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Monday, July 23, 2012

One More Spring Knob Tower Story

When we lived at Spring Know Tower I was from four to seven years old.  That would make my older brother from sixteen to nineteen years old.   For such a short time there were a lot of things happened there I recall.

This one is about a Cardinal (Red Bird) which kept flying into the window.  It happened for days at a time until my Dad who believed that shooting something was the answer to everything decided to kill it.  I was horrified.  I could not understand how anyone would just shoot a little bird.  My mother tried to explain it to me but I just could not understand.

Did not really matter as my Dad shot it anyhow no matter how much I cried and begged.  Crying and begging never had much influence on my parents.  They knew what they knew and what I thought or felt made damned all difference to either of them.

Nothing special I suppose but I still remember it pretty clearly something like fifty-four years later.  Then, I remember a lot about those few years spent there.   It was a place and time built for memories.  Sometimes I wish I could go back there but it is gone now.  I have been back as close as it is possible to come but strip mining has taken the top hundred or more feet from the top of the hill and where the house and tower were are gone.  I guess those few tons of coal were worth all my memories.  At least they were to someone.

Poppy Gap

My maternal grandfather was born and died withing five miles of each other.  I don't know where all they lived except for two places.  They lived on the "main" fork of Nat's Creek when I was a kid and they lived on top of a hill in a gap between the Levisa fork of the Big Sandy River and Rush Fork of Nat's Creek when my mother was born.

Places in Eastern Ky were known by the name of the people who lived there.  I don't know what other people called it but it was always the "Poppy Gap" to members of my family.  It was just down the river from the Tom Price gap. 

An old foot path ran between the two and through and old grave yard and through some dead fruit trees.  When they strip mined that area the strip mine ended just short of the Poppy Gap so it was still there.

Not a lot left to indicate habitation.  A large stone which was the front step to the house and a caved in depression behind it which was the cellar.  There was a row of dead fruit trees along the path and a huge persimmon tree there by the cellar.  I used to sit there, leaning back against the persimmon tree with my shotgun waiting for an unlucky squirrel to wander along.  That rarely happened but I did get to eat a lot of persimmons.

I always wonder where they got their water.  I know they raised gardens and it must have been there where large trees now grow.  I do know that I used to hunt up Mill Branch (across Nat's Creek from where I was born) and there were rows and rows of stacked rocks where people took rocks from their fields and stacked them out of the way.  But, when I was there those stacks of rocks were just there between large trees.  How many years ago the people farmed those hill sides I don't know.

I've heard it was common in those times when a person would be born and die within twenty miles of the same place.  That is difficult to imagine now.  I was born withing a quarter of a mile up Nat's Creek from my grandparents but I live a good four hundred plus miles away from there now and, really, have no desire to go back.  My brother loves those old places and will die withing several miles of where our grandfather was born and died.  I find nothing "home-like" there.  It is hot and humid in the summer and dark, dead and drear in the winter.  One must drive miles to get anywhere.  I am spoiled here in central SC.  I drive five minutes and have anything I want.   I live in a diverse community and cannot imagine living again in a place where everybody looks the same and thinks the same.

I know I am not able and I know I'll never see it again but I'd love to go back to the Poppy Gap and sit again under that huge persimmon tree and just imagine back to the tales I've heard from my family about how it was to live there.   But, life goes on and there are times when time passes us by and the past is something we can no longer get in touch with except in our minds. 

I wish I could take my grand children there and show them where and how their great, great grandparents lived.  I doubt they could understand.  I'm sure they could not even understand how their grandparents lived as both are about the same.  And, I don't know if that is something lost or something gained. 

I suppose my grand kids are much better off for the civilization they have been raised in.  Yet, there is a part of me that wishes they could move to the Poppy Gap and survive living on their own and foraging from the land for food and shelter.  The way things are going in this world it may soon come a day when those people who can do that will be the only people who will survive.

Poppy Gap is just a low place in the hills between the river and Nat's Creek but it means so much to me I cannot explain it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Row of Peach Trees

When I was growing up there were generally several fruit trees around.  My grandparents had two apple trees in the yard and when we lived at West Van Lear there was a large June Apple tree which dropped hordes of apples on the road.  I'd always take the long way around home to grab a few of those.  I'd so love to have some June apples again.

