LOUISVILLE, KY.My great aunt Rose, or "Granny," as many of her friends call her, always was a number. She loved the color red, spoke her mind and wouldn't hesitate to point a gun at you if it was absolutely necessary. For a while, she owned a bar on Rodman Street in Louisville, Ky., and, as a child, I was mesmerized by her cat eyeglasses, her wild sense of humor and her penchant for cursing. She made my mother nervous so, naturally, I grew up thinking she was the coolest woman alive.
When she sold Rosie's Bar, she bought a house there next to Churchill Downs and has parked cars and sold camping spots in her yard during the Kentucky Derby and throughout the season for the last 40 years. Originally, the price was a dollar a car and it's risen, on average, a dollar a year. Many of her customers return each year, and it's like a big family reunion with people coming from all over the country. She has home cooked meals for sale (breakfast and lunch) and a toilet they can use downstairs if they need to.
Last week, always the week before the Derby, Granny baked herself a strawberry cake and turned 86 years old like it was nothing. "If it wasn't for my knees, I'd be in good shape, but this year I'm gonna' have to let my son Jimmy do it all."
It starts getting busy by Wednesday. She stocks up on everything from paper plates to eggs and bacon, biscuits, chicken and toilet paper. By Friday, she's holding court on the back porch or in the kitchen with people she hasn't seen since last year. They bring her all variety of birthday presents and party in the parking lot late into the night. They don't go to sleep, some of them, until well after she starts cooking breakfast, at 2:30 a.m. I join her in the kitchen, but not before I finish listening to 16 grown men from Toledo sing King of the Road outside my window. On key.
At around 7 a.m., she makes her way down the back steps of the house using both handrails and locates the two garbage can lids that have officially launched everyone's day for years. She walks giggling, through the yard of campers and tents, banging the lids together like cymbals, ordering everyone, even those who've just gone to bed, to wake up and celebrate the day. Those who've already risen stand and wait for it to happen, the anticipation on their faces palpable, the minute she opens her back door.
"Get up! (bang, bang, bang), everybody get up!" she yells. "It's Derby Day" (bang, bang) and then, nearly doubled over laughing, she takes a short break.
After a few minutes, they start to trickle in the back door of the house in groups of three or four, fill their plates with breakfast and leave some money in a plastic pickle jar. The more transient guests, meanwhile, some from Texas, Wisconsin and Connecticut, begin to arrive from their respective hotels. They pull into the yard, one after another, as if it has all been choreographed. Jimmy and Mickey and their crew park each one without incident. Before the day is over, there are more than 50 cars and motor homes parked as close as three inches from each other in Granny's yard. At one point, she steps out on the porch and looks out over the sea of cars and says, "Lord, I hope they're all winnin'."
If you really want somebody to know something, you could just tell them.
I doubt she'd choke on yours.
The story on "the Lutheran," ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, was from January. I was…
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