**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor pilot project in collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
By Cheryl Gilstrap / OC Monitor Community Contributor
I’m not from Ohio County. Oh, I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years, but I’m not from here. I’m not a native of Ohio County, and I’m jealous of everyone who is from here.
I was born in Leitchfield, Kentucky, and I have walked in King Wilhelm’s castle in Germany and the sad grass around the camp at Dachau. I have waited with my family for a train in London, sat in an airplane on the tarmac in Spain, and I have ridden in an old blue Chevrolet station wagon on the cobbled streets of Strasbourg, France.
I have visited these places, but I am jealous of you — you who lived here for so long — you natives. Although I have put down roots around the world, my roots were lying on top of the ground. Like the roots of the banyan tree, my roots were not deep; until I fell in love with the place I have lived in for the last 30 years.
The Father of Bluegrass
My journey to understanding the importance of deep roots and “place” began about 26 years ago. While my family and I were settling in at a table at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Nashville, my 11-month-old son was already causing a stir; he was sitting in a high chair, red hair sticking up everywhere, and munching on a cracker — when he attracted the attention of a man nearby.
The man who started talking to my son was a bit unusual — a white mane of hair, a white Stetson hat, a striped tie, and pointed-toe boots. But, “Hey it’s Nashville, so this man wasn’t that unusual,” I said to myself.
My husband walked up and began a conversation with the man. I leaned in closer to hear, and the conversation had turned to “Cromwell,” “Green River,” and “Rosine.” Oh, so, Cecil knows him. That is unusual.
After a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts to get my son’s attention, the man threw a quarter on the table. As he walked off, he said, “Tell this boy Bill Monroe gave this to him.” Bill Monroe. BILL MONROE. The Father of Bluegrass. He is the one talking to my son?
As I saw Mr. Monroe leave in his tour bus, I felt especially blessed. That day, I also began my journey — a journey that came full circle with my first visit to Jerusalem Ridge.
According to Google, “Jerusalem Ridge is located 6.2 miles east of Beaver Dam and two miles west of Rosine, Kentucky, on Highway 62.” Sounds pretty ordinary. But, in my mind, the Bill Monroe Homeplace is anything but ordinary. I don’t remember the date I first visited the Ridge, but I can tell you how I felt. I felt I was home.
According to the dictionary, “home” is a noun, meaning: The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household; and a place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates.
When I am visiting Jerusalem Ridge, I feel I belong to something — something bigger than me. I feel I am part of something lasting. The air on the ridge is different; it’s rarified air. I breathe easier. The grass is also greener. Or does it have a blue tint? The trees are taller. I want to sit in a comfortable chair and listen, and write, and listen. And nap. I feel welcome. I feel like I am part of a family. I feel the deep roots of bluegrass.
So, I have come full circle, but I’m not finished. I often ride up to the Ridge with my husband on a Sunday afternoon. I am taking my friends to the Homeplace. I am going on Friday nights to the magical Rosine Barn.
I have fallen in love with you, Ohio County.
So, if you see a gold Chevy Equinox just creeping slowly around the Ridge or parked at the Barn — come find the old lady who is sitting at the wheel or in a lawn chair. Come on over. I will talk to anybody. (Just kidding.)
I love you, Ohio County. Thank you for taking me in.
Cheryl Gilstrap is a retired middle school reading teacher and a proud Army Brat. She loves spending time with her grandchildren. Reading fiction and writing poetry are also favorite pastimes. She lives in Cromwell with her husband Cecil, a ten-year old black cat named Jack, and a ginger cat named Butters who is always causing trouble around the house.