The Berry Center, New Castle, KY

On the way home from a refreshing and revitalizing writers retreat with four friends (yes, I have friends), I took a small detour off I-71 to accomplish a cherished goal: a visit to the Berry Center, home to a foundation that exists to counter the effects of our "industrial agriculture system" and bring about a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities. It is part of the legacy of author Wendell Berry, his father (lawyer and farmer John M. Berry, Sr.), and his brother (state senator and lawyer, John M. Berry, Jr.). It is also something of a repository for Wendell Berry's papers and books.
Upon entering, I admitted the building in New Castle, Kentucky, wasn't what I expected. When I told the young woman who graciously offered to show me around that I had thought the center might be located on the grounds of the family farm or something like that, she answered that her grandparents (Wendell and Tanya Berry) wouldn't allow such a thing. That's right, my guide was their granddaughter, Virginia Berry Aguilar (I look like I'm frowning in that selfie, above, because it was my second attempt, and neither turned out well).
I couldn't have asked for a kinder, more hospitable reception. She showed me (above) the collection of her grandfather's books in the Berry Center offices. Among the many questions I asked (and which she patiently answered) was when she first realized that her grandfather was "Wendell Berry." She remembered a trip she took with him to California when he was being interviewed on the radio and people called in and said many worshipful things about him. One lady repeated, "You're awesome." Later on that trip (perhaps even that same day), Wendell took his granddaughter to Muir Woods and, as they walked among the towering trees, told her, "This is awesome," emphasizing that he wanted to be sure she understood the real meaning of the word. Great story.

Next, my host took me next door to the bookstore of the Berry Center, in an eighteenth-century cabin (one of three still standing within eyeshot of each other on Main Street in New Castle).
As we stood in the beautiful two-room first story, I pointed to what may be my favorite Berry novel, Jayber Crow and asked if I could tell her a story about the book. She agreed, so I told her of the time I was listening to the audiobook on my phone with headphones as I pushed our lawnmower around the yard. I probably shouldn't spoil things for those who haven't yet read the book, but a running device in the book is the men of Port William including Jayber in their gatherings in the woods as they sit on logs and pass around a jug of moonshine; as they do, he describes each man's consumption with the onomatopoeic syllable, "good." Some men's drinking sounded like "good" or "good-good," as they gulped the moonshine. That device recurs several times and perfectly sets up Jayber's words toward the book's end:
I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, "Good-good-good-good-good!" like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit.
Well, that line stopped me in my tracks as I was mowing, not only because it beautifully brought that device full circle but also because it is such a great picture of my own prayer, my own hope. And, in telling it to my host, I choked up and teared up, embarrassingly. She seemed to tear up too, and indulged my emotion. We laughed together and talked a while longer, exchanged cards, and I took a handful of pamphlets and bookmarks with me.

I hope I didn't overstay my welcome. But even if I did, I'm so glad I made the visit, and so grateful for Virginia's kindness, and her grandfather's legacy.

The Berry Center is located at 111 S. Main Street in New Castle, Kentucky.

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