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Kentucky by Heart: Author Bob Rouse part of what makes Midway one of state’s special small towns

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune Columnist

Since I became a resident of central Kentucky years ago, I’ve had a bit of fascination with the small town of Midway. The first town in Kentucky “founded” by a railroad (Lexington and Ohio Railroad Co.), it was also formerly a home for Native-American mound builders. It’s located between the cities of Lexington and Frankfort, thus its name, “Midway.” The town has its own college, nearby horse farms, and a decidedly quaint downtown commercial showplace running along both sides of the railroad—and much more.

But, as is often the case, it’s mostly the people who make a community special. One of those people is Midway resident and writer Bob Rouse, who has, in my view, captured the essence of a small town that has a large spirit, seen through his interesting and believable characters. A year ago, in 2017, he published a seasonal collection of ten short stories in his book, Christmas in the Bluegrass: Hometown Holiday Stories. I think his offering will become a local classic, and maybe even beyond locally. It’s that good.

Bob Rouse (Photo provided)

I like the passion that Bob feels as he writes inside the front cover: To Midway, the finest town a boy could ever be born in, born to, and born of. You can read his book and see how that is true.

The opening piece, “Million Myles from Midway,” is told from a boy’s perspective about a special mother, one of a high-minded character known for her acts of compassion to the homeless and drifters showing up around Midway, always inviting them in for a meal or possibly to stay over for a while. The boy described the situation as “like that movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Our dining room was a nonstop game of musical chairs.” But the time when Brick Myles and Darryl Million showed up, high drama and a riveting tale of putting-oneself-on-the line-for-a- stranger ensued, with Mom as the star.

The second offering, well, I maybe should have been warned about, as I read it after experiencing my younger brother’s death only a month earlier. Rouse’s story hit hard and brought real tears to my eyes…and was wonderfully told. “Getting Past Christmas” dealt with Kevin, a relatively young father who recently lost his wife, Lora. He wholeheartedly accepted the fact that he would be raising his two school-age daughters, Hannah and Emilie, but he would do so woefully unprepared. In one sense it was a real downer; in another, it was a celebration of the best in humanity: Kevin’s courage, the children’s patience and understanding, and Lora’s admirable legacy.

“Christmas Eve’s Run” was short but riveting and a bit humorous. That’s if a woman falling off the roadside and getting hurt while taking a run on Christmas Eve can be described that way. Eve, the runner (a nice play on words), receives help from a drunken man and in return, helps him. I guess we need to work with people from whatever their station in life is.

Downtown Midway (Photo provided)

Bob craftily changes point of views throughout his collection. You’ll get a kick out of Midway’s “Miss Tulip,” who ran, she said, “the front of the store” at Blessen Drug on Railroad Street. In “The Bad Shepherd,” she had the goods on Orie, the young shoplifter, and you might say she didn’t give him much slack. I wouldn’t call her a person of graciousness after getting to know her, but she was real.

How about a story told largely from a dog’s perspective? In “Otis without Everett,” Otis, a basset hound, has lost his master, and he is struggling. Both in a cutesy and touching way, he tells us about his newfound sense of loneliness and perpetual adjustment. It takes a skillful writer to pull this off effectively, and Bob does.

And what’s a book of hometown holiday stories without a murder mystery? “Christmastime Crime at the Midway Hotel” fills the bill here, and it shows Bob Rouse’s versatility. You simply wonder how his amiability translates into this narrative. Guess it’s because he lets the story be the story.

I asked him how his Christmas book originated.

“My day job is editor and writer for a professional trade association’s monthly magazine,” he told me. “I took my first stab at fiction 15 or 20 years ago when I wrote a serialized story for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Then I started writing Christmas stories—one every year or so—that I would share with friends and family as sort of a big Christmas card. When I reached a total of ten stories, I decided it was time to compile them.”

Those well-drawn characters… are they actual Midway individuals?

“I’m always quick to say that all the characters are fictitious—I’ve got to live here, you know—but I will also admit that no characters are pulled completely from thin air,” Bob said. “And one, the deceased owner of the basset hound, is totally my dad. But, the mother in ‘Million Myles from Midway’? That’s not my mom. Like most of my characters, she has only hints of people I’ve met. I do like Miss Tulip, the prickly lady in ‘The Bad Shepherd.’ She arose from an isolated encounter with a real person during my teen years in Midway.”

And how would Bob like his readers to feel when they read his work?

“For every story,” he explained, “I want readers to feel satisfied…like, the story worked. Beyond that, I would expect mixed emotions. Some bring laughs and some bring tears. But they’re all small-town tales, and I hope they evoke good feelings of what it’s like to live in a Kentucky community—even the murder mystery, right?”

And Bob’s writing plans moving forward?

“I told myself I was finished with Christmas stories, but then I whipped up a short one for my annual reading at the Midway Women’s Club in December. I have a novel that’s dying to be written. I’ve researched and plotted it, but my day job is pretty demanding, so my Great American Novel is on hold. I take out my need to write—which, for me, is a desire to entertain—on my Facebook friends. I guess it’s the innocent who suffer,” he said, with a grin.

Contact Bob Rouse for more information about his book by emailing him at bobrouse76@gmail.com.

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Northern Kentucky native Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of five books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and four in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page. (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)  

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