When I moved back to Kentucky 10 years ago, after sev­en­teen years fol­low­ing aca­d­e­m­ic jobs to Ithaca NY, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, I felt at home quick­ly.  Every sin­gle time I crossed the state line into Kentucky dur­ing all of my years away, I had a sense of belonging. 

Being a Kentuckian is a force­ful iden­ti­ty; many Kentuckians nev­er live out­side the state, and many of us who do leave find our­selves drawn home.  Wendell Berry, who writes so elo­quent­ly about the sense of place, would cer­tain­ly be a dif­fer­ent writer with­out his Kentucky roots.  Although I have learned to love the Appalachians as a whole and to feel con­nect­ed to the moun­tains in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, “this here fair Commonwealth of Kentucky,” as Drew Stevens calls it each Thursday at Abettor’s Trivia Night, is my par­tic­u­lar hearth and home.

At the same time, my self-diag­no­sis as a Kentuckian doesn’t always trans­late to the relat­ed feel­ing of fit­ting in.  Politically, I’m a blue dot in a red state; reli­gious­ly, I’m a rather agnos­tic Episcopalian who believes being saved is a descrip­tion of sur­vival of bear attacks and car wrecks.  I’m bisex­u­al in a com­mu­ni­ty where pass­ing as straight would often seem like a wise option.  I served for nine years on the board of Pine Mountain Settlement School, where I was and would always be seen as an out­sider, like­ly even a DamnYankee, even though I learned in my child­hood neigh­bor­hood that was one word. Here in Winchester, I am con­stant­ly remind­ed that I didn’t grow up here, didn’t go to GRC, and don’t know what busi­ness was in what build­ing decades ago. 

Winchester is grow­ing and is attract­ing new peo­ple.  Cafes and restau­rants are being opened by peo­ple who found Winchester recent­ly, and native Winchester folks are eat­ing there.  Abettor, Leeds, Loma’s, la Trattoria, Willy’s, and Engine House attract peo­ple trav­el­ing through, some of whom also stop in to Mason’s or Eklektic Alchemy for gifts and remem­brances; some­times peo­ple stop here and lat­er decide to stay.  Although polit­i­cal­ly, the faces in offices here are still most­ly those who’ve been here for decades or longer (and some of those folks are fan­tas­tic), the elec­tion counts will shift toward new can­di­dates, like Hannah Toole and Tommy Adams, who see Winchester through younger and fresh­er eyes. 

As we get old­er, our social cir­cles tend to shrink, and some­times our vision and ideas grow small­er too.  We don’t reach out as eas­i­ly to make new friends.  We have our clubs and church­es set.   I’m a rel­a­tive­ly self-con­fi­dent per­son, and I don’t need a lot to feel wel­come here — a place to sit for a beer, a favorite few Farmer’s mar­ket booths and restau­rants now fea­ture known and friend­ly faces. 

But I’m ask­ing you all, as fel­low Kentuckians (native or trans­plant): let’s make Winchester wel­com­ing.  Feeling like you belong is a pow­er­ful feel­ing, and it’s one I’ve sat on both sides of, some­times in the same place and on the same day.  Let’s cel­e­brate what we have in common.

  • Nancy Gift, a mem­ber of Better Together, Winchester, orig­i­nal­ly from Lexington, is a pro­fes­sor of Sustainability and Environmental Studies at Berea College, and spouse of Father Jim Trimble. She and Jim have three col­lege-age chil­dren and a menagerie of pets.