"Bourbon & Cigars" by CURTIS OWENS

I often think about my past, the history of my life, and the heritage of my family, my home and the state of my birth.

There are a thousand reminders and memories that I can latch onto to transport myself to times of my youth where the beliefs of today were instilled. Family is central to that, on my dad and mom’s side both, where weekends, holidays, or any special event was filled with family. 

Church was another strong influence, every Sunday and Wednesday spent with my second family and always with a home cooked dinner between services on Sunday. Growing up rural, one more influencer was learning to work and play, without big crowds or activities to help keep my attention. Something I’d like to focus on now though, is the less popular, less appreciated habits that I’ve been around since… well, since I can remember getting off the school bus on a late summer day.

My parents worked, so I always went by my grandparents home who lived beside us. I banged through the front door, and always failed to close it after me. I took a leap to try and touch the beam that cut the house in half, with it’s row of multi-colored marbles on the ledge that I wasn’t allowed to touch. I later found out that the beam was the back wall of the original house, before the additions were made.

Mamaw was in the kitchen cooking some fried apple pies that I loved. She always spoke, but I turned the corner to see Papaw sitting on a rickety wooden chair, staring at the ground, listening intently to the old radio on top of his fridge. I knew he’d be there, as that’s always where he was when the Reds were playing. He took a pull from the cigarette between his fingers, then slowly lifted a glass filled with amber liquid, toward his lips, until his eyes met mine.

That’s where this story begins, really, with the vices of my grandfather, my father, and with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame anyone for the decisions I’ve made. I resisted the pull of these vices, tobacco and alcohol, until well into my 30’s. I never smoked in my youth. I never drank, not a drop, until one would think those habits would hold no appeal for me. I never forgot, however, my grandfather’s love of these ‘poor decisions’. Nor seeing my father enjoy a drink and a cig. Or my uncle smoking cigars endlessly.

Those images, those thoughts and the emotions they conjure, were always in the back of my mind. At some point, I tried a cheap cigar, then worked my way up to premium cigars. It’s the same with whiskey, first the cheap stuff then slowly graduating to the high quality bourbons and whiskey I enjoy today. Those premiums cigars are made with similar high quality tobacco that we raised on the family farm of my youth. Delicious, flavorful, tasty tobacco, with no chemicals or additives, just grown with water and aged to perfection. Rolled by the stained fingers of craftsman into delicious, sweet, spicy, aromatic cigars.

I tried the same bourbon whiskey drank by my grandfather, then more varied and intense liquors, mostly bourbons from my home state, but also good whiskeys from around the country, from Ireland or Scotland.

Today, I find the routine of an end of the day stogie and bourbon, as I look down my yard through the trees at the water below, with the Reds playing an evening game on the radio in the background, soothing. Comforting. I feel peace and relaxation. I feel a calm, a silence, that is missing from the hectic day to day of work and family.

Mostly though, I feel a connection to my youth, to my past, to my heritage as a son and grandson of East Kentucky. I feel a closeness to my dad, my grandfather, my uncles and siblings, growing up in a holler in Upper Tygart.
Curtis Owens is an Olive Hill native and small business owner.