October 8, 2012
Anybody who knows me or anything about me usually knows I’m from Kentucky. I take great pride in my home state even though our Southern accents have a nasal whang and drawl reminscent of those in Texas and aren’t nearly as pretty as South Carolina’s soft slurs. That accent shaped my speaking voice and couldn’t keep from seeping into my writing voice and the stories it tells. University of Kentucky Wildcat blue blood runs through my veins (although I attended Murray State University!), and when bluegrass music is stirring the air around me, my feet break into a clog before my brain can download the command.
I live in Illinois now, only an hour north of my Kentucky roots, but there is a definite difference between the German culture of the small town we live in and the Scot-Irish culture I grew up in. Southern Illinois is beautiful and quiet and a great place to raise a family, so I’d never realized how deep is my longing for Kentucky–until this past week.
My life is blessed by nine women who are all good friends. The ten of us meet together for dinner one night a month, and once a year we make a trip together for a few days to some place within easy driving distance. Last week, we took our annual trip. This year’s destination was Louisville–Kentucky’s largest city (and no, the capitol is Frankfort!). We had a great time, but the highlight of the trip–and nearly my undoing–was a tour of Churchill Downs, home of course to the famous Kentucky Derby. Although I’ve been to horse races at Churchill Downs, I’ve never been to the Derby. It’s one of my dreams and is high on my bucket list.
So part of the tour consisted of a seventeen minute film, which opened with the birth of a foal. The poignant scene caused the muscles in my throat to tighten and a tear might have escaped out of the corner of my eye. I chalked it up to being a Kentucky girl and the special place horses hold in the Bluegrass State. I sniffled and smiled through the next ten minutes. And then the film got to Derby Day and I braced myself, but not nearly enough.
The first strains of Stephen Foster’s beloved melody “My Old Kentucky Home” floated through the theater, and I lost all control. The tears streamed, and the harder I fought them, the faster they fell. By the end of the film, my eyes were puffy and red and I had to head straight to the ladies’ room to get myself together before continuing the tour.
I’m still not sure why it happens, but the swell of pride whenever I hear that song fills my heart to the brim and then it overflows. It’s impossible to be a Kentuckian and not be moved by it. I have to believe Mr. Foster is somewhere shaking his head in wonder at the power his music still wields 160 years after he put it to paper.
The episode left me with this question: Do other state songs bring about the same reaction? Do you get kerphlumped when your state song is played? (Or do you secretly wish you were from Kentucky? 🙂