By: Tanya Ward Goodman
“Midway is halfway between Lexington and Frankfort, that’s why it’s called Midway. You know, mid-way.” The hotel clerk gives me directions for the scenic route. “You’ll see some things – keep a look out for the rock fences.”
It’s my last day in Kentucky and I am driving to Midway to meet a long time friend for brunch. He’s told me to drive on the street and he’ll find me. It’s a town that small.
I’ve known Greg for much of my life. He was my father’s friend first, a real Hollywood screenwriter with the voice of a midnight disc jockey. He’d been married and divorced and lived with a woman he called Paige, though her real name was Leslie. He had daughters my age, but they seemed years ahead in their city clothes and painted nails.
I remember visiting Greg in Los Angeles and staying with him in his apartment in West Hollywood. I remember poinsettias outside his window. These plants were sold only at Christmas in New Mexico and came in foil-covered plastic pots that got tossed out with the wrapping paper. In sunny So-Cal, they grew twelve feet out of the ground and bloomed all year.
I drive for a long time, through rolling hills and board fences that run for miles. The dark bodies of horses dot the hillsides. The famed grass is neither blue nor green at this time of year, but straw colored in the wan winter light. A few snowflakes flicker down from the sky. The last time I saw Greg he was visiting my childhood home and I could tell that everywhere he looked, he saw my dad. We both missed him and that missing seemed to take up the years between us; to make us evenly “adult,” no matter our ages.
In Midway, I pulled into the first spot and looked to my right to see Greg waving from inside a blue Volkswagen bug. He took me to a favorite brunch spot and made sure to hold the door and point out all the original art inside. He walked with a cane and his hair had turned gray. He told me the medicine had changed his face and made him forgetful, but his voice was the same and he still embodied the elegant and graceful soul I remember visiting as a child.
After our meal, he offered a driving tour of the surrounding towns. We passed gigantic estates owned by the very wealthy and fields where prizewinning racehorses grew strong on a diet of Kentucky Blue Grass. The trees were bare of leaves and he wished I could see the country when it was blanketed by green. I come from the land of green, now. The winter landscape rests my eyes. We talked and talked and his company was so easy, so attentive, I wished that we’d had so much more time.
He drove me back to my little red car and we parted quickly, the truth of his illness heavy between us. I am awkward with good-byes. I hate to really say them for good so I said, “I hope I see you again.” And he said, “yes.” And that is how we left it. I drove off to the airport and thought of the rock fences we had seen. Miles and miles of these dry stacked, stone walls were built at first by the Irish and then by slaves and now are maintained by conservation societies. The walls are made of the gray limestone that lies beneath much of Kentucky providing minerals to feed all that grass and filtering the water used to make bourbon. This stone is what makes the grass and the horses and the whiskey great.
If I were to imagine my life as a kind of topographical map, I might imagine Greg as fieldstone. A solid, though, often unseen influence, one who has in some way helped me be great.