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Monday, April 30, 2012


I think this was before I was born or when I was a very small baby, I'm not sure.  But my Dad walked down to Lafe (or Lief) Hinkle's store at Richardson and spent (what at that time was a great amount) a lot of money to buy my brother and sister a bicycle.  They would get up on the top of the hill on the old road by our house at the path down to the Wash Rock and ride down the hill and into the gate that separated our yard from our old coal house.  My brother made his run but my sister did not and rammed her bike into one of the posts holding the gate up and drove the front wheel all the way back to where the back wheel was.

I don't recall hearing she was injured though it seems to me to be impossible she was not.  But it ruined her bike.  I can't recall who or why or even if it is true but someone (I think) straightened our her bike as much as could be so it was not an entire waste.

That was a long time before I was ready for my own bike.  I did not get that until we moved to the  big, white house in West Van Lear.  I was so happy and excited.  Except the left peddle would come off when riding.  I was afraid to tell my Dad as I feared he would take it away from me.  But, he noticed I was not riding it and asked me if I did not like it.

So I told him all about the peddle.  Frank Spears, whom we rented the place from, put a fitting in the hole where the pedal threaded into and then the peddle into that fitting and it worked  fine.  I was quite happy then.

Burgler Holler (real name is Burger Hollow but everyone knows it as what I said.) had a "front road" and a "back road".  We lived almost all the way up the holler on the front road and it was covered in "Red Dog".  Red Dog is a kind of slate that comes from coal mines and was used to cover roads as it was cheap and plentiful.  Problem was it was very sharp.  Like riding one's bike over a bed of knives so I spent a lot of time patching my inner tube as I has lots of flat tires.

My Dad would not allow me to ride my bike down into "the Junction" though I did anyway.  I ran into him (figuratively) once at the post office and he almost took my bike away from me.  I did not stop going to the Junction but I became much more observant.

Here is a lesson for parents... When you catch your kids doing something you have forbidden them do do does not mean they will stop doing it.  It just means they will be more careful to not get caught.  This was a thing that proved true all my life, doing what I was told not to do meant nothing to me.  Getting caught doing it was what made me careful.  Still, I got caught enough times.

I think most kids were like that.  Makes me wonder why so many parents seems so surprised when they find their kids avoiding, ignoring, or just circumventing their instructions.  We all thought we knew more than our parents.  We just did not say so to avoid the inevitable beating to follow such a remark. 

Smoking in the Boy's Room

I first started smoking cigarettes when I was about eleven.  Did not smoke a lot as cigarettes were hard to come by.  I guess I really did not start smoking regularly until I was in my early teens and we'd moved back to Nat's Creek.

On weekends my cousin Steve and I would go to Sherman LeMasters' store and get things his parents would order then we'd get several packs of Winston (what his Dad smoked) and kept them for ourselves.  I guess Sherman knew what was going on but he never stopped us.

Later we would get our smokes from Delmar and Cat (Kathleen) Mollett.  They smoked "Old Golds" so that was mostly what we smoked.  they would buy extra when they went to the store and so we had a place to go that was close to us.

By the time I was around sixteen or seventeen I was a regular smoker.  (Sigh) All the lies and excuses I gave my parents.  I don't suppose they believed a word of them but it seemed I was "getting off" at the time.

What has this got to do with the tile of this blog?  In High School we always went to the boy's restroom to smoke.  A lot of it was sucking down as much as you could in a short time and going back to class feeling dizzy.  Just did not want to be caught by a teacher and sent to the Principal's office.

The day I got 'caught' I went into the bathroom to use if for it's built in purpose and even held the door open for a male teacher.  As I walked around the stalls someone handed me a Camel Stud (a Camel cigarette with no filter) and I looked at it and said I did not want it and flipped it into the urinal.  Unfortunately, the teacher whom I had opened the door for was standing  right beside me.  Oops.

Now I don't dislike this teacher.  He was the one who loaned me his copy of 'The Hobbit'.  But he saw me with a cigarette in my hand.  He directed me to the Principal's office.  Now let me explain something only smokers would understand... I was smoking menthol cigarettes.  A Camel Stud would have ripped my lungs right out of my chest.  That was not an acceptable defense.

So, they sent up to see the Principal (Mr. Cheeks).  At the time Jim Cheeks was the principal and Bill Cheeks (his brother) was the superintendent.  The saying was our school was like an ass, it took two cheeks to run it. 

At the time the penalty for getting caught smoking, as I understood it, was three 'licks' or three days suspension.  I was not about to explain to my parents why I was suspended for three days so I elected to take the 'licks'.  Only, old Jim must have forgotten how to count as he went way past three.  Ten as I recall and that man could swing a mean paddle.  In face he had a whole selection of paddles in his office and you got to pick which one he would use on you.  Some choice.

