I knew from the moment she said “Cincinatta” that she was from Kentucky. It was the way my mom used to pronounce it. Her hair was short, gray, and practical, certainly done by a good friend who operated a salon out of her vinyl-sided house on the front patch of a farm. She wore a sweatshirt underneath a cardigan–also practical.
“You live in Kansas City?”
She smiled when Yes ma’am-ed. “My daughter and her husband live out here, too. Sure is busy.”
I didn’t have to ask whether she meant her daughter had a busy schedule, or whether she meant the traffic. She meant it all. That’s how we talk.
“I’m afraid I’m taking the rain back with me. Today was the only pretty day I had in Kansas, and now it looks like it’s just gonna rain all week at home.”
Her husband farmed, she said. Tobacco until the buyout.
I told her that I grew up on a farm, and that we, too, grew tobacco once upon a time, and beef.
“So what we really raised,” I joked, “was blood pressure.”
It wasn’t exactly a blank stare that she gave me. It was a stare I was accustomed to, as a Kentucky kid. It told me she was–all at once–making a judgement, wanting to correct me, and mystified that I would make a joke about where we come from and what made her–and my–life possible. I had seen that stare before, from lots of people.
The price you pay for moving away? Only if you laugh about it.
Just happened to sit next to a woman from Kentucky on a recent flight from KC with a layover at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. Our brief exchange plus a Courier-Journal article/photo essay on the 10 years since the “Tobacco Buyout” came together in this snippet of dialogue. And just to let you know, I didn’t make the “blood pressure” joke. Also, as a side note, I had a professor in college (in OH) who had done graduate work in North Carolina and found the idioms “Raising Tobacco” and “Housing Tobacco” strange. I guess they do sound like something you do to/for children or pets, not a cash crop.