t a ballpark nearby,” Jamie said.
The Russells acknowledge, grudgingly, that there exists a rival fanbase for some New York team. They have even heard rumor of another professional baseball team out of Chicago’s southside.
But the Cubs rule their household. And just as the spring season brings about all kinds of re-birth, so too do the Russells’ hopes, along with countless other fans across this country, that this year will be the year the Cubs make the Series.
Maybe they’ll even win it!
After all, it’s gotta happen sometime.