I first met Ron Houchin at the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, KY, in 2009, I believe – it was first year at Hindman. He was one of the first people I remember seeing. He always wore a ballcap of some sort, t-shirt, and faded jeans. If there was ever anyone I’d ever met who was truly comfortable in his skin, it was Ron Houchin. Anyone I met instantly introduced me to him. I must have “met” him a dozen times that first day. He hung out on the porches a lot, smoking, talking, a quiet sureness about him. He was a poet, I learned, and a masterful one. Everyone loved Ron, and I came to do the same quickly. I was actually in awe of Ron. He was so thoughtful, in the most literal meaning of that word. He thought constantly. About everything. He didn’t need to talk about everything, but it was obvious that he thought about it all. Don’t get me wrong – he could talk about anything, and sound brilliant doing so. But he picked and chose what he said. When he spoke, it was with passion, wisdom, and quiet energy. His words were chosen carefully and carried much meaning and weight. But he could tell a good joke, too. And had the most amazing laugh. There was something sheerly magical about Ron’s voice. It mesmerized you, and made you want to sit for hours and get lost in anything and everything that he said. And there were many evenings at Hindman and at Lincoln Memorial University’s Mountain Heritage Lit Festival when I did just that.
The last time I saw Ron was actually at LMU at the MHLF, in June 2018; it was a difficult time in my life, as my mother had died unexpectedly in April. I wrote a Facebook post on June 16, 2018, that read, “One of my favorite things about being anywhere where Ron Houchin is: the bigness of a quiet man who says little but imparts such wisdom to anyone who takes the time to hear. And that get-in-your-soul smell of HIS smoke. You are truly a legend in our midst, Ron. Thank you! *hugs*”
He replied on his own Facebook page the next day, in typical Ron fashion, succinctly, but completely, “May just have to adopt you.” And my heart overflowed with those words and that sentiment. More than e could have ever known.
When our Hindman friend Loren posted the news about Ron’s death yesterday to a rare form of kidney cancer, my heart broke. Dozens, probably hundreds, of hearts broke, all across Appalachia and Ireland (a place he loved dearly, and whose people loved him and his writing in return). I tried really hard all day yesterday to find words beyond the grossly inadequate sentiment of what a great loss we had all just experienced. Nothing came. This morning as I sat at the laundromat, watching my clothes churn and slosh around in soapy water, though, I realized that I had started crying. The memories of that last evening at LMU had come flooding back while I absent-mindedly watched my laundry, and I took my phone in hand to put down the words that came to me:
The world lost an immense force yesterday. This man, though not very tall, not very heavy, was a giant to me. His words moved mountains and made him a favorite amongst friends here, and in his beloved Ireland, and many places in-between and beyond. He always shared a smile with me, tipping his hat [and pipe] politely, and had kind words when I read my work at Hindman during Open Readings. I can’t imagine not hearing his voice again, so I’m just gonna sit here and concentrate really hard on how he sounded when last I heard him, how his smile lit up the [whole] evening. And I’m gonna hold that memory near to my heart forever. Rest in peace, and rest in power, Ron! Your words live on through each of us remaining!