Here's what I don't do: cook. Here's what I did today: cooked. Or, to be more precise, prepared. It is Derby Eve and all is a flurry of preparation and activity. The Kentucky Derby is my personal national holiday.
In 1959, my earliest Kentucky Derby memory, I won a $2 bet on Tim Tam to win. I was eight. It might have been the next year that my brother took me to the Derby itself, to the infield, where the day was lolled away in a stupor of sun and, if you were old enough and I wasn't, mint juleps. He recalls taking this innocent (me) to the track only to watch me whip out the Racing Form and read it like a pro. I didn't go back again until I was 16 or 17. My friend Tom's godfather was president of Churchill Downs. In a gesture truly hostile he gave Tom one — one!— Clubhouse pass. What good is one? So we passed it through the fence and got more than a dozen of us into the track. The next year National Guard lined up to form an aisle for notables — this was now 1966 and the world was roiling. We, on the other hand, were rolling in the tulips under the huge Clubhouse toteboard. That was the year we snuck into the grounds with a fifth of bourbon 'borrowed' from my father's bar — right past all that national authority and all of us underage ; it was the year, too, that we ate a styrofoam cooler. The next year, 1967, it rained. I found a box seat ticket and saved it for the seventh race (aka the Derby). I was not fool enough to go to the box designated; instead I found one under cover with only one man in place. Proud Clarion won on a muddy track. That man had put a lot of money on that nag. He was as dumbfounded as I was out of place. My friend Chuck had $2 on Proud Clarion, won $99 and was so fried he inadvertently hid it from himself for several years. His picture, an aerial photo still undeniably him owing to a distinctive madras jacket, revealing him suffering the woes of too many juleps, also made the Courier Journal the next day. (Hard to explain to one's mother!)
So many fond, if foggy, memories!
I had to leave Kentucky to grow nostalgic for it. Even that took awhile. Growing up in Kentucky did not have much to recommend it. Besides, it wasn't my doing. Was it my fault my father moved us from Pittsburgh to Louisville? No. A definitive, resounding, twang-less NO!
But for many years now the Derby has resonated with a cherished familiarity. And remembrances of things and people and youth passed. So now I reconstruct those memories annually with a Derby party. I invite folks who, for the most part, don't get it. And I don't care. I simply want company. A julep. And two bucks on the line.
Truffle: Seeing Don and Win coming across the lawn. He was our tenant in the cottage that is so in dispute right now. Because we gave him his walking papers, dear old Don, former MIT prof, had to reinvent his life in a retirement community. We invited him to keep his canoe here and use our place as his base of operations in nature. I've missed his presence. It was good to know he took us at our word.
Quote of the day: "Tough girls come from New York. Sweet girls, they're from Georgia. But us Kentucky girls, we have fire and ice in our blood. We can ride horses, be a debutante, throw left hooks, and drink with the boys, all the while making sweet tea, darlin'. And if we have an opinion, you know you're gonna hear it." (Ashley Judd)