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Kentucky Woman


I took the weekend off and visited old friends in Lexington, Kentucky. I had intended to write from there so as not to miss two days of posting to this blog, but the distance between Washington, D.C. and Kentucky consisted of much more than miles alone.

Simply, once there, I had no inspiration. My hosts did not have home newspaper delivery–and if they had it would have been local papers from Louisville or Lexington, as there is not home delivery of the New York Times on the farm where they lived. Their Internet connection was via modem dialup–no cable or DSL out there in the hills where the horses and cattle roam on the limestone rich bluegrass range.

It took so long to access the home page of The Washington Post that I had all but lost interest by the time it appeared. And gazing out on the steep hillside covered with wildflowers rendered the headlines of the Post most unappealing. I clicked off the Internet connection and went to have coffee on the porch and watch the horses graze in the tall grass.

My friends had moved from Washington, DC. three years ago. Both the typical Washington professional, politically savvy and somewhat sharing my views, I asked them what I write about–civil liberties, war on terror, unjust justice–resonates in Kentucky. Quite simply, nothing, they said.

Oh, it’s not that the people don’t care, they said. It is that they live life. They work hard, count every dollar, and care more about family and livestock than politics and policy. Civil liberties are but an abstraction, they explained, as long as the government is not an obvious presence in their everyday lives. But try to take away their guns, and they will turn libertarian. Support for Clinton faded with gun control. They are not in favor of incarcerating everyone for the slightest offense. Oh, sure, pedophiles and murderers, maybe they ought to be incarcerated. But drug users and small-time dealers? Several people I met while there had family members caught in that penal trap, and they considered it a waste of government money and energy. They don’t need a “peace officer” to right every wrong.

An evening with friends of my friends–a couple educated not in college but by extremely hard lives–provided some insights of a personal nature. The man said that the origin of most problems arose from people “broadcasting when they should be tuning in.” In recounting my recent heartbreak of a romantic nature, his wife, a salt-of-the earth-mother of wisdom, chided me for responding to the hurt with mere words. “IIf he had done me that way, I would have kicked his ass so hard he would have had to have my foot surgically removed. Where’s your head, girl?”

She had me in stitches as she dramatized a recent encounter with a snake in her perennial garden. What did you do when you realized you had stepped on a snake, I asked? Reaching into her shorts pocket, she pulled out a six-inch knife and stabbed it into the ground. “That’s what I did,” she said, as I looked in amazement at the knife sticking out of my friend’s lawn. As if to say to me, “What would you have done, talk to it?” I want to be more like you, I thought! A kick-ass woman–with a knife and a sharp tongue.

She talked about how she was the only of her several siblings who made a decent life for herself, in spite of extreme childhood deprivation and abuse. For her, being a mother “is the most important thing I will do in my life.” What makes you different from your brothers and sisters, I wanted to know? Again, a straight-talking answer, devoid of psychobabble. “So my girls would not have a no-count mother like I had.”

That evening, on a country porch under a starlit sky, I stumbled upon an essential difference in what I do and how they live. Life for me inside the Washington, D.C. beltway consists of, in the words of my friend who retired from government, “spinning the spin.” But talk is cheap in the hills of Kentucky. Real people live real lives and deal with real problems in concrete ways. They care about the rain, the hay crop, the horse that went lame, the fence that needs mending, and the cow with the sick calf. They love their kids–and each other. There, Sunday is still a day for going to church and having dinner with grandparents and aunts and uncles. Summer is for swimming holes, making hay, breaking yearling horses, growing vegetables, and making preserves.

Three days in Kentucky–where the skies were bluer, the night sky clearer, and the future brighter than the one I read and write about. Where ignorance was, for three days, indeed bliss.

Tomorrow, I will be back to writing about civil liberties, refreshed by a much-needed respite from bad news and gloomy prognostications.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia and teaches law and psychology. She is writing a book on civil liberties post 9/11, and keeps and keeps an eye on Bush and Ashcroft’s trampling on the Bill of Rights at her Civil Liberties Watch.

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