AUBURN, KY—We are staying at the Federal Grove Bed and Breakfast in Central Kentucky. It’s an all-brick colonial house with tall columns.
It looks like the sort of estate that might have a fancy historic name like Funicello, or Vermicelli, or something like that.
The trees are fat. The hills are gentle. The rolling farmland goes on forever. This land used to belong to Jonathan Clark, older brother of William Clark—as in Lewis and Clark.
At breakfast this morning, I kept expecting to run into Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington, or at the very least, Wynona Judd.
This is only my second time in Kentucky. And in the last few days we have driven through the entire state.
Yesterday was an important day, sightseeing-wise. My wife and I are students of early American history. So we made a special point to visit an important landmark which played a pivotal role in our nation’s freedom; the first Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In downtown Corbin, the unassuming eatery still has a sign reading: “Sander’s Cafe.”
The tiny KFC museum is attached to a fully operational fast-food restaurant. A statue of Colonel Sanders sits in the lobby. I had my picture made with the Colonel.
In the dining room, I met an elderly couple who lives nearby. The old woman wore a tank top and used a walking stick. Her husband wore plaid.
“I met the Colonel once,” said the woman. “Lotta people in Corbin met him. He was the most famous Kentuck’n there was.”
“He made good chicken,” said her husband.
“He made REALLY good chicken,” the old woman said.
“That’s what I just said, Dora.”
“I know, but I was saying it again, for the article guy.”
“The article guy don’t need to hear it twice.”
Later that day, Article Guy and his wife visited Richmond, a college town. The enormous courthouse has columns as wide as Buicks. It sits on town square.
Richmond’s downtown is a lot of brick storefronts, shop windows, lampposts, and busy sidewalks. Eastern Kentucky University stands in the distance. The town was peppered with summer-semester students.
I met a few young men in a cafe, sipping coffee. I asked how they liked school.
“We love it,” said one, “Eastern Kentucky’s a great school.”
“Yeah,” the other said. “The professors are great, and dude, the girls…”
It’s good to see students with priorities in order.
We spent the night in Richmond and slept in. The next morning, we ate breakfast in a small joint with vinyl booths and napkin dispensers. Overhead was the sound of a radio preacher, shouting a sermon.
The cafe’s only waitress was seated on a stool, reading an issue of “Cosmopolitan.” She took our order. She was middle-aged, with a voice like unfiltered Camels.
“Y’all gon’ eat?” she said, “Or just stare at the menu?”
This was followed by a hoarse laugh. Then a coughing fit.
I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon. The cook made incredible scrambled eggs.
After breakfast, we rode the highways again. We shot through a pure green landscape that was pretty enough to be on postcards. We stopped at a vegetable stand, bought some watermelon, and ate in the car.
And I was starting to understand why they call this the Bluegrass State.
The greenery is so rich that it’s almost blue. And it never ends. The scenery goes on forever, only to be interrupted by an occasional grove of single-wide trailers.
We pulled over in Columbia at a filling station. A man was pumping gas. His truck was white—at least it was long ago. He was chewing tobacco. We talked.
“Well,” he said, “we been farming since the seventeen hundreds. Not me personally, you understand, but my family. My wife’s family is new to Kentucky, they moved here in the eighteen hundreds.”
I ask what it’s like to be a farmer in Kentucky.
“Damn hard,” he says. Then he spit. “You can quote me on that.”
For our next stop, my wife and I ate at a barbecue joint outside Glasgow. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone good. We ordered our food to-go so that we could keep enjoying the panoramic views through the windshield.
And we finally arrived here, at our bed and breakfast. We pulled into the gravel driveway and saw the old manor. We oohed and aahed.
Employees offered to carry our bags. We climbed a narrow wooden staircase to a colonial bedroom. The creaking steps were probably older than my surname.
On my nightstand was a gift. A bottle of Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream and a greeting card. “Just a little bit of Kentucky,” the card read.
After settling in, my wife and I took a short walk through the prettiest country that Lewis and Clark’s older brother ever laid eyes on.
Which is where I am right now. We are sitting in the cool bluegrass. Shoes off. The sound of crickets is overwhelming. And I am watching the color green take over the whole world.
My wife rests her head on my shoulder. “You know something?” she says.
“This state feels so… American.”
And Article Guy just had to tell you about it.