Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

August 2, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: Storytelling part of Fancy Farm fun

FANCY FARM — The political speeches at Fancy Farm pose a stiff test for politicians who face rude, raucous crowds. While most of the shouted comments from the partisan crowds are supposed to be laced with humor, there’s more than enough meanness in many of them.

But you can’t gather that many political types without some humor and storytelling. Some of it will be on display on the speaking stand but a lot more is available out of the public eye.

For several years there’s been a contingent of fun-loving political fans who travel from Glasgow and Edmonton to Fancy Farm each year for all the fun. The gang was put together by my old friend and patron, former Republican state Sen. Walter Baker, who passed away a couple of years ago. Walter had a very serious public image, but he loved funny stories of political characters and the past.

I suppose that’s just one reason he always traveled to Fancy Farm with his friend, Edmonton attorney Herb Sparks, a devoted Democrat and raconteur of the first rank. Herb got involved in Democratic politics in his youth, served in state government and worked in various campaigns over the years.

Since Walter’s death, Herb and some friends from back home — Barlow Ropp, Doug Isenberg and Jerry Ream — have continued the tradition. But various health issues, family and work commitments prevented each of them from making the trip this year.

I talked to Herb on Thursday and he said the gang is severely grieved to miss Fancy Farm, but he vowed most of them will be back next year. My call interrupted him at work and we both kept promising to make the call short, but: “Well, just one more story and then I’ll let you go.”

For the past several years, a small group of reporters have joined Herb’s gang for dinner on Saturday night after filing their Fancy Farm stories. It’s always a perfect ending to a weekend which can be described but can’t be appreciated unless experienced in person.

I can’t do Herb’s stories justice. But I’ll try one to give you a taste.

Seems there was many years ago a Metcalfe County Attorney who was a great admirer of George Washington. He occupied a tiny office in the Metcalfe County Courthouse, just large enough for a desk and a visitor’s chair behind which hung a large portrait of Washington.

There was a trial scheduled of a man accused of illegally fermenting and selling cherry wine. The day before the diligent county attorney walked into the Sheriff’s Office, asking for one of the several gallons of cherry wine. He wanted to make certain the beverage was alcoholic before putting on his prosecution.

The Sheriff complied and the County Attorney disappeared into his office and everyone went about their business. But a couple of hours later, shots suddenly rang out from behind his closed office door.

The frightened Sheriff and his deputies burst into the office where to their relief they found the County Attorney safe and sound — with a half-empty gallon jug of cherry wine on his desk and a smoking pistol in his hand.

“What in the Sam Hill happened?” they demanded.

The County Attorney serenely pointed to the portrait of Washington, now sporting a smoking bullet hole. Astonished, they turned amazed looks back on the County Attorney.

“That S.O.B. chopped down a perfectly fine cherry tree,” he explained.

Herb swears it’s a true story. But I’ve been told by a couple of world-class storytellers over the years it’s bad form to quibble over the truth of a really good story.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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