“There’s no place like home.’~Dorothy (“The Wizard of Oz”
Locust Grove, Louisville, Kentucky
It is said that home is where the heart is, and if that is true, then I have dozens of “homes”, as my heart is in dozens of places, scattered far and wide, with family and friends whom I love and adore. One such “home” I introduced you to in my post “The House that Built Me”, and another one of my “homes” was described in the appropriately named post, “Home”. In future posts, I will take you on a tour of some of the other places I call “home”, but today, I will write an open love letter of sorts about the place that is my actual home and the one home that means the most to me, the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
For the better part of this past week, we’ve enjoyed weather usually reserved for fall days in October, not the dog days of August, as it has been much cooler and less humid, which is a welcomed relief after triple digit temperatures earlier this summer. Our normal August forecast is the same day in and day out-hazy, hot, and humid. I haven’t been able to get enough of this meteorological treat, and as I have spent more time on the trails and taking long drives down River Road, I have found myself falling in love with Kentucky all over again. I could take a million pictures and write just as many words and never be able to capture Kentucky’s unique beauty and appeal. It is not only my home, it really is part of who I am.
Growing up in the Bluegrass state, I admit that I took my home for granted, and I harbored ambitions of leaving Kentucky. There was no particular reason for this desire to flee all that was familiar to me, and I had no specific destination in mind that I wanted to run to. I thought to be grown up meant that I had to leave home, much like my parents, who headed south from Minnesota to start a new life here in their early twenties. Then, I went away to college north of the Mason-Dixon line, and I learned firsthand that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
As much as I loved my college experience and still get “homesick” for my college friends and the University of Dayton itself, it never can take the place of this the sublime state that welcomed me into the world and has been my touchstone my entire life. I missed the gorgeous rolling hills of bluegrass that gleam under blue skies and sunshine, the sight of beautiful horses grazing in the fields, the smell of honeysuckle in the spring, hearing the melodic sounds of southern drawls, and countless other people, places, and things that make my home such a very sweet home indeed.
I also missed the comfort and security of what my ex-husband, who is a Yankee, calls the “biggest small town ever”. When someone here asks where you went to school, they mean your high school, not your college, alma mater. When we go to the store, my daughters know that we will see at least one person we know. We still use long-since-gone landmarks like “the old Sears building” as points of reference when we give directions to others. We drink iced tea year round, and grits and biscuits and gravy are breakfast staples. Expressions like “y’all”, “bless your heart”, and “darlin’ ” are peppered throughout every day conversations. There is no six degrees of separation here, as it is more like two degrees at most. How any crime goes unsolved here is the greatest mystery of all! Southern hospitality is alive and well here, and it is a comfortable pace of life. Recently, my pen pal, yet another Yankee, met some southern gentlemen who hailed from neighboring Tennessee and commented how “genuine” they were and contrasted that with how some people from other parts of the country are not as friendly and polite. While he was surprised at how nice they were, I was not, as I simply take this for granted. I did caution him to be wary of anyone from a state that serves Jack Daniels and plays “Rocky Top” incessantly, but that’s probably not fair of me to say, as every state song pales in comparison to our lovely “My Old Kentucky Home”. I digress . . .
Once I left home, I also discovered that many people outside of my beloved home state are unaware of the beauty and charm that it holds, and I was amused and stunned by some of the perceptions others have of Kentucky. Having been born and raised here, I thought everyone viewed Kentucky through the same lens that I do, but I was wrong, very wrong. I remember during my first days of college being met with surprise that I wore shoes, had all of my teeth, didn’t own a horse, and didn’t grow up a coal miner’s daughter. My sophomore year, I dated a boy from New Jersey and brought him home with me for our fall break, and as we entered the city limits, he breathed an audible sigh of relief and exclaimed, “This looks like a normal city!” He thought everyone lived on farms in the hollers and was stunned that we had running water, electricity, and even cable t.v. He also thought that it was funny that my middle name really is “Jo” and is responsible for me being known as “Kristi Jo” to the majority of my college friends. That relationship ended shortly after the visit, and not a moment too soon, I might add. When my oldest sister and I were in England a few years later, we were asked by the cutest lad where we were from, and when we told him Kentucky, he excitedly said, “Oh, Kentucky Fried Chicken!” Some of our neighbors to the south regard Kentucky as not southern enough, which both tickles me and frustrates me to no end. All I can say to those naysayers is, “Bless your heart!”
Of course, Kentucky is known for the Kentucky Derby, which is like Christmas Day to me, and we have every reason and right to be proud of this spectacular event. I am proud beyond measure when the eyes of the world are upon us on the first Saturday in May. The two weeks prior to the Run for the Roses showcases all that makes Louisville a true gem, and the entire city stops for those spectacular two minutes when the Derby is run at the fabled Churchill Downs. I only have missed two Derbys, one time to attend my grandfathers’ funerals and another time when I was in Daytona, Florida on an end of the year college trip, and I was taken aback that the whole world doesn’t come to a standstill on Derby Day. I never want to be away from home for another Derby ever again, and I have kept my streak intact since I cried buckets of tears in 1990 watching the Derby on t.v. in Florida.
Like the people who call Kentucky home, our commonwealth is far from perfect, and there are definite areas for improvement and aspects that I do not like. To me, though, it is the sheer perfection of certain characteristics and aspects of living here balanced with the imperfections that make me love and embrace Kentucky all the more. Be forewarned, just like it is one thing for me to note the flaws of the Commonwealth, it is another for anyone not from here to do so. Nothing gets my dander up more than when others stereotype or demean Kentucky and its people, and I just wish everyone could see and appreciate the place I love so very deeply the way so many of us do.
In the past year, when circumstances and people have made this feel anything but the safe haven it always has been for me, I have pondered leaving Kentucky, and I won’t rule that out in the future. If I do leave, I know that you can take the girl out of Kentucky, but you never ever can take Kentucky out of the girl. It is who I am, and it is with me always and forever, no matter where I am. So, this is but a mere glimpse of my home, and I hope that everyone has a chance to come discover just how special Kentucky is. Be careful, though, once you visit, you may find yourself under its spell and never wanting to return from whence you came. Oh, I saved two of the best things for last, just to tempt you further. Did I mention that we have the finest bourbon and the 8-time NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion University of Kentucky Wildcats? Cue the music, pass the tissues, and weep no more, my lady . . .
“My Old Kentucky Home”: http://youtu.be/DI_dBarT6UY
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story