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Kentucky by Heart: Change in location means gardening — and a surprising interest in the weather


Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared at KyForward May 30, 2017

By Steve Flairty
KyForward columnist

Starting as a toddler, and for most of my youth, hearing my parents talk about the weather seldom interested me. It didn’t seem to matter to me then that the produce we grew in our gardens and the tobacco crops we raised were so dependent upon cooperating weather.

It didn’t dawn on me that our small farm’s bountiful production could someday lead to a college education, allowing me the opportunity to enjoy a career as a teacher and later a writer. I just wished they would quit discussing weather all the time.

The weather forecast and discussion of all things pertaining to the weather was important in the Flairty household, a fact, according to Mom and Dad. It was a distraction for me; I’d rather be reading, playing in the creek, or following the Reds.

Double rainbow from backyard view at Steve’s Versailles home (Steve Flairty Photo)

Mom would check the rain gauge in the morning after it showered at night: “We got a half inch … could have used more,” she’d say.

Sometimes pride entered the picture. When I made the mistake of bragging on a neighboring farmer’s tobacco crop, Dad would typically retort something like this: “You have to remember that they got more rain than us.”

“‘Chilly, isn’t it?’” was a common icebreaker when Mom saw someone she knew at the grocery store. As the weather conversation picked up steam, then tapered off, her departing words were often a cynical comment about the accuracy of meteorologists: “Oh, you can’t believe anything they say, can you?”

Not only was weather talk uninteresting for me, it often signaled more farm work to do around our place in Claryville. When it was overly dry for a few days in the summer, it meant we’d be dragging those long, aluminum irrigation pipes out into the fields, where Dad pumped water from the creek.

When the tobacco stripping season started and sticks of the curing leaf stalks hung in the barn, sufficient moisture in the air brought the burley “in case,” rather than being brittle and breakable.

That meant taking it down from the barn rails, putting it on a wagon, then hauling it to our “stripping room;” sometimes that happened at dusk, and leaving our warm house after being already settled in to work in tobacco filled me with quiet, but sure, teenage angst.

I liked being around things I could control, and weather wasn’t one of ‘em. And so I was glad to move forward into adulthood and to choose a vocation where weather was of little issue -— and I did. I found that to be mostly true in my teaching career, and especially so in writing.

Proudly, I can remember weeks, or even months, when weather was not part of my conversation unless a snowstorm or the like happened. A youthful scourge was now only a subject to write about in a column.

Then along came last summer, when after 11 years, I remarried. Suzanne and I moved to a home we really liked in Versailles, and a big reason we chose the location was because of a nice one-acre lot. I missed gardening and yard work after renting and then living in a townhouse for over a decade, and so I now had a chance to make up for missed time.

Steve Flairty grew up feeling good about Kentucky. He recalls childhood day trips (and sometimes overnight ones) orchestrated by his father, with the take-off points being in Campbell County. The people and places he encountered then help define his passion about the state now. After teaching 28 years, Steve spends much of his time today writing and reading about the state, and still enjoys doing those one dayers (and sometimes overnighters). “Kentucky by Heart” shares part and parcel of his joy. A little history, much contemporary life, intriguing places, personal experiences, special people, book reviews, quotes, and even a little humor will, hopefully, help readers connect with their own “inner Kentucky.”

I started planting a few things immediately, and for the rest of the year I hired a young man to mow the yard. I would go easy at first, with plans to go strong in early spring.

And this spring, that’s what I did. I bought a John Deere riding mower, the first “non-pushing” grass cutter I ever owned, mainly because my yards in the past weren’t overly big (well, OK … I maybe was younger then and could better handle the workload). I carried lots of rocks on the property to build borders for perennial gardens. I showed up at the garden clearance sections at Lowes and Meijers looking to rescue sickly-looking plants at giveaway prices.

I’ve put ten trees in the ground, many bushes and now have hundreds of wildflowers starting to bloom.

I mow once per week, or more accurately, according to the w-w-w…weather forecast.

There, I said it. The weather.

I water my plants extra well when there is no rain forecasted. I save some of my more challenging garden projects for early in the evening -— when the weather is not so hot. I digest the weather page in the newspaper when I once knew not where it was located, and the favorite part of the local television news has become the weather news.

Recently, the subject in much of my conversation has changed, too. My wife gives me that “Are you finished look?” when I share what the weather is expected to be for the next three days. I ask my friends at the coffee shop if they’ve heard the weather forecast, or ask them if they got any rain last night. Going through my mind as I ask is the thought that Mom and Dad are, if not turning over in their graves, at least shifting positions.

Yes, God’s Little Acre in Versailles has pretty grass, blooming flowers, and growing trees right about now. That’s important to me these days, and that’s happened, largely because I’ve buried the hatchet with my old nemesis and started anew.

I now look to the skies for guidance every day; plus, I am resting assured that if the flowers look better in a neighboring subdivision, it’s probably because they got more rain.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

steve-flairty

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)


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2 Comments

  1. Donna Brann says:

    Hey Steve, Good job!! I grew up on a dairy-tobacco farm. Everything you said sounded familiar. Isn’t it something that as we get older we turn into our parents?? lol Keep up the good work. You are a great writer.

  2. Steve Flairty says:

    Thank you, Donna. Heroes #5 will hopefully be out in June. Hope you’ll get a copy!

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