On this day in 1981, a series of explosions rocked Louisville, Kentucky. The explosions happened because the Ralston-Purina Corporation had been dumping hexane, which it used for processing soybeans, into the city’s sewers. More than two miles of Louisville’s main sewer line blew up, and many homes and businesses also suffered severe damage. Only the early hour — around 5 AM — at which the sewers ignited prevented the loss of life.

Now, here’s the thing: my first love — or maybe she was my second; it depends how one counts — was from Louisville. And when I initially visisted her home to meet her family, which is a story unto itself, the only thing that I knew about Louisville was that it hosted some kind of famous horse race and a university with a really good basketball team. And also: that the city had blown up a few years earlier. So I spent the weekend, when I wasn’t talking about Denny Crum or Pervis Ellison, asking everybody I met about the sewer explosions, as though the survivors had somehow weathered an ordeal like the great San Francisco earthquake or the Battle of Britain, an event that had emblazoned itself into the community’s sense of itself. I got a lot of odd looks, to be honest. But finally, around the hundredth time I asked, my first love’s grandmother looked at me, sort of pissed, and said: “It sounded like the sewers were blowing up. Okay? Bam. And then bam-bam. And then bam again. And a bunch more just like that. Get it?” I didn’t respond, but remember wanting to ask: “Are you sure it wasn’t more like boom?”