What Kentucky Kids Grow Up Knowing

by Jim Jackson |

As schools start back across the Commonwealth, we take a look at some of the essential knowledge that comes with being a Kentuckian.

There is book knowledge, and there is common knowledge. The difference between the two might as well be the width of the Ohio River when discussing ‘indisputable facts’ with a Kentuckian.
 

We know what we know, and don’t take issue with offering a succinct, unabashed rebuttal to any challenger. Girls and boys across the Commonwealth are raised to understand the subtle mythos and deeply rooted convictions that accompany being born here. Kentucky kids tend to receive an education long before they start school. Don’t let their small stature fool you — they know a thing or two.

 

They know all the words to “My Old Kentucky Home.” They might struggle with the later verses, but when “Weep no more, my lady” comes around they proudly give it their all.

 

They appreciate grandma’s cornbread and the cast iron skillet that gives it its crispy crust. They’re not ashamed to admit their parents can’t make a superior product, or an equivalent one for that matter.

 

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They can articulate the internal, innate distrust they have for Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. Regardless, they become downright inquisitive when they see license plates supporting Hoosiers, Buckeyes or Volunteers.

 

Even the children of our Commonwealth know that politics don’t actually occur in Frankfort. They’re smart enough to understand if you want a deal to be sealed, you need to look elsewhere. They recommend checking a Ballard County duck blind, a Lexington steak house, a Lake Cumberland cabin or the Valhalla back nine. Most Kentucky girls and boys will tell you, when they take their field trip to the Capitol, their primary concern is touching Abe’s shiny boot, not the mess they claim is politics happening behind closed doors.

 

Our kids know that there’s nothing smoother than the bridge leading to the muzzle of a thoroughbred. They’ll tell you that between a horse’s nose feels like a soft, warm marshmallow. They know to respect these beautiful creatures, admire their spirit and their occasional rambunctious attitudes. Kentucky children understand what thoroughbreds mean to our culture and psyche, how we, as a collective group, have been lifted up by the backs of Man o’ War, Secretariat, Smarty Jones and American Pharoah. It’s not lost on our kids that once a year, for a brief moment, the rest of the world gets a peak behind the curtain, seeing just how nice Kentuckians have it.

 

Every Kentucky boy knows that he should hold the door for a lady. He knows it’s polite to say yes ma’am and no sir. Kentucky kids can point you to the nearest church house, with or without an “as a crow flies” reference.” Kentucky kids can pick beans and okra with the best of them, and both boys and girls are strong enough to crank a tub of homemade blackberry ice cream all on their own. They don’t mind sweating in the sticky summer months, and are happy to say a blessing at breakfast, dinner or supper. They know that it’s pronounced “y’all.”

Our young ones have rich imaginations. They believe in themselves, no matter their education or what county they call home.

Our young ones have rich imaginations. They believe in themselves, no matter their education or what county they call home. If they want to express themselves by putting pen to paper, they have an embarrassment of riches to idolize and emulate. Whether it’s Jesse Stuart, Irvin Cobb, Bobbie Ann Mason, William Wells Brown, Silas House or Chris Offutt, the kids struggle to decide who their favorite is. While they feast their imaginations on limitless pages of prose, some can’t help themselves and dive head first into Gonzo, devouring the works of Hunter S. Thompson. While our Commonwealth certainly knows how to play it straight, Kentucky’s future generations will be ready to fly the freak flag at a moment’s notice.

 

They believe that, in a head-to-head battle, Daniel Boone would certainly whoop Davy Crockett. They believe deep down there will always be a void from having never heard Cawood Ledford call a Kentucky game. They believe sorghum is a treasured taste.

 

They don’t know why just yet, but they believe that Bardstown Road in Louisville is the most diverse stretch of culture in Kentucky. They believe in bluegrass music without hesitation. Although they can’t drink it yet, they believe in the difference between bourbon and whiskey. They believe there is still gold in Fort Knox. They believe that everyone ought to know the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. They believe that John Prine hit it squarely on the head when he referred to Kentucky as “Paradise.”

 

It’s amazing what you can learn from the kids in Kentucky. They tell it like it is and are confident in their resolve. It’s no wonder that the girls and boys in the Commonwealth grow up to be ambassadors of their beloved home, stretching the world over. The thoughts they have on Kentucky are both wide and deep, filled with tradition, lore, ambition, pride and unmatched love. Without question, they know a thing or two and are wise beyond their years.

 

Freelance writer Jim Jackson graduated from the University of Kentucky and currently lives in Frankfort. You can reach him at jackson.m.jim@gmail.com

 

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