The other two guys who were waiting in the office ante-room said they were both going to take the licks but when I came out looking white as a ghost they both decided to take the suspension..  That was the only time I got caught smoking in school and I was not even smoking then.  Does not mean I had not done it a hundred times.  :-)


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mary Jane Part 1

My sister, Mary Jane, had Lupus.  She was twenty six when it was diagnosed and thirty six when she died.   I don't have all that many memories of her when she was young.  A lot of it was due to my age but even more was due to her not living with us much at all.  She stayed with our Aunt Dixie (mother's sister) so she could go to school and the Kingdom Hall (What Jehovah's Witnesses call church).  I can't imagine how my Dad felt about that as he absolutely despised Jehovah's Witnesses.  But, that was the way it was.

My memories of my sister are quite limited in her younger years.  I mostly remember her after she married.  That was in 1967 I believe.  That was the same year we moved from West Van Lear back down to Nat's Creek so my mother could take care of my grandparents.  It is difficult for me to fathom that has been nearly a half century ago. 

We lived in the old, Charlie Blessing house and paid Frank Blessing fifteen dollars a month rent.  It was at least a half mile (probably farther) from there to where my grandparents lived.  It was a nice walk and walking was the only means of transportation we had.

Mary Jane had her two sons quite close together and of a summer I'd go spend time at their house and help with the boys and chores around the house.  They lived in Homer's (my brother-in-law) old family house.  Like most old places it had a well and an outhouse.  Of course where I lived on Nat's Creek was the same so it all felt familiar to me.  It was just normal and not an inconvenience.

I always did the dishes after meals while listening to WSIP on the radio (Paintsville).  They played mostly country music with just a couple of half-hour interludes of top 40 music.  I was washing dishes in the kitchen when the news of Robert Kennedy's assassination came through.  I was devastated as I was convinced he was going to be the next American President and would be a great one.  Sirhan Sirhan did it but I've never been convinced of his reasons.  Robert Kennedy was Attorney General during his brother's (JFK) Presidency and he was hard on organized crime.  In fact one of the theories on the JFK assassination is that the mob did it.  I think the mob may have feared a Robert Kennedy presidency and had him killed as well.  Just an opinion of mine as there is no evidence to support it.

Anyhow, as usual, I ramble on about things not relevant to the subject. 

My sister was a lovely young woman.  She stood about 5' 2" and weighed about 108 lb when she was married at age 23.  She was a very strong-willed woman.  During her sickness the doctors told her she would never walk again but she ordered one of those exercisers where you attach it to the wall and use pulleys to move your arms and legs and she worked on it until she did get up out of her bed and walk.  A true VanHoose.  Can teach a mule about how to be stubborn.

In her final months she was in the Highlands Regional Hospital and everyone knew she was not coming home again.  It had been like that  for years.  She'd get really bad then recover.  But, not to the level where she was as good as before.  We all knew it was just a race to see which crucial organ would fail first.  It was a stressful time for all of us.

I had been taking welding class at a local Vocational school at night and working in the days.  After the end of my welding class and the end of my job my brother-in-law and I split staying with my sister 24 hours a day.  He took the night shift and I did days.  We did a lot of talking until she became too ill to speak.  Mostly it was like a coma.  She just lay there and we just sat and looked on.  Like I said it was a stressful time.

I guess that is when I first got into prescription drugs and alcohol.  After coming home in the evening I could not sleep.  My doctor (who was the same doctor as my sister) gave me Valium prescriptions and I was going through about thirty a week.   None during the day just during the evening when I got home.  I would sit at the kitchen table while everyone else in the house was asleep and take Valium and drink Canadian Mist whiskey until I could sleep.  This went on 24/7 for months. 

On the night my sister passed away, I don't recall why, but both I and my brother-in-law were in her room chatting.  All of a sudden she sat up in bed and said, "I can't move my hands".  Her hands were under the blankets.  We were both stunned as she had been comatose for several weeks.  Then she sank back into the bed and was silent again.  It was not long after that I noticed I could not see her breathing.  I used the call button for the nurse and told her I did not think my sister was breathing.

I was right.  She wasn't and they took her away in about thirty minutes and the next time we saw her was in a coffin at the funeral home.  It was rough for us be we all knew how sick she had been and all the pain and suffering she had endured so we were, at the same time, relieved she was out of all that.

Even though I don't recall a lot about her I am convinced she was the best of all of us.  I think my brother would agree with me on that.  She was a VanHoose through and through with all the stubbornness, temper and love for "bad things" as were the rest of us but she also was the only one who was mostly on the good side of the line.  I wish my sister could have watched her kids grow up to be men and have seen her grand children as I know she would have loved them all.  I wish she could have known my children and my grandchildren as well.  That did not happen, however and there is no changing the past to make it more to our liking.

My sister has been dead for over thirty years now and I still miss her.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I woke up this morning in a full body sweat and very lethargic.  There is one reason this happens but I'm so lethargic I can't think of it.  When I finally thought to take my blood sugar it was 49.  I popped a glucose tablet to get it up fast and grabbed a bowl of banana nut Cheerios.  Then, about the time I was going to leave for work it all changed to me freezing my butt off.

