When the Kentucky Derby rolls around, it usually the most exciting time of the year for my family. Except for this year.
This will be the first year that the former patriarch of our family won’t be with us.
My grandpa Sonny Brumleve passed away last summer after four battles with cancer. He was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, home of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.
Much like NASCAR with the Daytona 500 and the PGA with The Masters, the Kentucky Derby is the Super Bowl of horse racing as it officially kicks off the search for the next Triple Crown winner.
To say my grandpa loved horse-racing would be an understatement.
After making the move to Jacksonville, Florida and retiring from the railroad in the early ‘90’s, my grandfather went to the track daily to bet on the horses. He called it “Going to work.”
During his time in the military, he fought in the Korean War and during one of his off days, managed to find the one horse track in all of Korea so he could place a bet on the ponies.
He hated kids and if you sat him near small children at a restaurant, he wanted to be moved to the other side of the establishment. During a round of golf, he played behind two slow women and swore to me that women shouldn’t be allowed to golf on Sundays. With the exception of his family, I thought for years he hated children and women.
But it was all a facade. Because when he passed, my grandmother and I went through hundreds of pictures and you know what was the most common thing we found? Pictures of him smiling ear to ear with babies and women.
He was witnessed inspecting a changing table for his new great-grandchild saying, “This isn’t soft enough for her to lay on” and returning the next day to find a stack of towels under the same changing table.
This was also the man who was so ecstatic last summer about my new sports radio gig to include talking golf, that one of the last things he said to me was “I can’t wait to hear it. You’re going to make our name proud.”
At family gatherings, you would often find the two of us off to the side talking sports, especially the Jaguars, and making fun of any weirdos around us to where I would be crying with laughter.
He was a legend.
That’s really hard to type.
As the first Saturday in May draws closer, I’m doing what I do every year and scoping out Kentucky Derby articles on GuysGirl to promote different hat, drink and dress ideas for the readers. As I’m going through the articles, I find myself faced with the difficult decisions to change references about my grandfather to “was.”
Even prepping for my parent’s legendary Derby party is proving difficult as the family is faced with finding someone to handle all the things he loved to do.
Who’s going to make the betting boards?
Who’s going to grab the betting odds books from the track?
Who will lead the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home?”
Who’s going to paint the jockey statue in the winner’s colors after the race is over?
These are all questions we have to answer this year that we haven’t thought about until we’re a couple weeks out from our family holiday.
I’ve always been told to write hard and fast about what hurts the most. I’ve tried to write this article several times and I’ve stopped myself each time. But today I’m forcing myself to power through it even with tears flowing from my eyes where it makes the screen too blurry to check my spelling.
While some family members don’t want to turn this day into another memorial service, which I understand, I feel in some ways that I want to honor his presence.
Therefore, I thought it would be nice to share our Kentucky Derby family traditions with all of you, in hopes you can keep his memory alive and kicking.
The following short clips are the only known videos we have of grandpa. And they all come from his favorite day of the year. Hope you guys enjoy…
Make me a Toot
My cousin Jon and brother Bryan were regularly tasked with making grandpa his signature drink to which he called a “Toot.” We’re not entirely sure of why grandpa called a Presbyterian a Toot but our best guess is that he wanted the grand kids excited about making him a drink so he didn’t have to. Which makes us all laugh.
Grandpa often called Ancient Age bourbon as “The Nectar of the Gods,” and would bring a bottle of it in a briefcase along with, 7-Up, bourbon glasses, club soda, lemons and a stir stick.
My Old Kentucky Home
Prior to every Kentucky Derby, the state song My Old Kentucky Home is sung by those in the stands as well as everyone in attendance at my parent’s Derby party. This was grandpa’s time to shine as he would lead the charge by orchestrating the crowd as the conductor. My dad has assumed the role for this year and I have no doubt in my mind that he will make everyone, including his dad, extremely proud.
The Best Day of the Year
This video has a glimpse of my grandpa in it, but it’s more to show the general atmosphere on his favorite day of the year.
There’s no telling what will happen at this year’s Kentucky Derby, both on and off the track. I know there will be smiles, laughs and probably some tears. But I’d rather honor him on his favorite day of the year over anything else. And if that means drinking Toots all day to get through it, then so be it!
After the passing of Grandpa Sonny in 2014, we experienced our first Triple Crown winner in 37 years when American Pharoah came along.
The first Derby without Gramps was tough. But we had koozies made with the recipe to his favorite drink printed on each one. On the morning of Derby, my brother whipped up his favorite drink, a Toot, and left it out in his honor throughout the entire day. There were a few tears. But overall it was a good day.
— Blythe Brumleve (@blythebrum) May 7, 2016
Flash forward a couple months and racing fans were faced with another potential Triple Crown winner. That morning, my uncle sent me a picture of Grandpa and I that I had never see before. I knew we were gonna see a Triple Crown winner that day.
I watched the Belmont Stakes at a friend’s engagement party, surrounded by strangers who had zero clue about my horse racing family history.
I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing American Pharoah pull away from the pack to win it. I burst into tears with people surrounding me who were probably thinking, “Who is this chick crying over a horse race.”
It felt as if he was back in the room with us all, either cursing about how much money he lost or happy about his winnings. Either situation usually followed by his infectious laugh.
We all miss you, terribly.