THE PREACHER'S DAUGHTER: Summer in Stanley, Kentucky

The word “nanny” is one that I often associate with Peter Pan. I think of the shaggy dog "nana” that was so protective over the Darling children. Granted Stanley, Kentucky isn’t quite Neverland, there are days when I am certain I have my own Wendy, Michael, and John to take care of.

I became acquainted with the Strode family two years ago after first moving to Owensboro. Ben, their youngest, had this charismatic personality that captured me right away. I was blessed to be one of his teachers at the private school I began my educational career at in Western Kentucky. When the opportunity presented itself to become a sitter for the family last summer, I was elated. I don’t have children of my own just yet, so I figured it would be good practice, and provide a part time job for myself over the break.

I had no idea at the time how much it would mean to me.

I arrive early, unless I get behind a tractor or sprayer, which happens often. Sometimes the children haven’t woken up for the day. I have some of the very best conversations with their mother as I sip coffee in the kitchen. I’ve yet to encounter a lady quite as graceful during the hustle and bustle of her morning like she is. We’re talking about a lady who is a knock out in a ball cap while juggling notebooks and fabric samples under each arm. She works hard, never slows down, and has God given talent.

Some mornings I oversee the scrambling of eggs by Maddie, she’s most definitely a “Wendy.” Per her younger brother’s request, she makes the eggs for breakfast. Mine are too runny, he’s brought this to my attention several times. Maddie Grace is my right arm throughout the day. She’s an artist, a dancer, and a writer. She is a gentle soul, quiet, steady, always in deep thought it seems.

If he has time, Will joins us on occasion. The eldest of the trio, he’s “John.” He is at an age that is hard to explain. He’s not yet a man, but he’s no longer a boy. I serve as a chauffeur for him. Traveling to open gyms, ball practices, camps, etc. He is such a mature and level headed kid. He constantly has a ball or bat in his hand. He can’t stand to be indoors. He reminds me of Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez from “The Sandlot.”

When you factor in the youngest, my “Michael,” there is never a dull moment. Ben has the largest imagination of any 6-year-old child I’ve ever encountered. He’s bright, quick witted, funny. He aspires to be a scientist, and I promise you, he will be. He builds tents and dinosaur villages with elaborate detail. He is forever eager to learn and create.

There are days I stare off into the fields of corn behind their home and admire God’s beauty as the crops sway in the wind. Never in all my life have I seen such flat and magnificent land. The floor mats in my car are often caked with soil from their homestead. I had never really known a “real” farmer per say, until I met their father Jason. I can assure you of one thing, he encompasses a work ethic much like his father’s that is indescribable. From sunup to sundown, he’s hidden in never ending rows of crops.

So, I’ve dubbed myself the “farm nanny.” Some days we travel, even if it’s just to the big farm to see the barn cats. Other days we swim until we can’t hold our eyes open any longer. I’ve grown quite fond of sticky seats in my car and sunburned shoulders. Milkshakes taste the best while driving through West Louisville with a back seat full of smiling freckled faces.

We’ve learned to read together, named plastic sharks “Jimmy”, waved to Grandma Karen while she mowed in her floppy summer hat, and rode bikes through puddles after summer showers.

I’ve found my place as a protector, a friend, a teacher, and a playmate. Peter Pan dreamed of never growing up, forever immortalized as a rambunctious overgrown boy. The children I am blessed to spend my summer days with have done much the same for me. I am honored to open popsicles, read stories, and dig in the dirt for as long as they’ll have me.

Wendy, John, and Michael made the flight to Neverland because they believed they could fly. I hope Maddie, Will, and Ben never stop believing, perhaps they’ll fly too.

“Now, think of the happiest things. It’s the same as having wings!” - Peter Pan

Erinn Williams is originally from Williamsburg, and now resides in Owensboro, Ky. The daughter of a teacher and a preacher, she hopes to make a difference through her words. She serves as a teacher's assistant in Daviess County, and writes for two newspapers in Western Kentucky. She can be contacted at erinn.williams2017@gmail.com.

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