I was born in Lexington, Kentucky, "the heart of the bluegrass" on July 28, 1936... it was, and still is, a beautiful rural setting of rolling hills geologically named the "knobs region". We were just west of the mountains of Appalachia.
I am an only child. My father was 39 and my mother 38 years old when I was born. During my first weeks, both my mother and I contracted pneumonia. As a result, she spent time in the hospital and I was brought home to be cared for by an African American woman hired by my parents. Also, I developed severe eczema and later asthma. I was tied in the crib in order to avoid scratching the eczema.
I believe my earliest memories are in the range of two or three years old. I can remember riding my tricycle on the sidewalk in front of our house, the one in which my grandmother died. I still remember her being carried out of the house after her death. I can remember being held and rocked by her in the year before she died. My maternal grandfather, William Estill, was a landowner and "gentleman farmer" in the rich soil of the "bottoms" of the Licking River in rural Fleming County. My grandfather lost the farm as a result of trading in wheat futures by two of his sons. Thanks to two of my uncles my inheritance vanished. Behind our house in those early years lived a very proper gentleman who owned a "show horse"—a beautiful animal which I was allowed to sit from time to time. He had a large mustache, and not knowing about tact, I called it a brush. He shaved it the next day.
I grew up with a large extended family. As was the custom in rural communities, people had large families so that they would have build in farm labor at no extra cost. I had many uncles, aunts, cousins. My country cousins were often my playmates, and I fondly remember the excitement of driving to their farm and playing in the tree house... my two closest cousins, Sid who was my age, and Jim, a year older, welcomed my visits since during the time I was there they didn't have to work in the fields.
Saturday nights were interesting in Flemingsburg. That was the real "community time." My father owned a black (they were all black then) 1936 Chevrolet sedan with chrome headlights and solid chrome bumpers. After dinner on Saturday night we would drive to the hill overlooking downtown and park where we could see into the center of town. We would sit in the car—in warm weather I would sit on the fender, and my parents would chat with people as they passed by. Occasionally my father would walk down the hill and mingle with the others, but usually, we just sat. My father would smoke his pipe. This was the time when the farmers and their families would come to town to shop and talk about the weather and their crops.
Our biggest job was in the tobacco fields. I helped with the planting, hoeing out the weeds, pulling off tobacco worms (some sort of caterpillar), topping the plants so they would grow wider leaves, and prepare the baskets for market... the worst job on the farm for me was filling the silo. My job was to stand inside the silo and direct the ground up silage around so it would pack evenly. The problem was that I have/had really bad allergies, particularly to ragweed which was mixed in with the silage. Lots of sneezing.
My cousin, Tommy, got me a summer job for my college years working for the local Rural Electric Association. I headed a crew that was mapping the entire eight county districts—locating each house and transformer that was on the grid. A very interesting job, since I had to learn how to meet and talk with the very rural and mountain people of the area. Once, in the spring, we came upon a farmhouse in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. A man came towards us waving his arms and yelling. We were the first people he had seen since the previous fall. I once got stuck in a swampy area in the middle of a forest. And, even though I was driving a four-wheel drive vehicle, I couldn't get out. Fortunately a farmer with a team of mules was near enough to pull us out.
Marsha, my wife, says that my early life in Flemingsberg was idyllic.
SONG: "My Old Kentucky Home"