I remember that happening once before many years ago when Heather lived with me and before Linda and I were married.  Seemed like every bit of heat and warmth drained out of my body.  I was wearing insulated underwear, three pairs of socks and had the thermostat turned up to 85 and was in bed under all the covers I had still doing a full body shiver.

When Heather got home I got her to bring the extra blankets from her room and spread over me.  It did not seem to help but after a time my body began to warm up again.  Soon I was OK and able to go to sleep normally.  This morning was as close as I've been to that since then though it happened when I was awake and did not last but two or three hours.  I do not know what causes it but it is a little frightening.  Here is is, late April, and I'm sitting in my house wearing my warmest coat and it is not cold outside.   Makes one wonder.

But I'm warm now so nothing serious has happened.  But it does make me wonder about losing all the warmth in my body and never getting it back.  Be an interesting thing to freeze to death in April in South Carolina.  Well, I've never been one to do anything the normal way.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Growing Roses

Early in my life I never thought much about roses.  They grew almost wild all around.  When I lived at the old house we lived in during my teens there was a huge, old rose bush beyond the end of the porch just before the apple tree and garden.  All I thought of it was it was a pain in the butt to get the lawn mower around.

In the past decade and a half of my life I've tried growing roses around my house.  I've not been very successful.  Between diseases and just plain stubbornness :-) roses just do not want to do well in my yard.  I've planted so many and used so much rose food and disease spray.  I can't even begin to recall how much I've used.

This year I have ordered two climbing roses to try to train to the trellis on the front of the house.  One of them looks to be leafing out and seeking the trellis to start climbing.  The other has green canes but not a single leaf to be seen.   I don't know how much longer I can keep ordering roses and have them just crash and burn.  :-)  At least my lorapetalums are (or at least, should be) the envy of everyone who sees them.

Now if I can just find some roses I can grow.

Childhood Fishing

There were not a lot of places that were good for fishing where I grew up.  Nat's Creek was a small stream and did not harbor many edible fish.  The Levisa fork of the Big Sandy River was not too far off but my parents would never have allowed me to go fishing there.  When I was growing up, fishing was something one did but"catching' was not something to be expected.

Then, when my sister got married she and her husband lived near Dewy Dam at Jenny Wiley State Park and he would take me fishing there.  We fished with cane poles and not modern rods and reels.  My brother-in-law was the most patient fisherman I have ever known.  He could sit all day watching his bobber and if he got one good bite he caught a fish.

Me, on the other had, got really bored really quickly.  But it does bring to mind one weekend not long after my sister and he got married.  We went to Dewy Dam and parked at a wide place at the top of the hill just before the right turn to the dam.  We carried our bait and cane poles down past the park ranger boat dock and around the edge of the lake until we came to a  little shelf that ran out into the lake just before an inlet.  We fished there Friday through Sunday and we each caught thirty-two "keeper" blue gills.  They made some sensational fish fries

I think those were the most successful fishing days I had growing up.  In later years I moved to Florida and would go with my brother out to the Gulf Stream and fish with three hooks on each line.  We'd catch so many fish (two or three at a time) we'd get tired of reeling them in and just not put our lines back in the water.  But that was later.  In the early days there was nothing better than those early days at Dewy Dam with my brother-in-law.

Being Retarded

My mother always told me I was mentally retarded because it took them so long to get me to breathe after I was born.  It seems when I was born they beat my newborn butt off and I would not cry.  Then Gracie Ratliff walked into the room and I took one look at her and immediately started crying.  I doubt it happened exactly like this but probably in a similar manner. 

It was never hidden from me I was an accident.  I was not "meant to be".  My parents wanted two children and that was my brother (twelve years older) and my sister (ten years older) and that was supposed to be the end.  Life sometimes throws a few curve balls though.  They thought my mother was too old to have kids and took no precautions.  Voila, there came me.

So, for all my life I've known I was unplanned (unwanted?) as well as being retarded.  Kind of an interesting background for a childhood.  Not much of a foundation for a lot of self esteem.  Add to that my Dad's most likely reaction when I made a mistake of any kind was, "Can't you do anything right?!".   And I made a lot of mistakes like all kids do.  My successes were taken as "expected" and my failures were definitely pounded into my psyche as failures.  Makes a lot of self esteem and self confidence problematic.

Later in my life I projected an arrogant persona to mask all my insecurities.   I did have a lot to be arrogant about.  I was smart.  Being mentally retarded did not seem to have been too much of a problem as I have a "gifted" IQ and found school more boring than challenging.  I've often wondered what I could have achieved had I not been retarded.  Though, it was probably more lack of motivation that held me back than my diminished mental faculties.

