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January in Kentucky reminds me of a difficult relative. You know the kind I mean, the eccentric ones you put up with because you’ve known them all your life, shared the good times and the bad, and so you love them.
But why oh why can’t they have a better disposition? If she tried harder, couldn’t January learn a thing or two from a Bluegrass May or June?
I make myself look for the good in her. She is, I remember, not as mean spirited as her sister in Minnesota, and I do enjoy our fireside chats. But since my perennial diet forced me to give up the wintertime comfort foods she drags into the house, I can’t find much else to celebrate about her personality.
Around here, January defines the phrase “drama queen.” One day she throws snowballs at us and tries to start a fight. The next night she has a temper tantrum and slaps all the roads with sheets of black ice. Mostly, though, she wallows in despair, raining histrionic tears on the state until we forget the color of the sky. Our lawns and feedlots turn into mud pits that are the envy of the World Wrestling Entertainment. You have to be careful where you step or you could fall into a sinkhole and slide all the way to China. I’ve tried to tell her that nobody ever writes songs about a WET and MUDDY winter wonderland, but I can’t stop her raindrops from falling.
She has a mean streak, too. Why else does she invite the flu and the vomiting runs to come on over and watch a little basketball with us? And don’t even get me started on her fascination with pneumonia. Who in their right mind would invite a known killer like Big P to drop by for Sunday dinner?
And while I hate to criticize appearance, January, Kentucky-style, is one ugly month. Oh, sure, once in a while she struts. She can throw an ermine stole of snow over her shoulder and look like nature’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. And when she brings out the bling in an ice storm, she makes the late Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond collection look dowdy. Most of the time, though, she slops around in dull brown or gray as though she doesn’t have enough energy to pull on anything more than a dirty old sweat suit.
And make-up? Forget that. The trees are bare and ashen looking, the grass a faded beige, the color of flowers only a memory in seed catalogs. Even the red berries of December have long since been devoured by starving birds, the ones too dumb to pack up and leave for a winter tour of the south.
I guess that latter group would include me, too. Why don’t I cut her out of my life and spend the winter in Florida like so many of my friends do? I’m not sure. The grandchildren are here for one thing, and then there is the expense of a second home in another state. I don’t fish or boat or golf or play tennis. Oh - and my skin doesn’t tan. I can’t pull off the Florida look.
And then, leaving January behind in Kentucky would make me feel a little disloyal, sort of like walking out on an old friend because she’s down and out. The truth is, we’ve been through a lot together over a lifetime. When I carried my parents to their graves on cold winter days, and then a dear friend, and then another and another, she didn’t rush my weeping. She listened through the long dark nights and gave me time to heal.
When I think about it, I realize that time is what Kentucky January has always brought to our relationship. She is more tolerant of my need to slow down than the rest of the calendar seems to be. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not, either, that I enjoy skiing or ice-skating or snowshoeing, as those folks up north have to do. I don’t have to learn to fish or whatever people do in Florida. She just lets me be. Even her single holiday, Martin Luther King Day, only asks me to pause and reflect. It doesn’t require me to decorate the house, cook a big meal, throw a party, buy anyone a gift or send a greeting card.
No, Kentucky January lets me get away with doing almost nothing for days at a time. I think a little and plan some, make a few lists, stream a movie on TV or read a book. So mostly I do nothing, and she let’s me get away with it because, you know, the weather’s lousy outside. There’s a little something to be said for a month like that even if she is neurotic.