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.
Nona Fox - August 5, 2019 9:33 am
Before you go back home ……Stop by the square in Columbia Tn. Cute little bookstore there beside Puckets . You’re too close not to. They need a few of your books!
We live near there . Culleoka. Very close to I-65.
We love reading all of your wonderful writings. You just get better and better. Looking forward to a copy of your new book. Do you deliver ? Just kidding. My husband and I met you and your wife a few years back at A Simple Faith . We have friends that go there to worship that use to live in Nashville. Sounds like you are in this area a good bit .
Come by to see us!
The Foxes (email@example.com)
GaryD - August 5, 2019 10:09 am
Kentucky sounds like a great place to go. I won’t ever but it sure sounds like a great place to go.
Camille - August 5, 2019 10:25 am
You and Jamie embrace what I would call the “old America,” the way it was before politicians and news outlets changed the view. Keep your eyes on the road you are on and we will all be better off.
Estelle - August 5, 2019 10:31 am
It is 5:30 in the morning. I have been up all nite. Sometimes I don’t sleep well. I have saved your columns ever since I started reading them. I started reading some at 3:00 am and I still have more to go. When I finally get sleepy I will have wonderful thoughts in my mind. It provides much better rest than a sleeping pill. Thanks for the memories.
Connie Havard Ryland - August 5, 2019 10:37 am
I love seeing the country through your eyes. Thank you for the beautiful, peaceful start to my day.
Sue Carol Browning - August 5, 2019 11:01 am
You and Jamie will never know how grateful I am that you agreed to come to our little town and give us a night at the Vineyard we will never forget. You always have a home in Auburn, Kentucky and we love you!
Sue Carol Browning - August 5, 2019 11:11 am
But most of the big trees on the lawn at Federal Grove are maple. This minor point might not matter except that Federal Grove produces, bottles and sells maple syrup and actually has a maple syrup festival in late February when they tap those maple trees and cook it down and bottle syrup. You all come back and visit us then and you will be in for really sweet treats!
Thank you again for your visit!
vzerda - August 5, 2019 11:32 am
Welcome to Kentucky! You hit it right when you fixed on Federal Grove.
Joe Patterson - August 5, 2019 11:51 am
My wife is from Kentucky and she still loves it I think our home states are always special but Kentucky is a beautiful state
Bobbie - August 5, 2019 12:42 pm
Wonderful trip with you and Jamie. I just wish everyone would appreciate this beautiful country we have…each state contributing their own beauty and history. I used to drive thru Kentucky going to visit my daughter in Ohio. Every time without fail, going thru Lexington and horse country, I could hardly stay on the road for looking at those beautiful horse farms, as you said, rolling green hills with miles of white fences….and the horses! Oh my, are they just beautiful.
Thank you again for sharing your words and your experiences. A great start to my day.
God bless you❤️
Melanie - August 5, 2019 12:59 pm
The luscious green ? so beautiful and so beautifully described ? thank you Sean
Dianne from Kentucky - August 5, 2019 1:07 pm
As Daniel Boone said, “Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.” Yes, yes it is.
Judy Milliken - August 5, 2019 1:13 pm
We are so happy you visited KY Sean and Jamie! Obviously, you were a real crowd pleaser in Auburn on Saturday night. Thank you for making the drive up to south central KY. You’re always wrk one! Judy
Ruth Ann - August 5, 2019 1:34 pm
Thank you most kindly Jamie and Sean for letting us extend a little hospitality on y’all. The event Saturday night was delightful. Anything funnier than Baptists making fun of themselves? Y’all come now ya here?
Jeff Corkran - August 5, 2019 1:48 pm
Although I went to high school in Dothan and attended Bama, I have lived in Kentucky for the past 33 years, thanks to the US Army bringing me here. My wife and I have to agree that it is one of the prettiest places we have ever lived.(And thanks again to the US Army, we have lived in a LOT of places.) I’m glad you think so, too. There are a lot more beautiful sites in the state, so come back when you get the chance!
ann hays - August 5, 2019 2:11 pm
Good one. I rode along with y’all!!
Nell Thomas - August 5, 2019 2:26 pm
Enjoyed the reveal of your trip to Kentucky.
Speaking of the Blue Hills of Kentucky – brings to mind a book our book club read recently:” The Book Woman of Troublsome Creek.” By Kim Michele Richardson. It was about the blue skinned people of Kentucky. Interesting read.
Again- great story – Thanks.
Sue Carol Browning - August 5, 2019 3:40 pm
I stand corrected, Sean, and you were right! There is a variety of trees on the lawn at Federal Grove, not just the sugar maples. I should have known that you know your trees. Thank you again.
James Milam - August 6, 2019 3:03 am
… and Thank You Judge!!!
Linda Moon - August 5, 2019 3:44 pm
I have run into Wynona Judd a couple of times in Walmart, but never to the other two you mentioned. Our last family reunion was in the beautiful American bluegrass state of Kentucky. Of twelve siblings, four are still with us. There are four sets of twins in the generational mix, too. Reunion photographs of the entire family and the twins are treasures in one of my Memory Boxes. Thank you for telling me about your trip and bringing those memories of Family and Kentucky back to me, Article Guy!
That's jack - August 5, 2019 3:47 pm
Enjoyed your trip. We also had the pleasure of visiting Sander’s Cafe. Also we love the Bluegrass State. My first visit to Kentucky was in 1952, and it was Corbin!
Y’all try to be good. We also like the Article Man.
Sherry & jack still in NC
Anne Parrish - August 5, 2019 5:22 pm
I think you’re right, Sean. Kentucky is a beautiful place. To me it harkens back to a kinder, gentler time. Keep on writing your “articles”. They’re a bright spot in so many of our lives. A real antidote to the horror of our current and seemingly endless
Maxine - August 5, 2019 5:24 pm
Sean, Jamie and you were in my home state. Home of the Bluegrass you mention. I miss it, sitting here outside Tampa. But Florida has grown on me these past 38 years.
Best of both worlds would be Fla. November through February with April through October in The Bluegrass State. One of my sons attended EKU as did one brother.
Did I mention I miss Ky? I love your wandering nature, takes me on journeys I no longer can make except vicariously. Thanks for the memories.
Patti - August 5, 2019 6:00 pm
Sean, so glad and proud you are enjoying our beautiful commonwealth! I was born and raised in KY and have lived here most of my life, except for four years in beautiful AL while my husband went to UAB. I love hearing “Sweet Home AL”, because it was for a short time! Before leaving the area check out Bowling Green, Lost River Cave and the Corvette museum. Safe travels, Patti