Still, being retarded and unwanted does take it's toll.   Then add to all that I was not allowed to associate with any kids my own age.  My parents felt they would be a "bad influence" on me.  So I was forced to play with my mother's babysitting charge who was five years younger as he was the only one who was found acceptable.  Then my parents wondered why I was emotionally and mentally immature.  Looking back on it, it seems darned obvious to me.

I felt a desperate need for acceptance and to "fit in" and since the only kids (outside of school) I was allowed to be around were considerably younger.... well, you do the math.  Sometimes parents have no idea what damage they are doing to their children from the best of intentions.  

I'm fifty-eight years old now and I'm beginning to feel very retarded.  My memory is almost gone (except for  many years past); my understanding is diminished.  My motivation to do anything at all is almost non-existent.   But, I do wonder how much I could have achieved in this life were I not retarded and diminished every day by my parents.  Maybe more, maybe less.  That is one thing we cannot ever do is go back and change the past.  That kind of puts more importance on doing what is right today and not minimizing our children's thoughts and desires.    Channel subtly and do not diminish your children's thoughts just because they may not be your own.  Believe it or not your children can teach you and it is not always the other way around.

Still, I often wonder what  could have been were I not retarded.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Birds and the Bees, The Flowers and the Trees...

The title is a couple of lines from an old song I listened to while I was growing up.  I spent all of my first twenty years deep in the rural parts of Kentucky.  Except for about six years I lived in West Van Lear.  It was not really rural but it was not really a town and we were surrounded by plenty of hills and woods.  And, of course, we had a good sized garden spot.

When I was young my favorite thing to do as long as the weather was warm enough was to play in the creek that ran in front of my grandparent's house.  Of course it was also the county road so whenever I heard a car or truck coming I had to get out and wait for it to go past.  I do imaginie it is strange for people who are much younger and have never experienced that to imagine a time and place where the roads spent so much time in the creek beds.

Starting when we lived at Spring Knob Tower I added roaming the forest to my list of interests.  Everyone in my family hunted and I could not wait until I was old enough to hunt.  I could not carry a gun but I could wander around in the woods around the tower. 

One day I spotted a chipmunk and chased it around and over the piles of brush by the road until it disappeared into a hole in a tree.  I went and told my Dad about it and he came out and cut down a green briar with his knife and pushed it up the hole in the tree and twisted the briar around until the throrns were entangled in the chipmunk's fur and dragged it out.

He killed it and cleaned it and my mother fried it up for me.  I became a little Nimrod, not so much for my prowess as a hunter, but for my love of being out in the woods.  I was never a very successful hunter but I loved being out in the forest.  I  enjoyed it all the time but most especially durning a rain storm.  I'd find a good rock cliff to sit under and stay dry.  I'd gather wood and build a fire and sit there watching the rain just thinking and dreaming.

That stage of my hunting life lasted until I was about thirty or thirty-one years of age.  At that time I got so 'soft hearted' I could no longer kill animals.  Now, don't get me wrong, I had zero problems eating animals someone else killed; I just could not do it myself any longer.  I don't think I've done away with anything larger than a roach or spider since that time.  Still, though, I watch the multitude of squirrels romping and playing around my yard and I can't help but think of them in the way of cooked squirrel with squirrel gravy and home made biscuits.

I guess there is a reason they call a certain period of our lives our formative years.  My formative years were spent wandering the woods alone.  I never cared much for my parents and I was the happiest when I was not around them and being there was not much else around except forests I spent a l of time in them.   Still, to this day, there is no place I'm more comfortable than in a forest.  Especially if there is a stream of water close by.  It has a 'home' feeling to it like no place else I can find.

I've not wandered the forests in many a year now.  Lately, my legs are getting so bad I just can't do it any more and have to love them more in memory than anything else.  Now I live in "the big city" and there are no hills or forests around like I grew up with.  But, at the Columbia (SC) zoo, if one crosses the bridge over the Saluda river and goes over the hill to the right there is a path up the river that leads to the site of an old, Confederate, mill.  It is cool there under the trees and there are benches to sit on and there is a mill trace running right next to the seating area so you can hear the water and feel the cool breeze that blows acroos it.

From there is a path that leads up the hill by a (very small) stream to the botanical gardens.  It was always a nice walk.  With my leg as it is now I could not make that walk but it is also one I'll enjoy in memory.

Even were my legs fine so many of the places I loved as a kid are no longer there.  Strip mining for coal ripped the tops of the hills off and dumped them down in the hollows.  Where Spring Know Tower sat the hill is destroyed down to the level where Jim "Crow" Crum lived.  I guess that is a couple of hundred feet from where it was when I lived there.

I also grew up with a lot of flowers around.  My mother had many flower beds and there were always birds around them.  I was especially fascinated by the humming birds.  We both loved all the honeysuckle vines that grew wild all over the place.

