On my drive back from Harrodsburg, KY I decided to stop and stay with my dear friends Frank & Susan Bogaert in South Bend, Indiana. I wasn’t on a strict timetable and since I had an answering machine on my phone back in Michigan I could check all my messages from anywhere. It was within a week of my visit I had a message from Governor Brown’s Chief-of-Staff Liz Dahl. When I called her back I really wasn’t prepared for what she had in mind.
Apparently Phyllis George was very impressed with my playing and wanted me to play on her grand piano at their personal mansion, “Cave Hill,” for their first Kentucky Derby Party. Liz says,”Would you like to hear who’s on the guest list? Henry Kissinger, Armand Hammer, President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Walter Cronkite, Lynda Carter (“Wonder Woman”), Roger Staubach, Ed McMahon, Muhammad Ali to start with. We will fly you down unless you prefer to drive and put you up of course.” Needless to say I was pretty excited.
It was about a month away from Derby weekend. In making my plans I decided to stay in Harrodsburg which is a 45 minute drive to Cave Hill- Lexington. I also decided to drive from Michigan instead of fly. Instructions for the party and directions to Cave Hill were sent to me in the mail. I would be playing indoors on Phyllis’ Baldwin grand piano that was given to her when she won Miss America in 1970 (she played piano for the talent portion of the competition). I would start playing around 11:00-11:15 AM as guests arrive for brunch. They expect somewhere between 300-400 guests. I am allowed to take breaks but they want me to play until around 3:00-3:30 PM. I could help myself to brunch which is outside in an event tent where the Up With People performing troupe would be entertaining.
When Derby day arrived I drove from Harrodsburg a bit early to Cave Hill (getting there at 10:00 AM) so I could settle in to my spot at the piano and receive any last minute instructions.
Let me tell you something about Cave Hill.
Cave Hill was built about 1828, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places. The 17-acre estate has a a 7,500-square-foot residence, pool, tennis courts, guest quarters, helicopter pad and horse barn. Gov. John Y. Brown and Phyllis moved into the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort first and lived there a month before it was condemned as a firetrap. Then they purchased and moved into Cave Hill.
Central Kentucky in the spring is magical! They possess some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. The bluegrass, flowers, trees and horse farms with those wonderful white fences on rolling hills are right out of a storybook.
Pulling in to the drive leading to their mansion was truly a “Gone With the Wind” moment. You’re on a long, long tree lined drive to start with. I was stopped, of course, a few times for my credentials. I noticed an army of people getting ready for the guests. And how would those guests be welcomed?
Are you ready for this? There would be valets halfway up the drive who would park your car and you’d be helped into horse drawn carriages. The carriages would bring you to the front of Cave Hill where you would be greeted by women in antebellum gowns holding silver trays of mint juleps while half of the Lexington Philharmonic played “My Old Kentucky Home” on the front lawn and peacocks strolled luxuriously on the grounds.
I’m not kidding!
My car was parked for me and I walked the rest of the way leading to the grand front door. It was so quiet because no one was set up on the lawn yet; not even the peacocks. As I walked to the main entrance I could see through several rooms but saw no people. I wasn’t sure if I should walk right in so first I called out a “Hello!” No response. I try again with a few more.
“Hello. Hello. Hello?”
All of a sudden, approaching the door from inside is a woman in a short pink bathrobe, barefoot, hair tousled, glowing complexion, and very pregnant. I am dazzled!
She opens the screen door takes one look at me and says with the sweetest upbeat lilt of a Texas accent: “Are you Kevin? Hi! I’m Phyllis!”
To be continued…