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UnCommonwealth: Bourbon County: Bourbon Queens
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Bourbon Queens

There are two Bourbon Queens.

Lynn’s like this. At Bourbon County High School she was on the dance team and was the Homecoming candidate for the Future Business Leaders of America. These counted for her with some people, and against her with others. She also won the Chemistry Prize and took AP Trig; same score, different scorekeepers.

KT's like this. She wrecked four cars their senior year because she would never wear her glasses and didn’t like how contacts felt. She had her hair done at an Aveda Concept salon in Lexington that charged seventy bucks for a trim and highlight, when a trim and highlight cost twenty-two at the Bee-Luv-Lee, which, no coincidence, was run by KT’s mom. When Lynn told KT that people thought she was vain, KT said "Let 'em."

Some people think vain is the same thing as stupid, and some people think overachievement means you’re compensating for something. The Bourbon Queens will use these misconceptions to great advantage all their long lives.

They are sitting in KT’s latest car—a silver Camry just delivered by her money-is-love ex-father—in the parking lot of the Cane Ridge Meeting House. They are sitting on a cusp.

KT is saying, “On the other hand, I guess going out of state means there’s at least a chance you’ll meet guys who don’t care about basketball.” KT, famously, despises basketball; a hard road in Kentucky.

She passes the 44 ounce styrofoam cup to Lynn, who sips it and winces. “Vodka and orange juice, I said.” By the time she’s in her thirties, Lynn will drink only bourbon, out of a complicated loyalty to a home she’ll not have seen in over a decade. KT will drink only after noon. For now, they’re drinking cheap vodka mixed with a bottled concoction of citrus flavoring and sweetened corn syrup. They’re teenaged girls. They’re sitting on a cusp.

KT ignores Lynn and waves her hand at the building set back in the trees. “You ever go in there?”

Lynn is thankful for the change of subject. “Field trips. Fourth, sixth, and seventh grades; Freshman year for American History, Junior year for Kentucky History. Just like you.”

KT takes the cup back and sips from the straw. “I missed that day,” she says. KT is famous for her absenteeism.

“There’s another building inside there, a big log cabin. It’s a church.” Lynn doesn’t try to remember if KT really missed every single one of those field trips, because Lynn never doubts anything KT says. She never will. She’s right not to.

“The grrrr-eat awakening!” says KT and they both crack up, Lynn sloshing their drink onto leather seats as yet unscarred by Camel menthols. KT keeps going, doing her famous imitation of the Reverend Mr. Bowman, their Kentucky History teacher. “Tuh-wen-ty thoooous-and country people. In re-viv-al!”

Lynn sets the cup on the dash. The straw bends back toward them, pressed against the glass. A few weeks later, when KT is dropping her off at the Cincinnati airport, Lynn will scrape flecks of her own muted red lipstick off the inside of the window and wonder how it got there.

“I think I need a great awakening,” Lynn says. “Or at least a little one.” She is sitting on a cusp.

KT, who will love so many people so fiercely in her life, reaches over and squeezes her friend’s shoulder. “Sweetie, you’re the most awake person in the world. It’s me needs waking up.”

Lynn punches KT’s arm instead of squeezing it. “You’ll do better than me. If you want to go to UK, go to UK. If you want to go to to that art school in Savannah, go to Savannah. You shouldn’t let anybody tell you what to do.”

Every dark night KT will ever pace through will come after she’s let somebody tell her what to do. Right now, she’s sitting on a cusp.

“Listen at you,” KT says. “Better than Miss Brain. As if.” KT thinks Lynn is the smartest person she’ll ever meet. KT will meet many brilliant people, but in the end, it will turn out she’s right.

Lights flash across the parking lot and Lynn scrambles to hide the styrofoam cup.

“It’s not a cop,” KT says. “It’s just somebody turning around.”

“We should probably still go somewhere else,” Lynn says. “We’ve been here for awhile.”

So KT starts her new car and the girls head back towards town, back towards home, out towards tumult and exultation.•


Bourbon County, fifth in the Commonwealth by order of formation, was subdivided from Fayette County in 1785 by the Virginia legislature. It is named in honor of the royal French House of Bourbon.

Geographers make a fine distinction when they note that parts of the county lie within the Inner Bluegrass Region, with the remainder lying within the Dissected Inner Bluegrass. The county is a picture postcard for the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry, serving as home to over fifty world class horse farms.

The county seat is at Paris, site of both the Hopewell Museum and of the Wallis House & Arboretum, headquarters of the Garden Club of Kentucky. Other villages and towns of the county include Millersburg, North Middletown, Little Rock, Ruddles Mills and Clintonville.

While there are no distilleries within the present day boundaries of the county, many citizens are confident that the king of whiskeys was first distilled there. The tourist’s perception that “you can’t buy bourbon in Bourbon County” is not true.

In 1798, the pastorate of Cane Ridge was conferred on Barton W. Stone, a Presbyterian far more complicated than John Calvin might have been comfortable with. After witnessing the first stirrings of the Great Revival in what is now Logan County in 1799, Stone led what was perhaps the most influential camp meeting in American history at Bourbon County, in August of 1801. The reverberations of those three days of preaching, singing, communing and witnessing led directly to the formation of three great Protestant denominations: The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Church and the Church of Christ (no website, go figure).

The invaluable Kentucky Atlas and Gazetteer has an entry on Bourbon County here.

Thanks to the staffs of the Paris-Bourbon County Tourism Commission and of the Kentucky Room of the Lexington Public Library. As always I owe a great debt to the editors of the Kentucky Encyclopedia and to Robert M. Rennick for his Kentucky Place Names.

God save Bourbon County, and God save the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events are either fictitious or used fictitiously.

Copyright © January 2004 by Christopher Rowe. All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced by any means without the author’s prior consent.

Earlier entries in the UnCommonwealth series can be found by following the links below:

Lincoln County: Not That Lincoln
Jefferson County: Powers and Principles
Fayette County: This Deep Blue Pool
Nelson County: The Only Real City in America

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