Then there were the trees.  Not just the oaks, poplars etc but trees that you could eat or had nuts or fruit you could eat.  Find a good birch and peel off the outer bark and there was a layer of inner bark you could chew and it had a great flavor.  There were persimmon trees loaded with fruit that you could eat after the first frost came and ripened them.  There were all kinds of nuts around to gather and 'crack' once they had dried out.  Black walnuts and hickory nuts were especially plentiful.

People often have big plans if they "win the lottery".  Fancy cars, big houses, world travel are just some of them.  Were I to win the lottery and become an instant millionaire I'd pay off all my bills, I'd set some aside for all the grandkid's education and I'd buy me a large chunk of land in Kentucky.  Not in the Eastern hills where I grew up but out in the flat lands of central or western Kentucky.  Somewhere I could still enjoy being out in the woods and watching the birds, bees and animals as they went about their business.  Somewhere I could go to bed and fall asleep to the calls of the whip-poor-will and hoot of an owl.  I really miss whip-poor-wills living here in the city. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Birds

We always have a wreath hanging on our front door.  It changes from Spring/Summer to Fall/Christmas but one is always there.  This Spring a bird built a nest on the top of the wreath on our front door.  She had four little white eggs with black speckles on one end.  I'd check the nest every day when I'd leave for work and every evening when I'd come home.

Earlier this week three of the eggs hatched.  At first I did not realize what it was as it looked like the bird had just shed some fuzz on top of the eggs.  But a day or two later I realized there were baby birds in the nest. 

A couple of evenings ago I came home and was unlocking the front door when I saw this, little, fuzzy head come up over the top of the nest with it's beak wide open.  I guess it thought mama was home with food.  I just went on in the house so mama bird would feel safe to come back.

Next morning when I went to work I looked at the nest and it was empty except for one un-hatched egg.  I was devastated.  Something had gotten my birds during the night.  It amazes me just how pissed I was at that.  It is a part of nature and baby birds get eaten all the time by snakes, cats and hawks.  But this was personal.  These were MY birds.

Now there is just an empty nest with one un-hatched eggs there.  I do not believe that last egg will ever hatch.  In fact I've  not seen mama bird around since the disappearance of the babies.  Makes me wonder if mama bird really understands about her babies being gone.  What does instinct guide her to do when she flies home to an empty nest?    Does she keep coming back hoping they will magically reappear?  Does she just move on to her own life?

I think next Spring I will hang one or more bird houses where the birds can nest in a more protected site.  Maybe even a bird feeder so they can have food without foraging so far away from their young.  And heaven help the critter I find around my birds because they will get no mercy from me.

Sophomore English Class

In my second year of high school my English teacher was Mrs. Butler.  She had only one lung and did not show up for most of the winter months which meant we had a substitute a good bit of the time.  Maybe that is why we only had to do four book reports a year instead of six.

Book reports were pretty common but she had an unusual format (to me at least).  She had a couple of pages of questions then the synopsis of the book.  This was not too bad or too interesting.  The interesting part was when she told us that by the time the  year was over she would not have to see the handwriting (WAY before typing or computers) or the name on a book report to know who had written it.  I took this as a challenge.

I forget how many book reports I turned in that year but I know I turned in four for me, four for my best friend, four for his brother and one or two more for random people.  I think the lowest score I made on any of them was a ninety six.  That was because I was writing them in "the style of" whomever I was doing the report for.

Now, I rarely ever read the books themselves before the report.  My primary source of information was "Classic Comics" which was a comic book short synopsis of the stories of classic literature.   And, I did a report on "Jane Eyre" by spending about five minutes asking questions of the girl who was supposed to be doing the report.  She did not need my help as she was a good student.  I just wanted to do it for the challenge.  I think I made a ninety-eight on that one. 

One of the books I did a report (of my own) was by H. G. Wells (of War of the Worlds fame) titled "Food of the Gods".  It was a horrible book and I hated it.  I spent ten pages expressing in detail all the things I hated about it.  Mrs. Butler asked me if I hated it so much why did I read it.  I told her that as bad as it was it was the best book on the reading list.  I got a hundred on that report.

Let us say in high school I was not very high on the books on the reading list.  There was no Asimov, Heinlien, Clarke, Anderson, Simak or any of the other great Sci-Fi authors from the golden age.  But I did get to do an oral book report on one of Asimov's "Fantastic Voyage".  It was a story where a Soviet diplomat had a blood clot in the brain and they used a special shrinking machine to shrink a submarine and it's crew and inject it into his blood stream and let it go to destroy the clot.  It was a good book.  Decent movie, too.  The big thing about it was it was a book report for Biology class.

I guess all my teachers were aware of my reading habits since I read in class all the time.  It never hurt my grades as most of my classes were so simple they were quite boring.  Making an "A" was a given.  Well, except for that one teacher who deducted points for missing class.  I always made a hundred on his tests but I was never in class enough to keep my "A", so I got a lot of "B's" in his class.

