Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sweet Kentucky Dreaming


It's the first day of Spring and my thoughts wander back to a place where Springtime should be lived just once to taste its full glory: Kentucky. As I think about it, I'm amazed at the influence the place has had on me and at how serendipitous life is. One of my favorite epigrams is credited to John Lennon. I think of it often and it's relevant again now: "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." Or it's what happened to me, at age 18, when I had no plans at all beyond the foggy notion of "going to college." Kentucky was completely unknown territory to anyone in my family. We had no connections there. The only reason we chose the University of Kentucky for my higher education was because it was cheaper by thousands for me to be an out-of-state student in Kentucky than it was for me to go in-state to the University of Virginia. I intended to major in journalism and it had a reputable journalism school. That was all we needed to know. None of us Cherrys were much on research or pre-planning in those days. When the time came I and my belongings were packed into the Rambler station wagon and off we went.

The picture above is of Haggin Hall, the first dorm I lived in at the University of Kentucky. I've talked about what a disaster those first few months in this foreign land turned out to be. I was totally unprepared for the reality of living in a dorm with a bunch of late-teenage males who were experiencing their first, wild taste of freedom. If you're interested, you can find out all about that fiasco
here. Short version: I ended up coming back home, realizing even as I was climbing back into the old Rambler that I was making a really stupid mistake, and my sainted parents let me go back to Kentucky the next semester.

I dove into my version of college life when I got back. My former dorm neighbor Dick Kimmins and I had stayed in close touch during my absence, and he was the first person I looked up as soon as I returned. Dick was from the small town of Springfield, Tennessee, outside Nashville. He thought it was very cool to have a singing, guitar-playing friend from what was for him the navel of the universe, Washington DC. I had never thought of my home town in such exalted terms and ate up the attention. One weekend soon after I was back, Dick's family, consisting of his mother and his older brother, Joe, came to Lexington to visit Dick, and Dick invited me along to meet them. The big event of the weekend was seeing the recently released "Sound of Music." Through the sharing of the movie and then long, comfortable conversations over dinner and then at their hotel, the Kimminses and I bonded. Mrs. Kimmins became my surrogate mother; Joe, four years older and a man of the world who lived in Atlanta, took me under his wing and became my intellectual mentor, and Dick and I decided we'd be roommates as soon as we were allowed into off-campus housing. Dick and I remained very close for the next year, sharing a room in a house owned by a sweet, ancient widow lady, Mrs. Weddle. The name of our street was and still is beautiful: Linden Walk. Who wouldn't want to live on Linden Walk?

Dick and I began going our separate ways--he into a fraternity, me into the music crowd, but the Kimminses remained important people in my life. Mrs. Kimmins and I exhanged occasional letters until she died in the 1980s; Joe was and remains a figure of profound importance to me, even now, when communication is no longer possible because he has slipped tragically into dementia. Dick and I exchange occasional emails; to that extent we are still in each others' lives. Over time, the dynamics between the Kimminses and me more and more resembled those of a blood family, founded in unconditional love but often strained by individual personality quirks. To this day, in some ways I feel closer to them than I do to my biological family, or at least as close, and that can be both a blessing and a curse. I'm grateful for the blessing and gladly accommodate the curse.


Oh, there's much, much more! Saturday.



7 comments:

Cuidado said...

Great songs today, Ralph. I had heard neither for a very long time.

Zoey & Me said...

We are both fortunate to have found a surrogate family. I loved the Hutchins family while growing up in Alexandria, both son Alex and I went on to Groveton High School. Mrs Hutchins is still alive and believe it or not at 88 emails me at least once a week. I also still have Alex's friendship, now going on 50 years. WOW. That is hard to imagine but it's true.

Ralph said...

That's fantastic! You're so lucky to have them both in your life and still be so close to them. Dick's essentially the only one left of the Kimminses and he never was a good writer. I mean to give him a call.....

Kat said...

Ralph,
It is always wonderful to hear your Kentucky stories. You speak so warm and lovingly about your time there. It still makes me chuckle a bit you ended up there. Now that was serendipity.

Ralph said...

Sheer chance, Kat. Much like you and me and our friends in Ghana. We simply chanced upon people who would become important to us for the rest of our lives. I enjoy that life plays that occasional trick.

Cuidado said...

Got a link for you:
http://peacecorpswriters.blogs.com/johncoynebabbles/2007/08/peace-corps-wri.html

Ralph said...

Oh, I know all about this one, C. Coyne and I are old colleagues from the Clinton years. See my links at left.......

Now, don't stop looking out for me!