When we lived in the old Blessing place on Nat's Creek there was an apple tree at the lower end of the garden as well as a huge pear tree in the garden right by the kitchen door to the house.  I ate tons and tons of pears every year.

My grandparents also had Chinese Chestnut trees.  I don't think those are really a fruit but I'm not sure what they would be classified.  Maybe a nut as they most certainly are not a berry. 

But, the fruit trees I most recall were a line of small peach trees growing in a line down the little rise between the house/road and garden when we lived at Spring Know tower.  I recall them not so much due to them producing many peaches but for one spring when the peach trees were loaded with small peaches it came a bad storm.

It was an ice or sleet storm.  I guess it was probably sleet.  Either way all the limbs, leaves and baby peaches were covered with a coating of ice with icicles hanging from all the branches.  Everybody thought all the peaches were ruined for the year but in the end we had the best crop of peaches I remember coming from those trees.

Makes we want some peaches now.  Never really cared for canned peaches but I do love fresh ones.  Not those rock-hard ones one gets at the grocery store but large, soft, ripe peaches fresh from the tree.  I've not been able to go to the local farmer's market this year due to my leg but I bet it won't be long before we have some great, local peaches there.

Past Lives

Some people believe in reincarnation and/or transmigration of the soul.  I'm not sure what I believe in regards to that but there have been some mighty peculiar things happen where small children remember past lives.

I, myself, do not remember any past life but I have thought of some things dealing with karma and past lives that make me believe there are a few things about past incarnations I may have lived.  Mostly it has to do with fears.  Most everyone fears death and it does not matter much how it comes.  Me, I want to go to sleep and just not wake up.  Either that or barbiturates and alcohol.

The first thing I believe I was in a past life was a sailor.  Not just a sailor but a sailor who drowned.  I have this horrible, morbid fear of drowning.  Drowning frightens me more than death it self.  My father and my brother were both in the Navy.  When I joined the military I joined the Army.  You could not have PAID me to join the navy.  I can't swim and I'm deathly afraid of deep water.  If you're drowning and I'm right there don't wait for me to jump into water over my head as that is not happening.

My second great fear is hanging.  If I'm ever found hanged don't let the cops put it down to suicide.  I would NEVER hang myself.  Barbiturates and alcohol, maybe, but hanging... NEVER.  I must have been a murderer or horse thief or something which resulted in hanging.  When a movie comes on which has a hanging scene I have to leave the room.    In fact, executions in general bother me.  Now don't mistake it as I'm not opposed to capital punishment for there are human animals who just need to be put down.  I find no good reason to use my tax dollars to give them room, board, medical care, color tv's etc while I'm working my butt off to provide a home and food for a family.  Fry'em.  But I just cannot help imagining being on death row and knowing that one date on the calendar is the end.  Must be horrible.

The third thing I figure is I must have really treated women badly.  Lord, if that is the case, I have surely paid for that by now.  Enough is enough.  Its not that I've been particularly exemplary in this life time but...  Just how much do you want from me?  :-)

That brings me to the prospect of a next life and what I'd love to be in that.  I guess it depends on whether or not our civilization has been destroyed or has continued to grow and advance.  If it has grown and advanced I'd want to be on the crew of a star ship.  Really, I'd prefer to own my own star ship and see all the wonders of the universe.

Second, I'd love to go to a world where magic is real and be a powerful (the most powerful :-) Hey, dream big) wizard.  Not so much for the pure power but I'd love to be a teacher who was able to help people advance in medicine and hygiene and things like that to help avoid those useless deaths that always are happening in a primitive society.

And last, I'd want to be rich beyond dreams of avarice so I could do precisely what I want without thinking of expense or other hurdles.  Throw enough money at any hurdle and it becomes a minor bump on the road your Caddy won't even notice as it rolls on.

Lives, past and future... I wonder if they exist or if this is all there is and it is like Tony Soprano said about dying, "Everything just goes blank".  I tend to think that is the truth of it.  Still, there are a lot of things that have happened that are not explained by that view.   Guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Digging Tunnels

I was just reading a news story on where a twelve year-old boy was digging a tunnel in the sand with his brother and the tunnel collapsed and killed him.  That resonates with me though I've never dug a tunnel anywhere.  However I do have many fears of being stuck in a  narrow place with water gradually rising up until I drown.  I suppose that comes from reading where an escaped convict was trying to crawl through a culvert and got stuck just before it came a hard rain.

