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Rev. Joey N. Welsh: Remembrances of Juleps past

Another Angle, the occasional musings of a Kentucky pastor. Remembrances of Juleps past A column with Derby Day in mind, with recipe for Mint Julep. First published 7 May 2006, in the Hart County News-Herald
The next earlier Another Angle Rev. Joey N. Welsh: A different kind of ceremony, also about the Kentucky Derby and Mint Juleps.

By The Rev. Joey N. Welsh

Memory is a powerful thing. We never know when an event, a song, a taste, or a smell will trigger a memory of things gone by. Memories can hurt or heal, trouble or console. The Bible is loaded with memories that are cherished and carried into subsequent generations. In Hebrew tradition memories of the Exodus and Promised Land are recalled and renewed in the religious observances of each new cohort of the faith. Memories of New Testament stories take on fresh life in the traditions and sacraments of each succeeding generation of believers.

Memory is also a powerful inspiration in modern literature. Marcel Proust (1871-1922) wrote a landmark multi-volume novel, Remembrance of Things Past, that is laden with personal memory. In that novel intense memories of childhood are revived for the narrator by the taste and aroma of a madeleine, a small cake-like cookie baked in the shape of a shell, dipped into a cup of tea.

Mint juleps: a tradition to appreciate

My column for last week centered on the tradition of the mint julep. As I wrote then, I do appreciate the tradition of the julep. I enjoyed reading and sharing a bit of julep lore. I even think that the julep's smell is appealing. I continue, however, to believe that the taste of a mint julep qualifies it as a weapon of mass destruction.

When I shared an advance copy of the julep column with a dear friend in Glasgow, KY, poet and author Natalie Lund, she immediately relived an intensely pleasurable julep memory, a remembrance of a wonderful occasion shared with good friends. And she recalled a poem inspired by that day, a work of poetry that is a memory brought to life any time its lines are read and shared.

Mint juleps at Halcyon

The late Kentucky poet Joy Bale Boone, who served a term as the commonwealth's poet laureate, led the Rain Stick Poets, a group of writers centered in Glasgow. On a July day in 2000, the Rain Stick folks met in Todd County at Halcyon, the ancestral home of George Street Boone, Joy's husband. In the group was another of my friends, Glasgow poet and playwright Larry Pike.

Larry describes the occasion, "It was a memorable day. George and Joy's library there was remarkable (larger than many small-town public libraries), and the home itself was a living history lesson. In the afternoon, George prepared mint juleps. This was a ceremony he obviously enjoyed. He pointed out that either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal (George knew the publication and the date; I can't remember which...) had proclaimed him 'the authority on the Kentucky mint julep.'

"George said that was not correct, pointing out with a disappointment aimed not at his own standing in the julep world but at the shoddy state of journalism, 'I am just an authority,' he said." George went on to describe everything from the history and consumable ingredients of the julep to the physics of the silver cups and straws. And, being George Street Boone, he shared stories.

Mint juleps shared by friends inspired poem

Those moments of delight, a time of communal friendship and tradition perfumed and flavored by George's mint juleps, inspired Larry's poem. It was published in Kentucky Monthly (October 2001). Joy Bale Boone died in 2002, and George Boone (a pioneering reform legislator, constitutional scholar, and advocate for literacy and libraries) died in 2004. Through memory and through word the enchantment of those moments on the porch of the historic home lives yet again. Joy and George get to keep on hosting through Larry's words, extending their hospitality even now to the folks who were there on that day -- and to people who never even met them or stood on that porch.

My thanks to my friend Natalie Lund for pointing me in the right direction. My thanks to my friend Larry Pike for his evocative words and the kind permission to reprint his poetry. Remembrance of some things past can be an astonishing, vivid, and consoling thing.

Juleps on the Reading Porch
-- for George Boone
Years before the Mexican
silversmith tooled the tall cups
favored for their quick and smooth frost,
the genteel process had been rendered.
Equal parts recipe and presentation,
the linen cloth vital
as the finely shaved ice,
the swollen wooden pestle no more
important than the mint just minutes
out of its garden spot by the side wall.
We sip through silver straws,
savoring the delicious scandal about
the ambassador's china, watching
with heavy lids as the women ride
the long arc of the rope swing,
skirts rising with the notes of
their laughter. We do not hurry
.The honeyed bourbon slips down our throats.
The breeze slides across our brows.
The day seeps away.

by Larry Pike, Glasgow, Kentucky
(published in Kentucky Monthly, Oct. 2001, p. 33

E-mai Rev. Joey N. Stout:

This story was posted on 2011-05-08 05:50:43
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