Sweet side of life in Cloverport

It could have happened anywhere. But somehow it made perfect sense that the truck pulled up just as 20 -year-old Troy Burnett was saying how you could trust people around a town like Cloverport.

Cloverport overlooks the Ohio River and a considerable piece of neighboring Indiana. The town's narrow, tree-lined streets branch off into the hollows by the river. A lofty blue water tower presides over the leafy quiet of the place. Folks congregate on their porches and notice who goes by. Generally, they know everyone who comes along. Even if they don't, they're likely to wave a laconic greeting.

''Everybody around here kind of trusts everybody else,'' Mr. Burnett is saying. ''You can leave your door unlocked in your house.''

The words are hardly out of his mouth when a man in a pickup truck comes barreling by, screeches to a halt, and hands him a billfold that had fallen in the road a few miles away. The wallet belongs to a friend of Burnett's, and the fellow in the truck wants him to pass it along.

To hear Burnett and his friends tell it, the business of trusting the other guy in Cloverport goes deeper than retrieving a billfold.

Leaning against Troy Burnett's car, John Mingus, 17, Scott Hook, 17, Jamie May, 15, and assorted other friends are answering questions about their life in this small-town bucolic world, the setting sun making a show of dark fire on the Ohio river at the base of the cliffs behind them. They put up the usual barrage of complaints about small-town life: nothing to do, boring, nowhere to go, no excitement. But they also talk about the sweet side of life in Cloverport, Ky.

The side that has to do with being friends and growing up together.

''You know everybody by their first name,'' John Mingus observes, ticking off the names of those he's seen almost everyday since he was a toddler here. He and his friends call the town ''a good place to settle down and raise kids, a nice place to retire.'' But they say they might not have the former option because work is so limited here.

''All you can do is farm work, raise tobacco, run a car wash, or maybe work at the paper mill,'' Scott Hook observes. ''They're building a bypass around here. In a couple of years, there won't be any traffic through here. . . . This street will be dead.''

When they talk about their life together, you get a picture of a world in which urban Angst has not penetrated and the hard veneer of social indifference has not set. There is a singular lack of competition and infighting.

''In the city, it's probably more every man for himself,'' one of them observes quietly. ''Growing up in a small town makes you friendlier, more trusting.'' And apparently well disposed toward parents as well:

''Parents? Mine are pretty cool.''

''Mine, too.''

''They're pretty fair with me.''

''Most of our parents grew up in this town, and they used to get in the same kind of trouble we get into.''

That trouble has to do with things like racing each other on a stretch of road ''just out past the IGA'' supermarket. It has to do with outrunning the local policeman when he tries to stop them. But their conversation centers more around getting into school than getting into trouble.

''I'm trying to pay my way into college.''

''I'm trying to get in free (by joining the Air Force).''

''I'm ready for school; I just hope school's ready for me.''

For these young men, school has meant ''some classes with 15 people, some with 6 - only 2 students in Trig.'' For Troy Burnett, who has moved from suburb to large city to small town, the schools are only one feature that attracts him to this way of life. ''Of all the places I've lived,'' he says flatly, ''I like small towns better.''

It's easy to see why. Three minutes over the bridge leading out of town, cattle dot the sloping hills. The gentle Kentucky countryside rolls away, all green and hazy. For miles around, all there is is the bucolic quiet of river and country.

''It's OK, it's peace and quiet, you know,'' says one boy, who lives eight miles from Cloverport in Balltown, which is ''two people, one store, a chicken, and a dog. That's it. . . . I like the quiet.''

Peace and quiet are not generally high on the list of teen-age imperatives. But these teen-agers talk about it as a desideratum of their lives. It's a constituent part of what they feel affection for here.

Most of them expect they will migrate to schools and jobs in other cities; but they say they'll be back. Someday.

Monday, Oct. 29: Moscow, Ohio

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