It also had to do with the story of my father digging his way under an out building when he was a kid.  He said he dug under it and pushed the dirt back behind him until he could not go forward anymore.  Unfortunately, he could not go backward either.  In the end adults had to take up the floor of the out building to get him out.  Talk about something causing claustrophobia.

Then my older brother told me he had dug a tunnel in the side of the creek bank up Nat's Creek from the Wash Rock.  It never caved in on him but I always think how likely it could have.

Then I have horrible fears of falling down a well head first and not being able to turn where my head is up and drowning like that.  Claustrophobia.  I've got it.  I don't like being in tightly enclosed spaces.  That has to be the most helpless feeling in the world. 

Maybe that is why I could never consider being a "deem miner" in the coal mines.  My best friend from high school and I were both called to work at the White Ash coal mine not long after graduation.  He drove us to the mine site and we both got out of the car and stood looking at that hole in the ground.  Then we just looked at each other and got back in the car and drove away.

That is the mine my brother worked in for some time.  He was an electrician and he worked about three miles back under the the hill on his stomach all day.  Lots of things I've done in my life I regret but leaving that hole in the ground is not one of them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Who Am I?

I have always said, "Who we are today is the sum total of who we have been all of our yesterdays".  That is, perhaps, a little simplistic.  Who our parents and the grandparents we knew has to figure into the equation. 

My grandfather, Leo VanHoose was born sometime around 1882.  That is right, my grandfather.  Comes of being born of very much 'older' parents.  Poppy died in 1969 at age 87.  Do the math.  My grandmother was  Victoria DeBoard and was ten years younger than he and lived to be nearly (or over) 100 so she would have to have been born around 1892.  And this was in Southeastern Kentucky.  Pretty isolated so their experience does not translate to others of that time period who were not living so far back in the sticks.

My Dad was Willie VanHoose and wasborn in 1902.  When he had just turned 19 he participated in "The Battle of Blair Mountain" (look it up) in West Virginia as mine owners fought to stop miners from joining a union.  At age 22 he joined the Navy and stayed until 1952 when he retired after 30 years and made the mistake that produced me in late 1953.

My mother was Stella VanHoose and was ten years younger than my Dad and was 41 when I was born.  I always loved my grandparents and never cared much for my parents which is odd I guess since my parents were first cousins. (My paternal and maternal grandfathers were brothers).  Yes, yes, I know... Kentucky, marrying cousins, etc.  Still it happened and I'm one of the results.

So, I grew up in the sticks hearing stories from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  People born in a more civilized place and time cannot possibly imagine the way things were then.  And when I was growing up it was much better for me than it had been for my parents and, I guess, my parents had it better than their own parents.

My Dad only made it part of the way through fourth grade and my mother only part of the way through the third grade.  My brother and sister both dropped out of school so I was the first of my family to finish high school.  I would have loved to be the first to have finished college but that was not in the cards.  I heartily regret it daily, though.

For the first few years of my life and during my teens I lived in a place where everyone withing miles was one of my relatives.  It was kind of an enclave.  At one time my Dad owned a good bit of the country and gradually sold it off for nothing to cousins needing a place to build.  By the time I was an adult there was nothing at all left.  He gave my grandmother the last 27 acres so she could give it to her daughter to take care of her.  I find that believable as I never did care much for that aunt anyhow.

Now we're getting to the age where all the older generation is gone and the younger generation of cousins are starting to go.  I'm glad I don't live near enough to them to go to all the services as I hate funerals. 

Anyway, that is a short background of how my childhood was and why it was as it was.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Childhood Food

These days I'm getting to where I must be very picky with my food.  I have gotten through the past few years where I cannot even stand the aroma of cooked meat or of meat cooking.  When I was young I was a carnivore pure and simple.  If an animal did not die for it I did not want to eat it.  Bacon then, as now, was my favorite.  And, oddly enough, bacon still does not make me sick.  I'm thankful for small favors.

