June 18th, 2007 by The Lexington Herald-Leader
DSTEPHENSON@HERALD-LEADER.COM
AWILSON1@HERALD-LEADER.COM

That ridge up there -- the one you can see from the highest point in town -- is the beginnings of Tennessee.It's only 2 1/2 miles away, and everybody here goes there on occasion because Tennessee is wet and Bug is dry -- that is, "until we bring it home," says Billy Johnson, who is on his way across the line this minute. Billy, for the record, is a big law-abider now, but he was a notorious chicken thief and moonshine retailer when he was young.

But we'll get to that.

Chickens remain the main attraction in Bug. And every blessed one of those chickens seems to be owned by Bobby Young. The ones in the road, the ones crossing the road, the ones in the gardens, the ones in the incubator, the ones laying eggs and the expensive ones leashed to their huts but usually standing on them, furling and unfurling their elaborate and impressive feathered plumage, looking for all the world like they're in a beauty pageant, sounding for all the world like it's dawn.

The town is, for all intents and purposes, one long winding road traversed by chickens. It's a quick turn off Ky. 127, right there at the old "poorhouse" where the county sent its indigent during the Depression. The tattered white building -- which was lugged up there by a mule team in the 1920s -- has a tin ceiling and beautiful floors. It too is owned by Bobby Young, who is letting his aunt set up a little thrift shop there these days.

Up the road on your left is Bobby Young's garden. On your right are Bobby Young's house and Bobby Young's poultry.

A little farther up on your right is Bobby Young's mother's house, behind which are Bobby Young's rooster houses. Bobby Young calls them "my show chickens" and is a little vague on exactly what that might mean.

Up ahead is 85-year-old Reba Jones, who raised five boys in her two-bedroom home that she says didn't start out that big. It was just a big room and a kitchen.

She married the neighbor boy at 16. The family moved away only briefly during the Second World War so her husband could work in a tire factory. That didn't last, and they came back to Bug, to the little house and to the cornfields. That was when the corn mill was still real close by, before a lot of the land around there got filled in with water courtesy of the Dale Hollow Lake Dam.

Important to note that Reba married a boy she'd known all her life, that Bobby Young still lives next door to his mama, and that way up the road and over the bridge are Reba's boy Larry and his wife. Next door to them is Larry's only daughter, Joni, and her family.

Which is to say everyone in Bug is related, but not in a bad way.

Joni's husband, Mike Roberts, even says he knew he'd have to move to Bug if he wanted to marry Joni. He explains how "I'm stuck with her until she runs me off."

Which doesn't seem too likely, because of their obvious joy under the aged maple in the yard and because their small sons, 7-year-old Benjamin and 4-year-old Chance, are settled in so well. Here, at the very outskirts of Bug, the boys are busy catching (with their bare hands) crawdads, salamanders and snakes. When that fails them, they commence to irritating yellowjackets and centipedes.

Still, it's mighty entertaining to be them and to dally with nature. You have to keep the youngsters busy, says Joni, even though it probably will be years before Benjamin and Chance could be lured by the once-preferred teenage summer moneymaking project around here: Stealing chickens.

Which brings us back to Billy Johnson. He swears that he and some friends living in Bug used to go down to the country poultry-sale barn and kidnap a few chickens by "throwing them in portable coops." Then they'd sell the fresh chickens to a grocery man who had set up shop in the old poorhouse and paid 15 cents, even a quarter, per chicken.

The boys would take the money and go up Bald Rock Mountain to buy moonshine for $6 a gallon, says Johnson. The boys did not drink moonshine, so they promptly went home, rebottled it and sold it to "the locals who drank a lot," for $3 a pint.

The teenagers would then go buy beer, which they, in fact, did drink.

This "very true" story and all that it implies is what make Bug "the garden spot of the world right here," says Johnson.

It is a place, says Bobby Young, devoid of dogs with ticks, as the baby chicks eat all that nasty parasitic vermin before they have a chance to hop on a pup.

It's a place, says 80-year-old J.B. Ferguson, where he plans to one day retire -- "with 10 toes up" -- from working.

J.B. is sitting in a plastic chair under a tree across the street from the end of the road that marks the end of Bug. It's where Eddie Luttrell has set up his Big Orange Gate Co., where J.B. now works.

J.B. stands up to meet newcomers with the declaration that "I lost my wallet in a 25-acre field of hay today."

Everybody offers to go comb the field for J.B.'s driver's license. The sun is setting but the light is holding, and even 90-something-year-old Oliver Jones (Larry's uncle) seems to be up for the wallet hunt.

Then, just like that, J.B. sits down again, done with the idea. Up he pops in a few minutes to show his Bush-Cheney bumper sticker that dates to 2000, and to retrieve faded pictures of his parents that he always keeps in his glove compartment.

Tomorrow, when the sun comes up, Bobby Young's roosters will announce the day, and the big hay-baling will begin in Bug.

Despite his friends dismissing the notion, J.B. figures the driver's license might just decide to spit itself out of the baler and all will be well.

Don't laugh. Stranger things have happened in Bug.

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