I am on my way to Kentucky. I can see mountains in the distance.
My uncle always told me the Bluegrass State was a beautiful place, but his words didn’t do it justice.
I remember him telling me about his visit to Fort Knox:
“Gah-lee,” he said. “I wish I had just one of them gold bricks, then I could finally pay off my above-ground swimming pool.”
Well, I’ve never been to Fort Knox, or seen any gold bricks. But then, I’ve never been to Kentucky before today.
I’m driving, on my way to tell a few stories, play music, and God-willing, entertain some people in the microscopic community of Grand Rivers—a town about the size of a walk-in closet.
My blinker makes a clicking sound.
I exit the interstate. I pull over at a rest area to stretch my legs. My lower back is complaining. My wife and I have been in four states today.
I am feeling excited. I can’t put my finger on why I’m so giddy, but I am. Maybe it’s because Fort Knox is close, and there are enough gold bricks in this state to pay for a million above-ground pools.
Or maybe it’s because I don’t actually belong here.
You see, I’m underqualified. I am so average it would startle you. I never thought I would travel anywhere beyond, say, the outer limits of Paxton, Florida.
I was a quiet kid. The kid who enjoyed music, books, and sarcasm. I was the young man who drove an ugly truck with multicolored Christmas lights wrapped around his bumper because he loved Christmas.
I was the fella voted most likely to play the accordion. The kid voted most likely to never leave town.
And I never have. When I was in my late teens, my friends were all graduating high school, going on senior trips, applying to colleges, doing exciting things.
But I did none of these things. I had a broken family, and I was too busy learning how to read a tape measure.
By eighteen, none of my friends were left, they had all moved to big cities to live the good life and spread their wings.
And I felt like a lonely fool. I figured my wings weren’t big enough to need spreading.
“There’s a whole world out there,” my friend said once. “Don’t you wanna experience the world? Get outta here? Travel a little?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind going to Vegas one day.”
“Vegas? What about the rest of the world? Don’t you have any ambition? What about Paris?”
“I don’t like escargot.”
“How about Italy?”
“I’m not Catholic.”
So life went on. All my friends started having weddings, big ceremonies, usually in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Nashville, or Atlanta.
I would make day-trips to visit them. I would wear my one-and-only necktie to the ceremony, I would dance the Electric Slide with someone’s kid sister at the reception, and I would eat too many Swedish meatballs. Then, I’d drive home.
And this was the extent of my traveling.
Soon, my friends started having babies. Then buying houses. And I realized they were all growing up without me.
They were signing thirty-year mortgages, taking vacations with in-laws, carpooling for soccer practice, and they were all suddenly concerned with eating plenty of fiber.
And I was still in the same place doing the same thing. I was still laying tile, still playing music in ugly waterholes, still serving as a church pianist on Sunday mornings, still the youngest person in the church potluck line.
And I still had Christmas lights on my bumper.
But today it’s different. Sure, I know it’s a little late in life to start blooming. I’m middle-aged, with a back surgery beneath my belt and two totalled trucks. I’m childless, I live in a twenty-eight-foot trailer, and I don’t eat enough fiber.
But I have the love of a woman who means everything to me, and two dogs who come when I call their names.
I’m lucky. I’ve watched a sunrise over Lake Martin, sipped beer with an Episcopal bishop, and I have kissed the last remaining cast member of the Andy Griffith Show.
I have seen it snow on my father’s grave, I have picked daisies on my ancestor’s farm.
I have helped my uncle install an above-ground pool on a downward slope behind a parked RV.
And this year for Christmas, I placed multicolored lights on my truck bumper for old time’s sake.
I have not been to Paris or London, I can’t spell “hydrangea” without looking it up, and chances are I will never shake hands with anyone famous.
But it’s okay by me.
Because I have been to Kentucky.