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Of bluegrass and Boone

Agriculture.com Staff 05/14/2006 @ 9:16am

Spending the first four decades of my life as a dairy farmer taught me to appreciate vacations. As a result, my wife and I have become adept at wringing every last atom of vacationness out of our outings.

The goal on the last day of our recent Kentucky junket was to do just that, plus experience the "real" Kentucky. We decided that the best place to launch this mission was at Keeneland Race Course's stable kitchen, mainly because we were told that cheap breakfasts were available there.

They were: two hearty Southern breakfasts -- biscuits and gravy, fried potatoes, fried apples, along with sausage or bacon or ham -- cost less than ten bucks.

While we ate we eavesdropped as trainers and jockeys discussed the goings-on in the racehorse industry. It probably would have been a lot more interesting had we understood even the first thing about horse racing.

But how to top lively conversation and an inexpensive Southern breakfast? "Let's go to Paris," I said impulsively. "I've heard that it's lovely there in the springtime."

So we hopped in the car and drove to Paris. The one in Kentucky, that is.

Not to be picky or anything, but Paris didn't exactly live up to our expectations. For instance, the only tower we saw was the kind that holds water.

Undaunted, we motored onward more or less randomly until we found ourselves at Blue Licks.

Blue Licks is NOT named for its raspberry popsicles, but for a mineral spring where people once made salt. It's also the site of an infamous Revolutionary War battle.

There was a museum to visit and a battle site to see, so we did both. We are simply those kind of people.

The Battle of Blue Licks, we learned, was lost by our side. Not that it mattered: Cornwallis had surrendered some 10 months earlier, but the news hadn't yet reached the frontier. My kingdom for a lowly dial-up Internet connection!

We also learned that Daniel Boone fought in that battle. Boone was no stranger to loss; he had even been captured by Indians in 1778. They spirited him off to their village where he managed to survive by becoming a blackjack dealer.

As a placard in the museum explained, a bushel of salt back then was "worth a good cow and a calf". The actual kettle Boone had used to make salt was on display and no one was watching, so, well, let's just say that I've now touched something Daniel Boone once touched.

We motored onwards, landing in Flemingsburg at about noon. I asked around and learned that cheap and hearty meals could be had at the sale barn, so we went there. You know you're in the South when cornbread comes with every meal and the Friday night special is "three pairs of frog legs".

We struck up a conversation with some folks at a nearby table. I told them we were from the Upper Midwest and about this column. Was there any message they might want to pass on to folks Up North?

"Tell them that we Kentuckians are educated," said one of the women, a Registered Nurse. "And that we are friendly. And that, despite what people might think, we do wear shoes."

We had resumed our meanderings when my wife abruptly pointed and said, "Look at that nifty old house!" Out in a cow pasture sat a deserted yet majestic Victorian mansion.

I pulled into a driveway to snap a picture. As we were leaving, a pickup pulled up. It was the old house's owner.

We chatted across rolled-down windows and I asked about the brick Victorian. "It was built in eighteen an' seventy," he drawled. "They say there was three sisters who inherited a wad of money and tried to outdo each other by building swell houses. I heard that none of 'em ever married."

Hmm... Suppose there's a connection between being a spiteful person and terminal spinsterhood?

Our last day in Kentucky nearly over, we chose to make our final stop the Bluegrass Heritage Museum in Winchester. Sandy, the museum's curator, is a retired teacher -- and it showed. We learned more about Kentucky in the hour we spent with her than any Midwesterner needs to know. The time flew by, which must mean that Sandy was a good teacher.

I told Sandy about this column and asked if there was any message she would like to share.

"Tell them," she said, "That we Kentuckians value education. And that we do wear shoes."

Spending the first four decades of my life as a dairy farmer taught me to appreciate vacations. As a result, my wife and I have become adept at wringing every last atom of vacationness out of our outings.

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