Photo Credit: Sarah Reinhart, Little White Whale Photography
The Kentucky Derby, y’all. It holds so many great memories for me, and even though I didn’t go this year, it was on my mind all day. And not because of the horses or bets or even the hats. (But, oh, how I love the hats!)
On Derby Day, I am always thinking about my four best college friends. We are a pretty tight group, and I would give just about anything for us all to live in the same place again.
Freshman year at Miami of Ohio, I was so nervous to meet my randomly-selected roommate, but it turned out to be one of my luckiest draws in life. Sarah and I lived together all four years, and I often went back home with her for a weekend to Louisville, Kentucky.
I think my first Derby was sophomore year, and we went at least one other year, maybe both. Those first trips were a blur of the chaos of the Infields!
Once I got lost with her sister Anne, eventually forgetting that we were lost and finding Sarah and the others by accident. I’m pretty sure we watched one from the top of a van, and I have no idea whose. (There may have been a bottle of Crown Royal involved. Possibly.)
I remember laying on a blanket and staring up at the clouds one Derby, waiting for the races to begin and talking about all our crazy dreams for the future.
But my favorite Derby memory was exactly ten years ago, the year Smarty Jones won.
That was the first year after college, and I remember how worried we all were that we wouldn’t see each other after graduation, and how hard it was to say goodbye. We had moved to five different states: Chicago; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida, and Lousiville.
Sarah’s dad, in the Governor’s race that year, had gotten us tickets in the stands. We bought hats and dresses, feeling almost like adults, now that we had actual jobs and money to buy mint juleps instead of smuggling in mini bottles.
And our seats, y’all. They were amazing. I don’t think we really realized at the time just how nice they were. Covered, only a few rows back from the finish line– unbelievable! Based on Sarah’s dad’s careful lessons, we deciphered the program enough to place bets in the early races. I still picked mainly based on the name.
Mayo on the Side won, and so did I! I put my winnings down on another bet for the next race, all the way to the final race. When we watched Smarty Jones cross the finish line, I jumped up and down on my seat. I won about $300, more “spending” money than I’d ever had. When we went out after the races, I bought a round for all my friends, feeling like a total baller.
I don’t think it was the lucky picks or the amazing seats that made that Derby so special, though. I think it was the fact that we knew now that we would see each other again, and the reassurance that the distance wouldn’t separate us. Every year after we have had a weekend together somewhere special: Charleston, Jacksonville, and even our ten-year college reunion, where we turned the alumni dinner into a flip-cup tournament and got chased by cops after sneaking onto the ice rink (but that’s another story for another day…).
We all went back to Derby together in 2012, and that time we bought our own tickets. We got some pretty good seats, but it was hot and the seats were not covered. So so so hot! It was not quite the craziness of the past, since three of us have kids now, and Melissa was pregnant at the time. I won zero dollars. But you know, it was still just as fun. We all rode there together in Sarah’s mom-van, taking selfies. I was with my friends and we were wearing fun hats! I mean, come on!
No matter where we go or how our lives change, it’s always just the same as it ever was when we see each other again. We laugh until our sides hurt, drink way too much, and talk until the early morning hours. Crazy things happen, and they get added our collective memory. There have been so many good times with those girls, and many more to come!
I love Derby because it reminds me of that, every year.
PS: Linkup to more Derby fun here!: