LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - “What school did you go to?”
When you're in Louisville and asked this question, one is seeking an answer to identify your high school, not your college. It's laughable for those not from this area. Having grown up in Louisville myself, I ask everyone this question in an effort to find a connection. More times than not, you find somebody who knows somebody who loves somebody. My coworkers often laugh and say I'm three degrees from everyone in the city. It's true -- big city, small town. That small-town mentality exists from growing up in the south end.
Do you know what south enders don't like? When you confuse Valley Station for PRP or Iroquois for Shively. Ones living in these communities never refer to the map because they "just know." For others, it's easy to mistake a few streets as part of a neighboring community. (A south ender will correct you, though.)
What you can't confuse in south end communities is the raw, dedicated hearts of the people.
My story was written west of Interstate 65 and south of the Watterson Expressway, standing next to the fence that separates my parents' yard and the Gene Snyder Freeway. The proudest moments of my childhood and growth into adulthood were spent on Deering Road, Stone Street Road, Greenwood Road, Lower River Road and in between all the neighborhood streets off Dixie Highway. The irreplaceable educators at Medora Elementary, Stuart Middle School and Pleasure Ridge Park High School always will have my heart. Fun fact: Most of my teachers taught in the same classrooms they sat in as students.
Furthermore, my south end parents earned enough money at their blue- and white-collar jobs to honor my dream of post-secondary education at a top-rated journalism school in the country -- Western Kentucky University. I didn't get anything handed to me though; my parents proudly watched me work full time while being a full-time college student. They taught me financial literacy and how to take ownership of my actions, big, small, right or wrong.
My husband went to Doss High School and lived in the Valley Downs neighborhood. My mother grew up in Villa Anna and my father grew up off Scotts Gap and Mooreman Road. My parents would later meet and start dating at Dixie Bowl. Valley Village, Leemont Acres, Windsor Forest, Crums Lane, Lower Hunters, Rockford Lane, Cane Run Road -- these are my people. Yup, the workers at Krispy Kreme on Dixie are, too.
The most rewarding part of living in the south end is these people are your people.
If you ever find yourself with a flat tire, south enders will get down on the ground and change it with you.
If you're working your 9-to-5 job in downtown or east Louisville and can't make it to your child's Little League game on time, your south-end neighbors will make sure he/she is cheered for and hears praise from the stands.
If your parents are sick and your hospital-bound for weeks at a time to help care for them, your south end neighbors are mowing your grass and guarding your Amazon Prime deliveries.
If your stomach is in knots because you turned your head for a moment and your dog escaped your backyard, rest assured your south end neighbors are already walking up and down streets, carrying your dog, looking for his owner.
When the inevitable life experiences take flight, life altering or not, south enders are flying another plane in for a landing to make sure business is taken care of.
South enders aren't better than anyone else living in other parts of town. You'll rarely find one who feels they are. Contrary to popular belief, south enders enjoy shopping at Mall St. Matthews and Oxmoor Center, too. They travel across the river to Bass Pro Shop and do back-to-school shopping at Shoppes of the Bluegrass with the best of them.
Do south enders fight for the "American Dream?" Heck yeah we do! South enders are used to fighting for what we want. South enders know what hard work feels like. We know what "Honor Thy Neighbor" means. We know what "sticking together" feels like. We know what it feels like to fight city leaders for funding to build projects, programs and stability. When for years, your community has felt like the forgotten limb of the city, you tend to feel a certain type of way. It's a way that lights a fire in you to prove your home is as important as anyone else's. Let's be real, the stigma is no secret.
Is the south end full of blue-collar workers? Yes. By blue-collar workers, am I referring to the union jobs making $40+/hr., LG&E and Kosmosdale Cement workers? Yup. Are the successful owners of Davis Service Stations getting their hands dirty to keep your cars serviced? Yup. Are factories popping up left and right in Riverport with workers traveling Dixie Highway while dodging orange cones? Big yup!
These workers happen to be neighbors of educators, lawyers, doctors, business owners, etc. I believe there is old money buried in the soil of 40272, 40258, 40208 and close by — alongside new money. Money that doesn't boast. Houses are lived in for 30+ years. Mortgages are paid off. Credit cards are approved and auto loans are refinanced, even in the south end.
Craig and Landreth Cars is thriving, Christie's Cafe is busting at its seams with loyal patrons and Altitude Trampoline Park is full of hard-working parents treating their kids to some fun on a weeknight after work. (The owner is from the south end). Khalil's on Dixie is pouring into the community weekly with raffles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, in partnership with Shirley's Way giving away the same amount of money to families of cancer patients. PRP Pizza and Bonnie and Clydes are opening their doors to host fundraisers for the single mom whose daughter died in a car accident, or the parents' whose son recently overdosed.
Yes, life insurance exists. But the shoulders to cry on and the hugs of support can't be bought. They can, however, be found in the south end. If a south end parent sees another parent slacking off, they take the child under their wing and provide, no questions asked.
Some families are sitting around Dittles & Horseshoe Pay Lakes to instill life-long lessons into kids' minds. Others are enjoying their summers as "stay-at-home-moms" because their single-income family is more than enough to provide, often visiting Southwest Regional Library for story time. Thousands travel from across the city to the south end to sit at Mike Linnigs with family. Farnsley Moreman Landing is easily one of the most beautiful, popular wedding venues in the city. Need I find more to praise in the sweet south end?
We miss our Target, Bacon's and Dixie Dozen. South enders certainly deserve more restaurants on the "busiest corridor in the city," as Councilman and Attorney at Law David Yates describes Dixie Highway. (He graduated from Holy Cross, by the way.) We make due with what we have. Our other councilmembers spend their weekends hosting local festivals and handing out scholarships to the schools from which they graduated.
On a Friday afternoon, after the men in our lives deposit into their savings accounts each week, I don't see many of them staring into their beer bottles with worry. A decent number, however, stick their cans inside a coozie while standing on the banks of their property at Rough River and Nolin lakes. They're driving the family truck, boat and trailers they paid for with cash. They're meeting friends for cornhole and pool tournaments at BJ's and Boneheads. Some hop over for karaoke at O'Dolly's or the local VFW Post because ... well, why not?
Our local graduates are on national television playing sports, singing, leading protests and making their voices heard. Some are even popular basketball coaches in Louisville, opening conversations to shine a light on where they came from.
I don't think the misinterpretation of the south end is ever out of hatred or malice. I think it's just that, misinterpreted.
Decades ago, there were empty fields and farmland miles wide. My dad can tell me who owned what and what they grew on the acreage. South enders didn't move to the area because they had to. It was a choice. It was a choice to get away from the inner city and the growing neighborhoods. Some came from other rural counties to be closer to jobs within the county and city limits. Their children learned about loyalty and respect, so they stayed. Then, their kids stayed. Now, generations upon generations are driving up and down the above-named streets, pointing out what "once was." It wasn't bleak. It was full of nothing but hope, en route to the aforementioned American Dream, which has been achieved time and time again.
The greatest part about being a south ender is that you proudly hold that title your entire life. Many south enders are spread across the country, and keeping tabs on "home" is important. After all, they're south enders and their fire still burns.
If you’re lucky enough to break bread with a south ender, you might laugh at the rowdiness, but you’ll soon see the respect (given and received) and pure passion.