It’s been a long journey, spanning 40 years and hundreds of thousands of miles, but Wendell Hardy is happy to be back to the home he loves.
The 58-year-old Irvine native left his hometown when he was 10, moving with his family to Lexington.
He moved to Miller’s Creek in 2002, living on property owned by his uncle, Stanley Durbin, Jr., now a resident of Winchester Road.
“The neighborhood we lived in over at Lexington had gone downhill and just wasn’t safe anymore. We decided it was time to move when the guy across the street hung himself,” says the husband of Wood County native, Diane,
The couple had a busy weekend at the Mushroom Festival, where they set up shop outside The Railroad Café selling colorful homemade birdhouses.
“I make these in the winter months to give myself something to do,” says the retired truck driver, waiting on customers while sharing memories of growing up in Irvine.
“I was born on Mack Street in a house owned by my grandfather, Stanley Durbin Sr.” says the son of Ora Lee Hardy.
He recalls “running the streets” of Irvine during the time his grandfather Boyd Hardy and brother Gene ran Hardy’s Clothing Store, located in the last building on the right before crossing the bridge over the Kentucky River.
One of his favorite pastimes was getting with a group of boys and climbing Rock House Mountain.
Other treats included frequent visits to Choo-Choo Park in Ravenna (now Veterans Memorial Park) where railroaders gathered to eat at a restaurant.
“We’d eat pineapple upside down cake and listen to train stories, but my dad would get really mad when we did that. He always said that place was for railroaders.”
Following graduation from Lexington’s Lafayette High School in 1970, Hardy worked in construction before taking up truck driving as a career.
It was an occupation that would take him to nearly every state and parts of Canada over the next 30 years, hauling mostly auto and computer parts.
That career came to an abrupt halt in 2008 when his rig was rear-ended by another truck on I-75.
“The wreck messed up my back,” he says.
Although he had returned to Estill County often over the years for such events as family reunions, and “to fish the river about Lock 12,” he hadn’t considered moving back until Diane suggested it might be a good idea because they would still be close to family in Lexington.
He has two daughters by a previous marriage living there, and Diane has three children. They also have eight grandchildren.
He sees “more congestion” as being among the most noticeable changes in his hometown, but likes the fact that people here are still among the most friendly you’ll find anywhere.
He is fond of Miller’s Creek in particular, and says life there is worth enduring flooding from time to time.
“People from the news stations come out there after a flood and ask us why we want to live back there, but I just tell them to look around at how serene and beautiful it is,” he says.
One thing is for certain, he has no plans to ever again leave Estill County.
“I regret I didn’t move back sooner, and I know a herd of stampeding turtles couldn’t get me away from here now.”