I had a 3.363 GPA in high school.  I've often wondered what it would have been had I been really motivated and put some effort into school.  But, I did not want to make TOO high grades because I definitely did not want to be Salutatorian or Valedictorian.  I still have a great fear of public speaking and it was much worse then.  My GPA was carefully calculated to keep me as an honor student but to not subject me to public speaking.

LOL, thank goodness for straight "C's" in Spanish.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sassafras Tea

From the time I can really remember we'd have sassafras  tea in the spring time.  There were a multitude of sassafras trees (very small really) growing on the bank behind my grandparent's coal house and on down the creek a ways.  I'd go out and dig up the roots and chop them off.  They had quite a pleasing aroma.  Then I'd peel the bark off the roots and wash it off good before putting the bark in a large kettle of water and letting it boil until you could smell it all over the house.

The one particular time I really remember clearly making sassafras tea was when I was in my mid teens when we lived in the old Blessing house down on Nat's Creek.  It was cold and raining outside and I had a very bad cold (which will come into play later) and I decided to make me some sassafras tea.  I got on a coat and a cap and went to find the mattock from under the porch.  I carried it on the path out past the outhouse and down past the old barn and up the path beyond until I spotted a nice sized sassafras tree.

Now a nice sized sassafras tree was not very large.  You'd really just call it a sapling I guess.  So, I climbed up tthe bank through all the leaves (getting my pants legs completely soaked in the process) and started digging at the base of the tree.  I collected enough roots to make the tea and headed back home to clean the roots and peel the bark from them.

I peeled all the bark and put it in a large kettle of water and turned it on to let it boil for a while.  Once it had boiled and the water had changed color I got a teacup of it and let it cool until I could drink it and had a big sip.  YUCK!!!!  Worst stuff imaginiable!

I could not figure out what was wrong with it but I really wanted the tea so I got my coat and cap back on and grabbed the mattock again and headed back to the sassafras trees.  I was going to pick a different one and see if that worked out better.  When I got there I finally noticed the tree who's roots I'd been taking was not a sassafras tree but a sourwood (name was well deserved) tree growing just up the hill from it.  No wonder my tea tasted so bad.

That is where my bad cold came into play.  My nose was so stuffed I could not smell the difference between sassafras and sourwood when I was cutting the roots, peeling the bark and boiling it for tea.  The roots looked quite a bit alike so I had no idea until I took a drink.

Well, I found another sassafras that was growing alone and got some more roots.  I took them home and washed them, peeled them and boiled them just like before.  When they were boiled well I got another teacup of the tea and... it was the right stuff that time.   Very few things better when it's cold and wet and you're sick than a good, hot, mug of sassafras tea.

I've tried getting the bottles of sassafras at the grocery store and, while it tastes somewhat like "the real thing" one who has had the real stuff would never be confused.  I have not had any "real" sassafras tea in more years than I care to recall.  I don't think it grows here in South Carolina and I've lived here comming up on twenty six years now.  How long before I left Kentucky it was I do not remember.  A good while I'd think.  In fact the time I've spoken of may, indeed, have been the last time.

I know it could not have been very comfortable out in a cold rain digging up tree roots while having a very nasty cold just for some bark tea.  However, I cannot help but smile when looking back on it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Preston's Gap School

The first year I went to school (1960-1961) was at a one room school on Nat's Creek.  Actually, it was kind of in a gap between Nat's Creek and Patrick, Ky.  I don't remember how many kids attended that school but it was not a whole lot.  I had three or four cousins that were close to the same age whom I'm sure went there but I don't really remember anything about any of them.

This was while we lived at the Spring Knob forestry tower so my brother would drive me to my grandparents on Sunday evening and pick me up on Friday evening to take me back home.   During the week I lived with my grandparents.

Our teacher, Mrs. Cooper, lived in the little, log cabin where I was born.  Her husband would drive her down the creek past my grandfather's house.  I'm not sure how close he could get her to the school house as there were no roads that went there.  At least none that were passable by car.  There was an old road that went from my uncle Jerry's house up the hill past the school and down the Patrick side but it was impassable by car, as best as I can remember.

On the days my grandparents would allow me to go to school I would walk from their house to the school house.  I am not the greatest judge of distance but it was at the very least a mile.  It was down the path from my grandparent's house to the fork of the creek.  Generally I'd meet some cousins there and most mornings I walked along with the Ratliff boys so I was not going alone.

From the forks of the creek we  had to cross a small stream (no bridge) then down a path that went through an old barn and back to the road where it came out of the creek.  Then down past the old Blessing place (where I later lived as a teen) and across a field where my cousin Jerry Lee had soy beans planted every year.  Then we crossed the main creek on a 'foot log'.  That was just a tree that had been felled so it landed across the street.  I think someone had build some kind of hand rail on this one but I cannot recall for sure.

