Monday, July 14, 2008


[This is the house that I grew up in. 413 North 2nd Street, Bardstown KY. It used to be white (not grey). ]

Jubilee and I headed north from Knoxville on Sunday morning. It was raining and that made the driving without air-conditioning tolerable.

The mist rose off the mountains of Northern Tennessee like a light smoke. We passed several quaint and colorful Fireworks stands and I wish that I had had the patience and presence of mind to take some photos. But I was afraid to stop. Because of the heat, I wanted to take advantage of the cooling rain while it lasted. I also saw a couple of large (huge) white crosses on the side of the highway that felt very “in-your-face” and scary. Klu-Klux-Klannish.

When I was a child and we traveled out of the state of Kentucky, my father would make somewhat of a production when we returned, stopping the car at the state line so that we could get out and kiss the ground. I always seem to remember this when I see the “Welcome to Kentucky” sign.

The land of Kentucky feels familiar to me. The summer vegetation. The rock exposed in the hillsides. The hay rolled in the fields. The blue and white wildflowers on the sides of the road. Kentucky evokes memories of my childhood and loved ones who have died.

By the time I got to Lexington, I no longer needed to consult, and be confused by, my Google directions. Thankgod – Google wanted to route me on the winding and narrow road that we used more than 40 years ago, before the opening of the Bluegrass Parkway.

My excursion to Bardstown was really to see two people: my Aunt Nora and my Aunt Louise.

Aunt Nora is 96 years old, my father’s sister, and my last living relative from the generation before me. Though she is in a nursing home, unable to walk or see, her mind is still sharp as ever. I’ve always known a special ease being with Aunt Nora – we share a similar temperament and understand each other. For one thing, we’re both insomniacs. I loved finding again that familiar humor and honesty with her.

This is Aunt Nora.

Aunt Louise was married to my father’s brother, Harry, and is 94 years old. She still lives in her home on 3rd Street, which was built in 1850.

Aunt Louise is sort of a 2nd mother to me. Her children (my cousins) were about the same age as my sister and I, and we were all raised together. Her mind is all there, and then some. She is among the most creative and intelligent persons that I’ve known, telling fascinating stories of how life was in the 30’s and 40’s and when we were children, remembering every detail and weaving together both memories and an accurate accounting of how-things-are/were. She told me about a time when she was watching me at the swimming pool – I must have been about 3 years old – and how I was afraid to put my head under water. She could remember the color and style of my bathing suit and how I sat and looked at the water for a long, long time, undeterred by the encouragement (and taunting) of my older and braver cousins. Finally, in my own time, I ventured off the side of the pool, went under the water, and came up exultant!

My Aunt Louise is also the master of being able to not worry and let life take care of her. My favorite thing that I remember her saying, after a big dinner is: “Oh, let’s not worry about the dishes, let’s have dessert!”

Being in Bardstown also brings with it other adventures.

For one thing, I am never “anonymous” in this town. Even after having been away for 40 years, someone always recognizes me. This time, while I was eating lunch at the nursing home with Aunt Nora, Aunt Louise, and Aunt Grace (Aunt Louise’s sister), a woman comes up to me, looks right at me, and says “Do we know each other?”. My gosh. I knew that it had to be someone that I had gone to school with it. And I guessed right – Linda Boone, my First Communion partner in 1957 when we were 7 years old. And now we are 57!

I went to school with the many of the same kids from Kindergarten to graduation from High School. That breeds a kind of familiarity, bondedness and recognition that never goes away.

[This is St. Joseph Church – Proto Cathedral – with St. Joseph School the other side of it. I was baptized, first communioned, confirmed, and married in this church. Both of my parents were buried from this church. Most all of my childhood and schooling centered around this church.]

My cousin, Sidney, still lives in Bardstown. If we were playing monopoly, Sidney would win. He and his wife, Brenda, have made of very successful living buying and running local businesses – mostly liquor stores, but also a gas station and store on a major interstate. Sidney’s lifestyle reminds me of the way my father made his way. He knows people all over the county, and though he “works” all the time, he also seems to always be free to do what he pleases.

Anyway, he asked me if I would drive his mother’s car to a man in the country who was going to work on it. I would be following him in his pick up truck to somewhere “deep” in the back country, he said. That turned out to be a most enjoyable ride off the beaten track through tobacco fields, tunnels and lovely hillsides. On the way back we stopped at “Brenda’s store” for ice cream.

[Brenda’s Store.]

1 comment:

Jane said...

When Andrea and I went to Bellarmine to the Merton Institute, we went to the Easter vigil at St. Joseph.
You had given us your Bardstown address and I remember passing by the house.
Nice that you could stop and visit!