I am often asked, “You’re not from around here, are you?” inviting conversation every time I open my mouth to speak. It is with pride that I strut my southern roots, calling attention to my place of origin with drawn out syllables served up with a side of hospitality. This unmistakable calling card, established early in my childhood, afforded me a place from which to stand on my own two feet. It gave me a name of my own and a home in my heart, no matter where the wind blew me.
To this question, my answer is always the same, “Kentucky is my home, born and raised.” It’s here my mid-western friends politely remind me that my identity crisis is showing. Despite their friendly teasing, they step to the side making room for the soap box I carry in my back pocket on the enthusiastic, if not enlightening, subject of my southern upbringing.
Home was my beginning. Here I seek constancy in times of confusion, significance in times of isolation. It is familiar ground beneath my feet, and it is the steady, insistent heartbeat of family. A willful spirit stumbled out of me in this place, brilliantly ordinary. It was here that I discovered me and yet, it is the one place I know better than I know myself.
Kentucky is my home. Home where the grass is so green it’s blue and the scrappy little redbuds shoot up like weeds. It is where I first learned to whistle, carry a tune, and tie my shoes. It was the land my ancestors left Ireland and England for; to raise their families on rich soil, worship in their faith, and to play their old-timey music every spare moment between.
This is where I heard as a child, stumbling into the kitchen on the slam of the screen door, that I was a “sight for sore eyes.” Here “everything’s fine and the goose is hangin‘ high”, if you ask Grandma. It’s where I developed a taste for the sugary tartness of handpicked gooseberries made into a pie, and to fancy southern sweet tea in a tall glass. This place is Home. It’s fried chicken in the skillet and fresh sliced tomatoes from the garden, green beans cooked down with bacon, mashed potatoes with lots of cream and butter, and jam cake with caramel icing sitting on the sideboard.
This small slice of the world is where a wave and a nod are the customary thing to do when you pass your neighbor, his tractor, or his dog on the road. It’s where the old folks miss the old ways and the young ones fight for change, and both still sit down together to supper. This place I call Home is “the dearest land outside of heaven to me,” though I have lived more than six hundred miles west of it for most of my thirty-nine years.
I am often reminded that, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” It just “happened” to drag me kicking and screaming all the way to Missouri, where unexpectedly, the gateway to the west opened a window to my heart. It is here I met and married the love of my life, and where we’ve chosen to raise our three gloriously rowdy children. In this place where blue skies blanket a sea of wheat and corn, and the serpentine banks of the Missouri River twist an weave through lush countryside, I put down roots; even as I dreamt of returning home. Here we are building new memories with every fence post set, every friendship fostered and with every waning season renewed by the next. It is here we live and laugh and cry and dream.
My native tongue is as much a part of me today as those misty blue hills mirrored in the color of my eyes. I don’t catch the moonrise above the treetops over those Kentucky hills as often as I’d like, and I’m much too late to listen for Grandpa’s “Faded Love” on the fiddle, though I can still hear the bounce of his bow on the strings. And yet, there is no distance so great between me and Home that I would fear the emptiness of a star-filled sky.
Here in this place out west, far from my beginnings, I have made a home; and yet, when I am asked the inevitable, “You’re not from around here, are you?”, as the sound of my southern roots give me away, a rise of excitement and belonging fills me up, ’cause I’m a homegrown Kentucky girl at heart and I always will be.