Then it was up the hill past the graveyard where my aunt Burnice was later buried and through a barbed wire fence and across a pasture then through a second fence, across the old road and up to the school house.  In the afternoon after school the whole procedure was reversed.

I said I did this when my grandparents allowed me to go to school.  They were very over protective of me.  If it rained, snowed, frosted, looked like it might rain or snow, I was not allowed to go to school.  So I missed quite a few days that year.  I'd spend them playing around my grandparent's house, climbing the apple trees and "skinning the cat" on the quince tree in the front yard.

"Skinning the Cat" is where you grab a tree limb that is over your head and bring your feet up over your head and put your legs through your arms and flip backward.  It seems so easy then and so impossible now.  There was an apple tree on each side of the house and I'd climb both of them every day.  And, I'd keep a weather eye out for the big, red rooster I hated and was deathly afraid of.  The day he got made into chicken and dumplings was a very happy day for me.

Back then we got report cards every month.  I bragged I was going to make straight "A's" the whole year.  Well, I almost made it.  I made all A's except one.  I got one B in effort.  I guess Mrs. Cooper had a sense of humor.

I loved the one room school and I still love the concept.  Of course, not for large classes, but for very small classes where first through eighth grades are in one room and are taught together.  I suppose it is very boring for the older kids but they got a lot of remedial teaching by having to listen to the younger kid's lessons.  And, we younger kids were exposed to a lot of learning by listening to the classes for the older students.  Even if we did not try a lot of that knowledge filtered into our brains.

Another reason I loved it was that first grade classes really bored me.  I much preferred to listen to the classes above me.  I remember when we were learning to tell time and it all seemed so simple to me but nobody else in first grade could understand it.  I just could not understand what was so difficult about it all.

And, we had two recesses and a lunch hour.  We'd play 'kick the can' and 'hide and seek' and every once in a while we'd all crawl through the fence to the pasture and have a game of baseball.  Glorious days.  Back when schools were fun.

The school was on top of the gap and had no well or other water supply so one of the older boys would be sent down the old road to my uncle Jerry's house to draw a bucket of water from their well and bring it back to the school.  I got to go with one of the boys from Patrick (I cannot even come close to remembering who) once and I marvelled at how he could carry that heavy bucket of water so easily.  There is a vast difference between six and fourteen years of age.

Mollett had fifth and part of sixth grades.  Mr Hummer had the rest of sixth.  Mr Delong had seventh and eighth grades and was principal.

When I got to West Van Lear school ceased to be much fun for a lot of reasons which I will not go into here.  It was nothing like Preston's Gap where all the students were in it together and everyone older took care of all the younger kids.  Maybe it was mostly because we were all related to some point.  Maybe it was just more country and we did not have any of those "city" attitudes.

I guess I enjoyed my one year at Preston's Gap one room school more than I enjoyed any other school year in my life.  Just one of those nostalgic things I look back on.  The way time robs us of our bad memories and leaves us with only the good may mean it was not nearly as great as I remember it.  But, in my mind, it was (and still is) great.

Monday, April 2, 2012


I love having birds around.  Not parrots or parakeets but real, wild birds.  What got me to thinking of this is today the microwave repairman came and when I opened the front door to let  him in he pointed out to  me a bird nest with four, beautiful, speckled eggs in it and mentioned mama bird had flown away when he approached the door.

That has brought back so many memories of when I was a small child and lived with or visited my grandparent's house down on Nat's Creek, Ky.  On the front porch on one side of the door was my grandfather's rocking chair and on the other side was the porch swing.  There on the front of the porch were four posts holding the roof up and between those posts were two troughs like a window box planter.  Only there were no plants.  They were there for Poppy's birds.   Every day Granny would have to make extra biscuits or corn bread when she cooked just for Poppy to put in those thoughs for his bids.

I can remember him coming out with a bunch of bread and calling, 'Pee, pee, pee, pee' and the birds would come flocking around from all directions.  He'd scatter the bread in those boxes and the birds would congregate and have a feast with no apparent fear.  He also had a lard bucket lid nailed to (horizontally like a shelf) to the big tree on the edge of the bank in the front yard.  He'd put bread on that as well and the birds would flock around until every last scrap was gone.

That did not really awe me then as it was something I was used to but is sure awes me now.  I really wish I could do that.  Call birds to me and have them gather around to eat with no fear.  I love having wild things around me.  I guess that is a product of my childhood in the country.  My wife is a city girl and she just does not understand my love for having "critters" around.  At one time she had a hanging basket fern on the front porch and each spring birds would build a nest there.  Each time we'd come out the front door the bird(s) would flash out of that fern and she'd jump like she'd been shot.  Finally she just took that fern down and we don't have any hanging plant our there.  Have not had any birds make a home on our porch in years.

Now one has.  It has made a nest in the wreath my wife had placed on our front door.  I've told her she just has to use the garage door to go in and out as I don't want my birds messed with.  I can't explain why it means so much to me but I feel so much better just knowing they are out there.  I want to put up a bird feeder on the porch so mama will not have to go so far in search of food.

