So I ask you this: Who doesn’t love Ike Adams? I, for one, would like to count myself as one of his biggest fans — and thank him for his kind words following our wins at the Kentucky Press Association awards. Ike — he insists I don’t call him Mr. Adams — is one of the best writers in Kentucky, and the stories he shares with us each week are as much narratives as important documents that capture culture in 500 words or less.
I first started reading him on a deadline day years ago when we needed to get the paper proofed. Bent over the page with marking pen in hand, shoulders tense with pressed time, I was in no mood for literature. But when Ike started talking about Blair Branch — and yes, “talking” rather than “writing” seems like the more appropriate verb here — I was immediately enveloped. I could feel the warm summer air, I could hear the critters in the distance, I could smell the breakfast sizzling in his mom’s skillet and I could just imagine eating it too. I looked closer. This stuff was good, incredibly wholesome and good.
Since I became a writer 10 years ago, I’ve realized the hardest and best way you can convey yourself is to be honest. It’s best because then people can relate so you create a connection that resonates and becomes something bigger than itself. But it’s hard because it’s easy to get bogged down with words and delivery. When I was in graduate school, I got so swallowed in the bog my professor Dr. Bennett refused to let me use adjectives in my essays. It was a good lesson, because it forced me to pare down and reassess.
When you look at Ike’s writing, you see that it is both relatable and precise. Take this sentence from “All hail broke loose in Lowell Valley,” one of the submissions that won him the award at KPA: “Sometimes I just walk out to the fences and offer a carrot or a stick of celery to whichever curious cow comes over and sticks her head across the wire and I rub her on the head and pet her silky ears.”
It’s a beautiful sentence on its own; notice how you immediately feel connected, want to read more. The writing seems like it rambles, giving it a rolling rhythm like creek water over stones, but it’s actually headed in a very specific direction: He’s writing about an impending rainstorm and when the hail finally does hit, Ike ends by looking at, feeling sorry for, the cows “out there in the weather.” It’s that rambling quality that keeps the reader so connected, but it’s the fact that it’s going somewhere that makes it so damn good.
Stuff like that doesn’t happen by accident and, even if you do get lucky, it certainly doesn’t happen every week — for three decades.
But every week, Ike has something new for us, which is no easy task either. And rather than just throwing together a column, over the years Ike has created an extensive quilt whose blocks, when put together, paint a picture, yes of Blair Branch and Lowell Valley and Paint Lick and Charlie Brown Road, but, more importantly, Kentucky. As for me, I can say he’s nearly single-handedly shown me how to fall in love with this place. More than that, he’s somehow made me nostalgic for things I’ve never even done: tasted moonshine, eaten fresh ham, gone turkey hunting at dawn. It all makes me wish I’d been born sooner, in a time when everyone canned, gardened, had transistor radios and got warm by Ben Franklin stoves. Also makes me wish I had a cool name like “Loretta.”
So, here’s to you, Mr. Ike Adams. You are a true inspiration not only to me, but to readers across this state. You make us happy and see the beauty in Kentucky’s heritage. Congratulations on your win — it’s very much deserved.
Ike’s columns can be found at http://www.sentinel-echo.com.