Some of you may recall the story of my “Derby Grandpa” – Gus Wolzenski, who introduced me to the fine art of playing the ponies. Grandpa died of cancer on Derby Day…May 7th, 1994. Earlier that day he and I had our final conversation…about the Kentucky Derby and the fact that a horse named Go For Gin won the race. My birth name is Virginia, and I am known as Gin (or sometimes Ginny) by family and friends.
While the Kentucky Derby is well-known all around the world, not everyone is as familiar with the Derby’s little sister – the Kentucky Oaks. This is a race for three-year-old fillies (girl horses), run the Friday before the Derby. With both having originated in 1875, together the Oaks and the Derby are the oldest continuously contested sporting events in history, and the only horse races still being held at the place of their original conception – Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.
Much like the Kentucky Derby is known as the “Run for the Roses” and the winner receives a garland of red roses, the Oaks also has its designated flower – the pink stargazer lily, which has been the official flower of the Kentucky Oaks since 1991, and the race is affectionately known as the “Lilies for the Fillies.” The winner of the race receives a garland of stargazer lilies.
The official color of the Kentucky Oaks is pink…which is also the color of Breast Cancer Awareness. For the third year in a row, shortly before the race Churchill Downs will hold a Breast Cancer Parade, where survivors of breast cancer, as well as individuals honoring those who have died of the disease, will march down the track to bring recognition to breast cancer and the need to keep working on finding new cures. Churchill Downs is again partnering with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization to raise funds for breast cancer research, education, advocacy, and community support. One dollar ($1.00) from every attendee of the Kentucky Oaks will be donated to the Komen organization.
Grandpa Gus had two daughters – “Lee” and Laverne. Emma Lee Wolzenski married James Hugh Beach, and they had two children, a son James Jr. and a deaf daughter named Virginia Lee. Lee Wolzenski Beach was my mother.
Mom died of breast cancer on May 25th, 2010.
I honor my grandfather every year when I watch the Derby.
This year I shall honor my mother by watching the Kentucky Oaks…live and in person.
Now that I live in Louisville, I shall be amongst the thousands at Churchill Downs on May 6th. My friend Julie and I will dress up, don the traditional hats, and sip on our Oaks Lilies – the traditional drink of the Kentucky Oaks – while cheering the fillies on.
Even though I generally consider myself an “uppity Deaf ball-buster who hates pink,” I will THINK PINK and PINK OUT for the Kentucky Oaks. It’s the least I can do for my mother.
So with apologies to Dan Folgelberg, here are the words to his immortal song, with a few minor revisions by yours truly:
Born in the valley
And raised in the trees
Of Western Kentucky
On wobbly knees
With mama beside you
To help you along
You’ll soon be a growing up strong.
All the long, lazy mornings
In pastures of green
The sun on your withers
The wind in your mane
Could never prepare you
It’s bigger than you think
The run for the lilies so pink —
And it’s run for the lilies
As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered
Your moment’s at hand
It’s the chance of a lifetime
In a lifetime of chance
And it’s high time you joined
In the dance
It’s high time you joined
In the dance.
I’ll be thinking of you on this day, Mom. I’m sorry that you lost your race.
But the fillies will keep on running on your behalf.