July 3, 2013 —
J.D. Rayburn had a dunk tank full of braggadocio.
“Ain’t nobody over here can hit me!” the owner of Scenic Hills Realty screamed as he sat on the plank above the water.
A few minutes later, 13-year-old Graham Stamper of Morehead soaked Rayburn’s raving — a strike on the first pitch. “It was a fastball. I knew he was wrong,” Graham said.
An unrepentant Rayburn countered, “That was a lucky shot!”
Organizers hope Saturday’s Freedom LIFT (Love, Inspiration and Faith Together) homecoming festival at the Depot on Railroad Street — the parade on U.S. 60 and Railroad, the bands, eating contests, food and quilting exhibits — united, at least for a day, the 1,600 or so residents.
Saturday was the sixth LIFT event. The Olive Hill Chamber of Commerce and All Things Ministries, an Olive Hill faith-based agency, were the sponsors.
Event co-organizer Curtis Owens said it’s too soon to know how many attended. “In the past they’ve estimated 3,000, 3,500,” he said. “It seemed (yesterday’s total) what we’ve experienced in the recent past.”
Owens also said there were differences in the parade participants — fewer baseball and softball teams, beauty queens and Shriners members. He was grateful for the mid-80-degree temperatures and no rain.
“There were a lot more floats,” Owens said. “All week long we heard (meterologists) predict rain; it turned out the weather’s great.”
Brenda Porter sent Rayburn into the water again when she ran up and smacked the bullseye with her right hand, the result of some simple, sneaky subterfuge.
“Half the girls wanted me to,” said Porter, who said she’d pay the $1 cost to throw a ball. “I was acting like I was going to ask him a question.”
The reasons people came seemed diverse.
Brenda Blakeney grew up in Olive Hill but now lives in Mize, Miss. Saturday was the first time she’d made it to Carter County in 18 years for the Fourth of July holiday.
“It brings back a lot of good memories, seeing family I haven’t seen,” Blakeney said. “It’s what it’s all about.”
At least one man didn’t seem so serene. Jim Conn of Globe thought Olive Hill still struggles from the 2010 floods that sent Tygart Creek over its banks and wiped out much of downtown.
“It’s about gone downtown,” Conn said. “There ain’t nothing here; it all got washed out.”
Owens, meanwhile, points to recent business openings: a check cashing store; Scenic Hills adding a second location to its Grayson office; the Olive Hill Times newspaper returning to downtown.
Rayburn said returning to Olive Hill in January made sense.
“It’s our hometown,” Rayburn said. “We’ve spent a lot of money in Grayson and Olive Hill. We love our community.”
Grateful and concerned both seemed good ways to describe how Marietta Westbrook feels. She moved to Olive Hill from Dawsonville, Ga., 14 years ago.
“I’m not crazy about the drugs,” she said. “I’d like to see more business and to punish the offenders. There are some good people in this town, and they don’t deserve this. I have it good here. I have a good job; people could do good here if they tried.”
Proceeds from the games and contests went to two Olive Hill organizations: I-FARM — Integrating Faith, Agriculture to Renew Mission — which wants to teach people to grow sustainable, organic and affordable fruits and vegetables; and a widows home repair project All Things Ministries is sponsoring.
As far as anyone knew, just one person was tired of seeing the parade. Trish Davis cradled her sleepy grandson, 10-month-old Kenneth Barker.
“He’s missing his first parade; he’s sleeping through it,” Davis said. “At least we got him his first (stuffed) monkey.”