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Kentucky by Heart: Enjoying the coming of fall; the work of R.L. Barth; remembering Rep. Larry Hopkins

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

I like the sense of renewal that the spring season brings with its new growth and singing birds. I’m okay with winter because being indoors a lot helps my writing focus; too, I love the beauty of snow settling on the landscape. Summer is quite the gardening season, and that’s invigorating, but I find the high temperatures and the atmospheric haziness not so invigorating.

Fall might just be my favorite season. Why? Several reasons.

Steve on a fall visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown. (Photo provided)

The cool, crisp temps perk me up, and my breathing seems easier and in rhythm. The colorful changing of the leaves adds another enjoyable dimension to day trips around the state. It’s the start of EKU men’s basketball season, along with Sunday afternoons watching Cincinnati Bengals football. The new school year begins and that means opportunities to substitute teach. My wife makes chili as the temps lower, and I have a few sweaters I like to wear that I can pull from the closet.

But mostly, fall is the season of the Thanksgiving holiday, and it gets me focused more intently on carrying an attitude of gratitude (forgive the corny rhyme, but the phrase, to me, fits).

And how does a grateful mindset play for out me? It means living in the moment, appreciating the fact my parents taught me life aptitudes that bode well now as an adult: stick-to-it-ive-ness, a strong work ethic, practical living skills, and respect for community members. Being so fortunate, then, obligates me toward helping others in their strivings, too.

My health at age 68 is seemingly quite good — at least for now. I’m thankful and so I believe there is a moral imperative to continue to be useful.

Hopefully, my writing looks to find the best in all of us and challenges others to do likewise.

Hopefully, I follow Stephen Covey’s exhortation: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Hopefully, I will try to build bridges with those with whom I disagree . . . even when I don’t like them, or they me.

Hopefully, I will be loyal to friends and family, a legacy given me by my deceased brother, Mike.

Because it fosters a personal sense of gratitude, I love the fall season best—because it asks of me my best.

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

I left out an individual in the last two week’s Kentucky by Heart columns, one who was suggested by Ron Ellis. Broadstone Books has recently published Learning War: Selected Vietnam War Poems, written by R.L. Barth, of Edgewood, Kentucky. A March 7 Northern Kentucky Tribune article by Vicki Prichard portrayed Barth’s work, personhood, and Kentucky connections.

Here’s a bit more I’d like to add.

As Prichard noted, R.L. knows a thing or two about the Viet Nam War. A November 16, 1968, Kentucky Post & Times-Star article noted that “a 21-year-old Marine corporal leading his first patrol, a 10-man reconnaissance team, kept a cool head in a tight situation.” The piece detailed Barth’s actions involving his leadership of others near his own young age. His poetry book includes reflections on that event.

Former Kentucky Poet Laureate Richard Taylor praised Barth’s collection, saying “these terse lyrics call war as they see it without an ounce of glorification or patriotic bravado. As deft and accurate as targets seen through a sniper’s lens, they speak with the blunt and lasting authority of hollow-point bullets.”

I asked Tom Zaniello, referenced in Prichard’s article as a positive influence on R.L.’s growth as a poet at Northern Kentucky State College (now NKU), to comment on his prized student. “Of all the excellent students I was lucky enough to teach at NKU, Bob Barth brought a unique combination of skills and experience that prepared him for a career as THE poet of the Viet Nam War. He combined the experience of an active Viet Nam combat soldier with his research into both the Viet Nam War and other wars both ancient and modern. He also was an accomplished poet of the “plain style” that used direct language, often colloquial, and even at times conversational, without showy ornament or rhetorical flourishes,” said Tom.

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Larry Hopkins (Photo from Wikipedia)

With the recent passing of former 6th Congressional District Representative Larry Hopkins (R), who served in Congress from 1979 to 1993, I’ll share a personal anecdote.

About fifteen years ago, I interviewed Mr. Hopkins for a profile I was doing on his son, Josh Hopkins, an actor. I spent two hours with Larry and his wife at their home in Lexington. Larry was accommodating, full of stories, and I felt a special connection because he, like my father, had served as a U.S. Marine. I certainly received fresh insights about Josh for the article, but the “little” stories of Larry’s time as a congressman and travels to other countries were also highly illuminating. Though my politics were a bit further to the left of his, I felt like I was talking to an ol’ respected buddy over coffee at McDonald’s.

Along with a multitude of others, I thank Larry Hopkins for his service to our country and offer condolences to his family.

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