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Constance Alexander: Podcast asks big questions about rural life from the ‘Middle of Everywhere’

When he was growing up in rural Murray, Austin Carter admits he was eager to escape his hometown and get a taste of life in the big city. Following this inclination, he did move away, only to discover that there were aspects he missed.

“With time, I began to appreciate things I once took for granted,” he said, explaining his move back home.

Growing up in Louisville, Colorado, Ariel Lavery lived in a suburban enclave that featured new houses and new schools in a new community with a history as an old mining town. At home, she felt isolated from what she thought of as “world reality.” Nevertheless, she enjoyed many opportunities to accompany her father on business trips that included exotic destinations in Japan, Europe, and the Greek islands. As a result, she was an outsider, a tourist of sorts, at home and abroad.

(Image courtesy WKMS-FM)

“I felt disconnected,” she said.

Through a series of fortunate coincidences, these two found themselves in Murray, when a unique opportunity emerged through WKMS-FM, the local National Public Radio affiliate. Their mutual passion for storytelling led Austin and Lavery to become cocreators of Middle of Everywhere, “a sound-rich podcast that illuminates rural life through characters, stories, and place.”

The award-winning series dives deep into rural life and unravels tales that are poignant, compelling, and true. One episode, for example, examines a rural family’s legacy of a “mad stone” – handed down from one generation to the next – and reputed to cure rabies.

The weird chronicle of the Ellis inheritance begins in Wales, England; then wends its way to America; and finally lands in western Kentucky. One stop along the way brought David Ellis to the Jamestown Colony, where he had been recruited by John Smith, to build a house for Powhattan, chief of the Pamunkey Indians, and his daughter Pocahontas.

Today, the healing stone resides in western Kentucky, its reputed healing powers still attracting visitors to the Owensboro Museum of Science and History.

According to Monica Murphy, coauthor with husband Bill Wasik of Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus, well-founded fears associated with Rabies date back to the ancient Sumerians.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Fast forward to 2022, and the prospect of contracting Rabies is still sobering.

“The disease itself really is devastating,” Murphy explained. “It’s virtually 100% fatal. It has the highest case fatality rate of any infectious disease, meaning, once you have symptoms of rabies, you’re going to die. And the death is not a pretty one. It is marked by hallucinations and convulsions and all sorts of miseries not only for the sufferer but for everyone around them.”

Some of the folklore surrounding these stones is that they could not be bought or sold and could not be transported to a patient; the one suffering from Rabies had to come to the stone.

In both its first and second seasons, Middle of Everywhere offered deep connections to small communities by asking provocative questions. The answers, which represent diverse perspectives on rural life, entertain and engage through storytelling while teaching something new about small towns and the people who live there.

Some of the questions tackled by the podcast include:

What happens when an atheist stands up for free speech against a government that favors Christianity?

How is Black history preserved in small, rural towns, and who decides what information endures from the segregated past?

Does a river have rights? What can be learned from the Maoris in New Zealand about protecting ancestral rivers?

How did the snail darter, tagged a ”stupid little fish” by some, save the Little Tanasi River?

How does the only Black person ever to have managed the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview Kentucky teach confederate history?

Season 3 of the podcast will address rural women’s health, and listeners are invited to pitch story ideas by email to middleofeverywherepod@gmail.com.

Middle of Everywhere is a production from WKMS public radio, as part of PRX’s Project Catapult with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Episodes are released bi-weekly and available for download on all podcast platforms. You can also connect on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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