Posted by: ktzefr | May 23, 2018

Sunday in the Blue Grass

Summer, 1950s…

     We didn’t take vacations when I was growing up.  The closest thing to a summer vacation was a Sunday in the Blue Grass.  Thus began my love of travel…

     Before daybreak we pack the truck and head to the Bluegrass.  My sister sits in front with Mom and Dad so as not to get her hair mussed in the wind.  We have the bench seat from an old car we picked up someplace and haul it over the side and into the back of the truck.  This is where my brother and I sit — on the car seat, looking through the truck’s back window between the heads of my dad and mom and sister, watching the road ahead.  Up and out of the mountains we go on a treacherous two-lane road, around steep curves and into the morning fog. 

     Once off the mountain, the hills gradually turn to flat land, the fog gives way to blue sky, countryside, and rows of tobacco with their big, oblong leaf tips turning from green to yellow.  We slip through sleepy towns with no stop lights.  Church bells ring but everything else is closed up tight on a Sunday morning.

     Two hours later, we are finally at the turning-off place.  We leave the paved road and turn onto a one-lane dirt trail that meanders through rolling hills and long tracts of green pastures.  Cows and sheep and horses and goats dot the fields.  Every few minutes we have to stop, jump over the side of the truck, and open one of many gates leading back to the farm.

     We open and close and do this again and again.  Don’t let the sheep out.  Watch for mud holes.  Distant blue skies touch the horizon in glimpses between thick stands of trees.  A pond here and there glistens in the sun. 

     The house sitting all alone at the end of the road is, in my mom’s words, “99 miles from nowhere”– perched in the center of its own green universe.  A barn and some sheds.  Chickens in the yard.  Somewhere a rooster crows.  It smells different here.  Scent of the boxwood circling the house mingles with animal smells, flowers in bloom, the green, clear air.

     The old house holds mysteries.  In the living room a cuckoo clock with a pink girl and a blue girl foretells rain or sunshine.  When I hear it chime I run to see which girl comes out to twirl her umbrella.  Will we sail back to Appalachia on a golden afternoon or will the rains come and wash away all the good cheer of this one-day adventure?  Will it be a pink or blue day?

     At the big table in the dining room we are treated like royalty.  I get to drink milk from a thick, heavy German beer mug that has been frosted in the freezer.  There is fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, just-picked green beans and corn and carrots.  Hot biscuits in a basket and home-churned butter the color of a milky sun.

     Later, sitting in the shade, the men tell stories and the women talk about canning and quilting and growing flowers.  There are no other children here, so I gravitate from one group to the other, back and forth, not wanting to be left out and not fitting in anyplace.  But joy is in the air, almost palpable.  Everything is more colorful, sounds more delightful, familiar scents somehow made exotic in this place.  I had started, even then, to associate travel with the extraordinary.

     The house had an upstairs that I wanted desperately to explore, but my mom said no.  It was impolite to go “pilfering” around someone else’s house.  I should not go upstairs unless the old lady offered to take me.  But how would she know to offer if I didn’t ask?  I had to be satisfied with exploring outside.  Swinging on the porch swing, picking wildflowers, searching beneath the porch and around the evergreens for the Persian cats. 

    Once I discovered a big ram asleep under the corn crib and when I stooped to get a better look he woke up and raised his head, rolled his eyes at me.  Thick horns curled above his ears.  He didn’t look happy to be disturbed.  When he started to grunt and move, inching himself from beneath the crib, I ran.  Over the years my curiosity would lead me into other risky places, but I always seemed to know when to run.

     I learned other lessons, too, on these short outings.  Once, while riding bareback I almost hanged myself on a clothesline.  I was overly confident and came galloping around the house and didn’t see the bare wire strung across the yard.  Sometimes when you go flying head first and don’t take stock of the surroundings, you risk hanging yourself.

     Years later, I will find myself amongst a zillion varieties of cuckoo clocks in a little town in Germany, a picture perfect medieval setting, right out of a story book.  The people there will remind me of the old man and woman who lived in the house at the end of the lane on a farm in the Blue Grass. I am tempted to buy a clock, but I buy a tiny cuckoo clock charm instead that will remind me of both places.

     Now, when I look at pictures, the old farmhouse looks small, rather dilapidated.  And where are the boxwood I remember so well, the hedge that circled the front porch and gave off its musty scent on July afternoons?  I have a suspicion that the upstairs that seemed so mysterious back then, the place whose passages I yearned to “pilfer,” likely held no mysteries at all. 

     But it was all so lovely in my imagination.  I reflect on places I’ve been that others may think are just okay, nothing to write home about.  But me?  Why, it’s marvelous!  Didn’t you see or hear or taste or feel (fill in the blanks)?  Ah, the eye of the beholder makes all the difference. 

     Five ways I’ve found to behold beauty almost anywhere: make friends (i.e. never meet a stranger), find something to love about every place you go, taste almost any food at least once, and try to speak the language – even if you make a fool of yourself.  The most important of all – don’t expect any place to be just like home.  Otherwise, why travel in the first place?

*************

The word “pilfer” did not mean “steal,” as the dictionary claims.  It meant being nosey, rummaging around in other people’s stuff, checking in drawers and closests without permission.

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