I was born and raised in a rural setting where you either ate from a garden, animals you raised or animals you hunted and killed along with a few staples from the store such as flower and corn meal.  I not only grew up eating these foods but helping my mother cook them.  Had I the proper ingredients at hand I could still whip up a mean meal of those old time favorites.

I learned to cook from my mother and I never learned to use a recipe.  My mother would tell me to add "ingredient x" and I'd ask her how much to put in.  She'd just tell me to "add it 'til your conscience is clear".  The most precise measurement I can remember was a pinch and below that was a 'skosh'.  Call it half a pinch.  As I got older I learned more units of measurement from my brother in construction type measurements.  I will not specify them here as they are definitely rated at least an 'R'.

There are some things I grew up eating that are quickly being forgotten in this age of processed meats and the "pet-i-zation" of certain food animals.  Let me tell you, the best day(s) of the year were day(s) after a 'hog killing'.  Man, if you have never eaten fresh pork tenderloin, or pork chops or bacon the day after it was walking around on the hog you have missed something.  Fresh pork does not taste anything like that insipid stuff you bring home from the store.

Wake up the morning after a hog killing and you had fried eggs, gravy, red-eye gravy(from fresh ham), biscuits and fresh fried pork tenderloin, pork chops and bacon along with your home made jams, jellies, molasses and honey.  Best meals of the year every year.

Another big difference was the fat content of the meat.  We are deliberately breeding the fat out of hogs now because fat is a 'bad' thing.  Forty-five years ago fat was a very GOOD thing.  All  the fat in the meat added flavor.  All the extra fat was cut off and cut in cubes and put in an old cast iron kettle and put over a fire and rendered out to lard and put in old 25lb or 50lb tin cans and put in the cellar for later  use.  Hog fat was put in everything for cooking.  Beans, green beans, turnips, biscuits, whatever.  And the left over from the rendering was called cracklings.  They'd be put in a gallon glass jar and we'd pull them out and put salt on them and eat them like candy.  Toss a handful into your con bread mix and you have cracklin' bread.  Soooo good.

I've already talked about the garden grown things and canning but there was also the wild game.  When I grew up, 'hunting season' was not even a suggestion.  We knew it existed but hunger took precedence to rules.  I grew up on squirrels for breakfast dinner and supper.  And, yes Virginia, dinner is the meal you eat in the middle of the day and supper is the end of day meal.  I do not know when or where lunch became the mid-day meal and dinner the evening meal but it was surely not such when I was growing up or in the many years before that.

Squirrel, squirrel gravy and home-made biscuits for breakfast was not to be beaten.  Dad would go hunting and bring home the squirrels.  Mother would skin them and cut them up and put them in a gallon glass jar and put salt water in on them to "draw out the blood" then cook them the next morning.

My favorite part of the squirrel was the head.  Some people would not clean the head as they were difficult and I'd like to kick their a$$ for that.  Not only wasteful but it was the best part.  Cook it up good and the little cheeks were really good but the tongue was great and the best part was the brain.  Perfect package, too.  Just hook two fingers in the eye sockets and pull back the top of the skull and suck the brain out whole.  Double YUMMY!!!  I would kill for a good kettle  of squirrel heads right now.

We also had rabbits, grouse, pheasant, quail, groundhogs and I even chased down a chipmunk once and Dad killed it and cleaned it and my mother fried it for me.  Good training for a little, future Nimrod.

I enjoyed hunting when I was growing up.  Nothing like being out in the woods before sunrise and sitting, listening for the tell-tale "swoosh" of a squirrel jumping from tree to tree or the sound of hickory nut cuttings falling like a light rain as daylight gradually revealed the surrounding trees.  No time like that now as everybody has no trespassing signs up so hunting is limited.

I loved it until around 1984 fall.  I went out and killed one squirrel and just sat and looked at it and did not even take it home and clean it.  Never hunted again.  I lost all ability to kill anything that 28 years ago.  I'm not hypocrite enough to say it is wrong because I have NO problem with eating anything someone else shoots.  I just could no longer do it for myself.  And, as little as I can stand meat these days, I'd kill for a good mess of squirrel, squirrel gravy and biscuits.