I hated growin’ up in Kentucky. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated the question, “Where are YOU from?”, to which I would begrudgingly answer “Kentucky” to obvious surprise; as if Kentucky were nothing more than an urban legend, a myth where you never actually meet someone from there. (Confession: I’m happy that my kids will be able to answer with pride, “I was born in California.”)
I’ve been in countless discussions over whether Kentucky was ‘North’ or ‘South’ in the Civil War. I am asked whether I grew up on a farm and whether I owned horses. I have answered, “Yes, some grass is blue and some dirt is red. Yes, there’s a helluva lot of hills. Yes, it IS very green. No, I’ve never been camping. But I have jumped off an inner tube into a lake. I have partied on the boat docks and swam in the river. I’ve had tire swings tied by a rope from a tree and swingsets cemented into the ground. I’ve poured salt on a slug and caught lightning bugs in a jar at dusk. And every Saturday, walked two miles to the library (yes, even in the snow but I wore shoes) for an armful of books to read (no such thing as backpacks).”
But once I left Kentucky, I practiced my enunciation for hours, nay, months, to deliver me from the country twang of my youth.
When faced with the inevitable questions from city-dwellers who have never had a backyard, I am forced to admit that I had a GREAT childhood. And now, thanks to Facebook, I am connected to my childhood’s tender years through memories brought alive again with newfound old friends. My childhood hovers nearby as if I had just finished it, though in reality it has been over for decades.
The world has moved on now, you might say. Do today’s young Kentuckians sit outside during a thunderstorm to string green beans? Do they turn off the lights for fear the house will be struck by lightning (nowadays utility cables are run underground), or were those simple rural fears based on nothing?
Do kids trek in the woods behind their houses after a snow to climb over fallen trees and follow (make) paths? Snow Days! Who can get Hot Tamales for a dime on their way to school in the morning? Who walks to school? Who hops on their bike to go hang out with friends? Who has a second family, like the Johnsons for me, that they practically live with? Nowadays, I think, I might outlaw my kids’ friends coming over THAT much!
Talking about growing up in Kentucky, in the 60’s and 70’s (if not now), does paint a quaint picture. But there are two stories, I’ve found, that I had to stop telling friends from the urban side. One is that the high school was modeled on a college campus, and included 7 buildings of tinted glass, a football field, a track, an indoor heated pool and a baseball field. I thought all schools were similar. I was naively wrong. The other mention, that our little town had Mercedes-Benz city buses, also gave the wrong impression, at least to them. It didn’t matter there were only 3 or 4. My picturesque country quaintness was quickly envisioned as elitism, like some of today’s high-end subdivisions and gated communities.
I may have been bored to tears in my teens, chomping at the bit for high school graduation, so I could blow that popsicle stand. And yet, I’m glad I grew up in Kentucky. I’m glad that the worse trouble that existed was for me and my friends to get a visit from the police for egging a house. I’m glad that we overdosed in exercise and sports and school.
At this stage, I’ve gone back to embracing my heritage; so, now I let the “g” drop from the end of words. I say “ya’ll” proudly (I never stopped, frankly), and I bring in fried green tomatoes to people who’ve never tried them. I may have a love-hate relationship with Kentucky; always embarrassed, but I wouldn’t trade my childhood for “all the money in the world”. It is, after all, mine.