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Disappearing Memories: Woman's book on life reveals important local history

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McCRACKEN Co, Ky - A living legacy. Many hope it's the story of how past generations lived and how families became what they are today.

For Celesta Wilson, she wanted her grand kids to know exactly how her generation lived so, at the age of 79, she set down at her computer and typed it out. What she didn't realize is her desire to share the family story, would become a piece of history for hundreds of families. That's because Celesta was born on Land Between the Rivers, the section of land now called Land Between the Lakes, which no one occupies.

Her story begins in 1926 when her parents, who were both natives of Between the Rivers, married and purchased 80 acres between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.

Celesta was born on that property in 1932 and can recall life on the farm with her three siblings very well. They helped with the animals, and grew their own food. Her father died in 1941 leaving Celesta's mother to raise the kids on her own.

"Times were hard, but life was good," she said with a laugh. She and her siblings went to school there.

"We walked two miles to school, no matter what the weather was," she said. "Sometimes we had perfect attendance."

Though different ages, they all learned in the same one-room school house. When they weren't in school they worked on the family farm and on Sunday's they attended church.

"The church really was the cornerstone of the community," she said. She always liked "Decoration Day", a tradition where members of the church and community would gather, hold service, decorate the headstones at the cemetery, then eat together.

Celesta graduated high school when she was 17 and moved to Paducah to live with her mother's friend. She got her first job at the Walgreens downtown as a waitress. Shortly after, she was hired as local telephone operator. Little did she know it would become her career. Celesta worked there for 34 years.   

But because she was a way from home she only remembers the Land Between the Rivers becoming Land Between the Lakes because her mother was forced to move.

In 1944, Kentucky Dam was completed and entire towns on Land Between the Rivers were flooded as Kentucky Lake formed. Many were forced to move. Then, Barkley Dam was started in 1958 and more families were displaced knowing another lake and more flooding was coming.

By 1963, President John F. Kennedy created Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. It was formed to demonstrate how an area could be converted into a rec area that stimulates economic growth. All it meant to Celesta was her mother had to move, and home as she knew it was gone.

"They burned everything," she said. "Every building that was left up there was burned. It was a sad times for a lot of people."

What's left on the land is the cemeteries. Celesta's parents are buried there and that's where she'll be buried.

She still returns for Decoration Day, although the event is much smaller without a church. There is no service anymore, but a scripture reading. 

By the time Celesta finished her family history project she had much more than a computer print-out. Her family encouraged her to publish it and so it became 'Between-the-Rivers and Beyond'. It's a 365 page, hard-covered book.
Only 100 copies exist, and because she never intended to write a book, she has no intention of selling it. About 90 copies have gone to family and friends, and the reminder will be handed down to great-grandchildren.

There are copies in the McCracken County, Lyon County, and Marshall County libraries.

Celesta said she's not sure she would tackle the task again knowing now how much time and effort it took, but she said it's very rewarding and fitting to be able to see her life's story and efforts, on her coffee table.

"My life pretty much an open book," she said.

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