Isn't it amazing something that happened over a half century ago has such an impact on me today.  I wish I could get some photos of her/them.  I wish I could call them to me and spread bread out for them and all their friends.  Is this just a sign of getting old?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Watching Andy Griffith

I was born in Kentucky.  I started listening to UK basketball games when I was around nine or ten years old on and old radio that had been converted from batter to regular electricity.  When I was growing up and UK was on TV we would all watch the game but we would turn the sound off and listen to Cawood Ledford calling the game on the radio.

We did not see a lot of the games live but they were replayed on a delayed basis at 11:30 PM.  On game nights I never got to bed before 1:30 AM.  And I listened to Cawood call the game live first.  I'll tell you, Cawood was no 'homer'.  I'd watch the delayed telecast and not recognize the game except for the score.  Cawood was hard on "our boys" even if he was paid by UK.

Then when the VCR came along I'd listen to Cawood live, watch (and record) the game at 11:30 then watch it every day on the VCR until the next game came on.  You might say I was a UK fan.  I'd never miss a second of a UK basketball game if I could help it.

That all changed in the 1978 NCAA tournament against Duke.  Early in the game Duke was delivering a good butt kicking to my beloved Cats.  I could not stand to watch that (especially because it was Duke) so I flipped channels until I came to an old Andy Griffith show. 

I'd flip back to the game to check the score and UK would be closing the gap.  Until I started watching the game then Duke would pull away again so I'd go back to watching Andy.  This was repeated and the longer I watched Andy the closer  UK got.    Eventually, UK won and whenever UK has been behind since I've always switched channels and preferably to Andy Griffith reruns.  I'm firmly convinced I'm a UK Jinx.  As long as I don't watch the game they will win but as soon as I tune in they start screwing up and I go back looking for Andy so the Cats will win.

Tomorrow is the NCAA finals.  My Cats are one of the teams.  I'd love to be watching them kick some Jayhawk butt but I'll be looking for Andy Griffith reruns so the Cats will win.  I'll sacrifice my pleasure in watching the Cats  so I won't Jinx them.  I hope everyone appreciates my sacrifice in this.


Rabbits, maybe.

When I was young I was a carnivore, pure and simple.  I hated most things that were not meat.  Well, my mother's biscuits and vanilla custard pies were an exception.  But, a meal without a lot of meat was a meal I did not want to eat.

Now, I'm getting older and I have a lot of medical problems.  And, now, I'm completely losing my "meat love".  When I was younger I was an avid hunter.  That changed back in 1984.  I went squirrel hunting on the land of the family of one of my classmates in the Computer class at Mayo State Vocational and Technical School at Paintsville, Ky.  I killed one squirrel that day  but did  not even clean it and cook it.  That is the last time I've gone hunting.   Nothing overly moral as I have no problems with eating squirrels (rabbits, deer, etc) someone else has killed.  I just lost my own ability to kill animals.

Since then all my meat has been "store bought" or provided my my family on my rare trips "home".  Though, right now I'd "kill" for some squirrel (especially the heads), squirrel gravy and home made biscuits, I doubt I could kill the squirrels myself.

When we are  young we do not understand (or even consider) all the changes we will experience in our lives should we manage to live long enough to experience them.  I think my food love changes are more to do with my medical conditions than anything else.  Just, now, I can barely stomach most meats.  From the guy who used to eat TWO Wendy's triples with cheese (all the way) to the guy who now can barely even eat a hamburger (with all the vegetables one can pack on it) is a big change.  It did not happen over night but it has happened.

I trust if someone else provided the squirrels I could devour them made with gravy and biscuits.  And, in that same category is rabbits.  In my life I've killed a lot of rabbits.  And if the gunshot did not finish them then a grab of the hind legs and a "karate chop" to the back of the neck would.  Easy to skin and easy to cook.  I think I may prefer squirrel over all but rabbit is quite good.  I like it both fried and stewed with gravy made over it.  It may be close to twenty years since I've had squirrel but it is probably forty since I've had a rabbit.

We have a local meat market near where I live that is quite nice.  Once when I was in there I saw a box labeled "rabbit" and I grabbed one.  When I saw t he price was over $36.00 I put it right back.  Nostalgia is good but not that good.  Still, in my memory, I love rabbits.  I've been looking on line for places to buy them and I finally found one place that sells them for a reasonable price. 

With all my medical bills I've not been able to afford the extra expense to buy some and try them out.  But if I ever get a month where doctors are not taking my every spare penny I'm going to order some rabbits.  I know I'll be the one cooking them as my wife has no clue about game meat.  But, I wonder, if my changing tastes will make my fond memories a lie and today's reality is that I cannot eat them.

I hate wasting food.  I especially hate wasting food some animal had perished to provide.  Maybe I should just stick to pasta.