18 February 2008


I always wanted the top rungs, high above the floor in the seven-bent tobacco barns, the last worker in the vertical column of young housers, where all I had to do was balance with spread legs, each on a rung, grab the heavy wooden sticks with spiked burley leaves and shake them out and fight the spiders and keep from falling, hoping all the while that the stifling heat and mixture of tetrahydrocannabinol and alcohol oozing out my pores would not make me dizzy or inattentive to my footing. On those liquid amber-hued autumn Bluegrass days, we housed burley for Jack.

Jack lives in a mansion. His 450-acre cattle and tobacco farm sits across from Claiborne Horse Farm, outside Paris, Bourbon County, Kentucky, where the likes of Secretariat were kept in stud and buried. Jack is the scion of a family who has all died of alcoholism. There's no good estimate of how many millions his farm is worth. It keeps him supplied with bourbon and herb and blues recordings and cruises to the West Indies. But I housed burley for him for about six years in the 1970s, in the fall, when Bluegrass nights became cool and it was tobacco harvest time. We partied hard with Jack.

Being a recognized good burley houser, I learned the Warrior way of mind: Overcome fear high up in the barn--and pass up the burley!

I now know that it was not only burley I housed; I was also housing Kentucky memories of amber-hued autumn afternoons.

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