Kicking off the sixth and seventh parts of my “40 Years in Beer” series, here’s a brief digression about living in Indiana my whole damn life.
Even as teeny tiny babies, Hoosiers grasp that in Indiana, all roads lead to Indianapolis. This useful information probably never occurs to people living in or near the capital city. For the rest of us, it’s a lesson we’re seldom allowed to forget.
Indianapolis regards itself not only as the crossroads of Indiana, but of America itself. Our state governmental bureaucracy behaves accordingly, and the sole point of reference uniting far-flunk outposts like Ft. Wayne, Evansville, the Chicagoland suburbs and my home base of New Albany is a shared recognition that Indianapolis will always suck all the air from any available rooms.
Partly because of this centralizing tendency, Southern Indiana – where I’ve spent the past 62 years – often finds itself rendered into an abstraction, as much a mental construct as quantifiable geography.
The Ohio River defines the entirety of Indiana’s southern border with Bourbonland (formerly known as “Kentucky”), and in antebellum times the river was a de facto extension of the Mason-Dixon Line.
One of New Albany’s principal downtown landmarks is the Town Clock Church, a documented station on the Underground Railroad. Slavery existed on the “other” side of the river, a few hundred yards from the church.
However the boundary wasn’t squeaky clean. Indiana may have remained in the Union during the Civil War, and the state’s soldiers were an integral part of the military effort, and yet many vicinities in Southern Indiana were more secessionist than not. Some remain so today.
Maybe this is why so many Hoosiers believe Kentucky actually begins somewhere around the south side of Seymour. This way they’re able to claim John Mellencamp as their own, while consigning the remainder of the Hoosier side of the Ohio Valley to what they imagine is a form of redneck purgatory.
(As an aside, we used to joke that Mellencamp was the composer of “Jack und Diane,” a symphonic Southern Indiana Pastorale Tone Poem, Opus I-65. Personally I’m unwilling to cede him to the north, or for that matter the city of Bloomington, where he actually lives.)
Given the reality that Donald Trump carried most of Indiana except for the larger cities, and did so uniformly throughout the state, this ‘tude on the part of Hoosier northerners is an interesting sleight of hand.
I look at it like this: If living in Southern Indiana was as bad as being in purgatory, and we’re really that dumb, then how is it that I’ve had a successful career in better beer while staying here?
Perhaps because I learned to speak the local beer language first, before grokking the various other ones.
In late summer of 1966 I began first grade at Georgetown School, in Georgetown, Indiana, a small town only 14 miles from Louisville, Kentucky.
All 12 grades were housed in two red brick buildings, with a cafeteria and gymnasium. My father also went to this school, majoring in baseball and basketball, and making it into the 11th grade before joining the Marines in WWII. Later, after three years as a gunner on a Navy ship in the Pacific, he earned his GED.
A big change came in 1967, when grades 7 through 12 departed the newly dubbed Georgetown Elementary School for consolidation at Floyd Central High School, where I graduated in 1978. The Bearcats became the Highlanders, and for the community, there were losses as well as gains in the translation.
FCHS was seven miles away from our house, which was located just outside Georgetown to the southeast. It was only three miles from home to Lanesville, a town even smaller than Georgetown, located in Harrison County.
The jurisdictional boundary of Floyd and Harrison counties was marked on Old Salem Road by the abrupt ending of pavement, and the beginning of gravel.
When I was a kid there were two tarpaper shacks very close to our house, as occupied by an extended family of three brothers, their sister, her husband, and an ever-rotating collection of assorted kinfolk. They were poor and mostly did odd jobs to get by.
My father was fond of the brother-in-law, Old Joe, who was a fellow veteran of WWII. He’d had a finger shot off somewhere in France – maybe by the Germans, and maybe not. This wasn’t clear, although it was widely acknowledged that he’d never been “quite right” since returning to Georgetown.
My father helped Old Joe with work whenever possible, and was clear-eyed about where his helper’s earnings went, remarking often that the distance to Lanesville was so short the family could walk there for wine when their car wasn’t running, and it almost never ran, but the problem was their return trip, because they’d drink all the wine by the halfway point, turn back for more, and repeat the process until they made it home, their money ran out, or they fell asleep in a cornfield in between.
Later in life I occasionally considered doing the same, with beer instead of wine, even when my own car was fully functional. Usually it was, and to be honest, I drove with a belly too full of beer more often than I should have.
The route to Lanesville took me past Old Joe’s, and I made the journey hundreds of times. What was it about Lanesville that made the town so interesting compared with Georgetown?
My father, who seldom drank, nonetheless offered a plausible explanation: Lanesville was populated by Catholic folks of German ancestry, and if they weren’t Catholic, they were most likely Lutheran, which was somehow different in theological terms, but meant almost the same thing when it came to relaxed attitudes toward alcohol consumption.
Conversely, Georgetown had “too damned many” Baptists and Methodists, some of whom officially embraced teetotalism while somewhat hilariously not always practicing what they preached, finding refuge for discrete tippling in Lanesville.
The joke went that if you needed to find ask a weekend yard care favor of neighbors in Georgetown, the place to find them was at one of the bars in Lanesville, where you could work it out without having to drink iced tea.
As a teenager, my summers were for riding bikes and playing baseball, and we often played games at Lanesville High School’s ball field. On a couple of occasions, I rode my bike to the ballgame.
The fact that Lanesville had a high school at all was testament to stubbornness, pride and grit. Famously, the town resisted the push to consolidate, and its school remained a community focal point. It still is.
I never thought about it much, and yet the older I got, the more Georgetown seemed to fade from view, while Lanesville remained far more alluring. I made friends in Lanesville, dated a gal from Lanesville, and learned there were Lanesville taverns ready and willing to serve me long before I was 21 years of age.
Let’s hope the statute of limitations has expired.
There also came a dawning realization that Lanesville’s attraction to me was at least in part because the town seemed to stand for something beyond being a bedroom community, and the town stood for something precisely because it retained a shared sense of place – and Lanesville retained its identity because it still had its school, as well as an annual festival in September called Heritage Weekend.
Heritage Weekend grew from a Bicentennial year remembrance on the town park’s tennis court to a regional event drawing thousands to Lanesville each September, with a parade, an amazing display of antique farm machinery, food and frolics, and a beer garden.
In 2012, something happened at Heritage Weekend that brought me back to the festival after a long while away. My New Albanian Brewing Company’s Tafelbier was to be available on draft for the first time at the beer garden, and I drove out to make sure everything was okay.
It felt like coming full circle, and I came perilously close to crying.