The word Kentucky conjures up words like blue grass, bourbon, the Kentucky Derby, basketball, fried chicken and biscuits and gravy. For me, the word Kentucky is deliciously peppered with childhood memories of visiting my Kentucky cousins. There were sixteen of them and they lived just across the Ohio River in Elizabethtown and Louisville, Kentucky. We visited them once or twice a year and it was often difficult to see them all in any one visit, but it was always a memorable adventure.
Seven of my cousins were on Mother’s side of the family, and all of them were my Aunt Kay and Uncle Bill’s children. Daddy had three sisters and a brother and between all of his siblings, there were nine children. Almost Even-Steven on both sides.
We usually traveled to Elizabethtown because that is where most of them lived. On holidays the Louisville cousins, who were on Daddy’s side of the family, traveled our way to join in the event so we were always surrounded by many aunts, uncles and cousins during our visits.
As a family, our vacations generally revolved around weekend or holiday trips to Kentucky. We piled into the car with our suitcases packed in the trunk and began our two hour journey across the winding, two lane roads between Indiana and Kentucky. As a small child, I hated driving to Kentucky because I would get motion sickness every time we traveled. I sat in the back seat with my siblings and tried every position possible to keep from getting sick. I traveled with my pillow and tried to sleep, but with two or three siblings fighting for the limited geography, it was impossible to get much rest. We weren’t constrained by seat belts or car seats in those days and often I nestled into the space on one side of the middle hump on the floor, and tried to sleep in that limited compartment.
When not sleeping, we played “I Spy” and counted cows on each side of the road. When we passed a cemetery on our side of the road, we lost our cows. When we saw a Brahma bull, we earned twenty-five points. The game lasted until we became bored or when we left the rural countryside of Kentucky and traveled through smaller towns with no cows.
When we arrived at our destination, I happily emerged from the confinements of the car, waiting for my stomach to settle back to normal knowing that delicious food was on the agenda.
Because we had to share our visit with everyone, we often spent much of our time in Kentucky going back and forth between multiple houses. The greatest benefit in the constant movement between the various houses was the food-we never went hungry on those visits. Everyone fixed food for us and we were not allowed to refuse the generosity of our aunts and grandmothers who had spent much time preparing a feast.
While my siblings and I never felt pulled in multiple directions, I am certain there was fierce competition for our time. My parents never wanted to show favoritism toward one family over another, so inevitably we visited with everyone, even if only for a brief time. While we split our time between the two sides of the family, I recognized that Mother liked to be at her sister’s house and Daddy liked to be at his sisters’ or his mother’s house. As for the kids, we didn’t really care. Each family welcomed us graciously and made us feel at home and special. We feasted on Aunt Dorothy’s German chocolate cake and played cards at Aunt Kay’s. We watched Uncle Delma, Uncle Charles and Uncle Russell bring in their catch from their squirrel hunting or fishing adventures. We ran around the countryside-playing hide and seek with Janet, Ronnie and Patty. Our parents drank iced tea and visited with their siblings and their spouses.
At Mamaw’s we ate green beans and sweet corn. Biscuits and plum preserves. Sweet pickles and fresh tomatoes. And, when we couldn’t possibly eat one more bite of food, we traveled another hour and a half to Springfield to visit Mother’s parents, Mama and Poopdeck, where we began the feasting all over again.
Our cousins were older, the same age and younger than us. There were more girls than boys, thank goodness. They visited us in Indiana when they could, and we returned the hospitality the best we could. They grew up just like we did and today they live all across the United States and in Europe. They have spouses, children and families of their own and they have their memories as well. Some of them are fans of the Kentucky Wildcats and others are fans of the Louisville Cardinals. They love their basketball and they love their horseracing. Many of them religiously celebrate the Kentucky Derby, placing their bets and toasting the day with a tumbler of Kentucky bourbon or a mint julep.
Today, we don’t see each other often and when we do, it is more often at a funeral than a celebratory event, but we still hug and kiss and laugh with each other and “Remember when…..” Our lives are separate, yet joined by the special ties of family and history. They are forever woven into my past; I hope they will continue to be part of my future. To my Kentucky cousins-a toast and a smile to all the delicious memories of our family!
In memory of my beloved Bobby
July 18, 1950-November 6, 1968