Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

The time I spend in my rushed visits home to Kentucky is compressed into such a small box.  I never take the time to feel when I am there.  It is after the visit that the memories of life there, when this place was home to me, visit me.

We took a wrong turn this time, just coming off the two-hundred-year-old square of Columbia, Kentucky, centered by its brick and stone Gothic courthouse. There are four roads that lead off the square and we took the one heading east. Our destination was a farmhouse in the middle of a beautiful working farm just off East 80, where we stay now when we are home. Dinner had to be prepared and my sister had already begun the work. I am always so grateful to my sisters for all they do and don’t want to seem to be a shirker.

At the junction of 80 and Highway 55, I unconsciously directed my husband to stay on 55, because that was the way Home. Highway 55 is the road that led to the farmhouse where I was born, and the tiny church that my family attended in the minuscule community of Pleasant Hill. Just a mile beyond the church was the one-room school house, Pleasant Hill School, the place that gave me the tools to become all that I am.

Certainly I learned to be an autodidact there. Lessons were simple and soon over and Miss Shirley, my first grade teacher, did all that she could to keep me intellectually engaged. When there was nothing else to read, I was given the opportunity to read with the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. I had to learn to please the other students in those grades or they would have forced me back to my first grade chair.  I had to work hard to know more than they did and not let it be too obvious.  Nothing made me happier than this kind of competition.

All the books in the world could never have existed in that small space or in the back of the bookmobile that came every two weeks to our school, but I learned there that the larger world was filled with books. Pleasant Hill and Miss Shirley taught me that I could find those books and become part of a world that was at that time as foreign to me as the outer reaches of space are for us now.  I am always overwhelmed with gratitude when these memories are accessed. Pleasant Hill under the guidance of Miss Shirley gave me all the skills I needed for life: determination, competition, skills to work with those who have what I need, an appreciation for what I have even when others have so much more, but most of all, an addiction to learning.

I was headed home in that sure and certain way when the husband pointed out that our GPS showed that we had missed the turn for our real destination. We were late and didn’t have time to make the usual pilgrimage to these places that instantly ignite that part of my brain where past memories, buried under years of detritus, are retrieved.

I was too busy to ask that we take seven minutes to reconnect with that part of my life. I had a list of things that had to be done. But the memories, unbidden, came back the night after we returned from the visit home. The school with its blackboard, wooden desks with chairs built into them, black wood-burning stove, the books and the bookmobile and most of all, the teacher who knew how to inspire, were with me all last night.

Memories are much with me these days as I am finding that it is time to separate from things that have become relics in my life. There is no room for all that I have accumulated for 62 years, even though I have been afraid that the memories would disappear with the objects if I gave them away.

It is good to know that I can find the memories without the Canadian table and chairs for dinners of 16 at that wonderful time of my life. That I don’t need the two-ton ice box from Kentucky that has broken the backs of movers in eight different moves, through many states and to and from another country. And that I can have memories that are ultimately unattached to things.

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