My Kentucky is a sleepy rural town where every grocery shopping trip includes a half hour or so for socializing.
My Kentucky is hitting up tailgates in the Orange, Blue and Purple Lots, making plans for the following day's races, and analyzing the Dribble-Drive offense.
My Kentucky is being seated between Congressional candidates and tattooed hipsters at the latest Highlands hotspot, and finding neither to be out of place.
I grew up in a tiny Eastern Kentucky coal camp town of five hundred or so people, the same town where my parents were high school sweethearts. My paternal grandparents each logged four decades of service to the local school system, and countless people learned to read under my grandmother's instruction. It's the kind of town where everyone is a teetotaler, despite the fact that most of us are descended from a moonshiner or two. It's the kind of town where church dinners and high school basketball games are still important community events. It's the kind of town where you're never asked your name at the pharmacy or the dry cleaners. Everyone simply knows who you are.
Like most small-town Kentuckians, I moved to Lexington for college when I was seventeen. Here, I learned about a way of Kentucky life that was as foreign to me as the customs of far-off continents. Horse farms and bourbon and country clubs weren't a part of the Kentucky of my childhood, nor was rush hour traffic. Soon, I found that Lexington was more a large town than a small city -- it was friendly, inviting and comfortable. I stayed in Lexington for several years after college and grad school; I cheered on my beloved Wildcats, watched the races at Keeneland, and attended more Cheapside Happy Hours than one should proudly acknowledge. I found that I truly loved the vibe and aesthetic of that town; I proudly adopted its equestrian-prep clothing and needlepoint belts as well as its slavish devotion to the "inside the Circle" lifestyle. Lexington became the town I love.
I moved to Louisville for work in my late twenties. Ironically enough, it was in the most fast-paced, Midwestern city in Kentucky that I fell in love with a fellow Eastern Kentuckian, with whom I'd attended undergrad. We quickly came to love the quirky Highlands neighborhood where we settled. We found ourselves immersed in a foodie culture, setting our Saturday morning alarm clocks early enough to beat the local sous chefs to the farmers' market. We took our Labrador puppy to Starbucks and Irish pubs, where he was treated like a rock star. We kept Louisville weird, as they say. Or, at least as weird as a corporate lawyer and a Junior Leaguer can keep things.
A few years ago, my beau and I moved to Nashville for his work. As we made friends and contacts in the Music City, I found myself speaking for all things Kentucky: I gave advice on baking with bourbon (that Tennessee swill will never be bourbon. End of story.), buying Derby tickets, tailgating in Lexington, making quilts, and the best restaurants along every major highway in the state. I found that, despite the cognitive dissonance I'd always assigned to the three chapters of my Kentucky life, I simply knew and loved my home state. And, when we eventually moved back to Lexington, we realized that any corner of the Commonwealth was "home."