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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I once read a short story about a man who made a deal with the Devil.  We all know how those stories turn out.  The Devil gives us what we ask for but in such a way as we are left completely unsatisfied and still forfeit our souls.  This particular story was about a geologist whom the Devil offered to give anything he wanted in exchange for his soul.  Pretty typical beginning.  What do you wish for that the Devil cannot turn into something completely unsatisfying yet sticking to the letter of the agreement?

I've read a lot of those stories but this one was different.  The scientist did not wish for wealth, fame, women or anything one would normally think of.  He wished to be able to visit every planet and moon in the entire universe, be able to transform his body into one who could live in any condition and to spend as much time as he wished on each planet.  That is probably close to what I would wish for in the same circumstances.

We all have dreams, fantasies and such we know will never happen but we like to think of those things in the dark hours when we cannot sleep.  I dream of being abducted by aliens though they would not need to abduct me as I'd go alone quite willingly.  I want to see the stars from space.  I want to visit other worlds both in our solar system and in all the other solar systems out there.  Not just in this one galaxy but in all the billions of galaxies in the universe.

I want to be an explorer or a trader who wanders from place to place in the Universe seeing worlds beyond imagining.  I can't think of anyone who has a mind filled with curiosity who would not love that. 

We're discovering extra-solar planets nearly every day now but have yet to discover one that is earth like though mostly that is due to the limits of our instruments rather than a dearth of earth like planets out there.  I wish I could live to see that discovery.  I wish I could live to seem human kind step out of the cradle of this one planet and take over the rest of the solar system and then march on to the stars. 

I wonder if that is why some people, when they grow old, are ready to die?  Have they just lost their dreams or even their ability to dream?  I'm getting older and my health is failing but I'm not ready to die and I'll never be ready to die because I have not stopped dreaming.  There is always something in tomorrow to look forward to, something to dream about, something to wonder about.  I feel sorry for those who's life becomes so boring that one is ready to leave it.  I can't do that.  I want to see what happens tomorrow, next century, next Millennium, next forever.  And I dream about all the different possibilities that might or might not come to pass.

I think as long as a person has a dream and has the ability to dream that life will never grow old and tired and have one ready to "lay down their burdens".  Life is just too interesting and filled with too many wondrous things and, once we get "out there" what wondrous things we cannot even dream about will we find?

In a way I think one's dreams are the most important things one has. 


When I was a young lad I was quite afraid of the dark.  Being told there was nothing there in the dark that was not there in the light accomplished nothing at all when it come to easing my fears.  I hated the night and I hated the darkness.  In my young mind there could be anything there and I'd never see it until it "got me".

This fear of the dark lasted until I was in my mid teens.  We moved back to Nat's Creek when I was thirteen so my mother could help take care of my grandfather.  I had a twenty one mile school bus ride to and from school and when the winter came I had to be at the bus stop well before daylight.  The bus stop was about a quarter to a half mile from my house up a lonely, dirt road and the place I had to wait for the bus was next to the hill where an large, old graveyard was.

It was not too bad for the first couple of years as my cousin Helen (who lived farther down the creek) would be there with me.  But, her family moved to another part of the creek and that left me to take that long walk alone and stand there in the dark by the graveyard waiting for the bus.  It was not a lot of fun.  For a while at least.

But, by the time I graduated from High School my attitude toward darkness had changed completely.  Then, as now, I came to love the darkness.  I found then and find now a peace in the darkness that is not there in the light.    Darkness comforts me.  I wish I did not live in (or near) a city.  I wish I could see the stars in the night without them being dimmed by the ambient light that tries to  hide their glory.  Back in Kentucky there was very little artificial light at night and the stars were so glorious.  I would always find Orion's Belt.  Those three stars so closely aligned fascinated me.  I guess they still would should I get out much at night and not live where there is so much light one cannot get a good look at the heavens.

I find it interesting the three great pyramids on the Giza Plateau in Egypt are aligned in a perfect mirror of the stars in Orion's Belt.  I wonder what they thought of the stars when they looked at the night sky over the desert?


I love berries of all kinds.  I like to just eat them straight off the vine or from a bowl with milk and sugar.  Berries always remind me of spring and summer time in Kentucky.  I guess the first berries I remember are raspberries.  My grandparents had a raspberry patch between the path leading past the barn and chicken house and the little creek.  I was rarely allowed in it due to the presence of snakes so my grandmother would pick the berries and put them in the refrigerator. 

Berries with milk and sugar were and are one of the best things in the world.  Then there were huckleberries.  Huckleberries are like very small blue berries and have a similar flavor.  They grew on the very tops of the hills and, unfortunately, most of the hill tops are gone now taking the huckleberries with them.  My brother and I went to see the "Mary Jane Cave" some years ago and found a small patch of huckleberry vines on the top of the ridge there.  They were the first I had seen in decades.

It used to be a way for local kids to make some spending money.  They would go pick buckets full of huckleberries and sell them to adults to eat or make jams and jellies out of.  I believe they would have made good pies and cobblers but I don't remember ever having had one.

Then there were mulberries.  A mulberry grows on a tree and not a vine.  They are long like a small finger and are a deep black or purple color when ripe.  I loved to eat mulberries though most people did not pay them much mind except the squirrels loved to eat them as well so finding a good mulberry tree could lead to a good mess of squirrels for supper.  There used to be a small mulberry tree out past the garden from where my sister and brother-in-law lived in the old Collins' house.  I think it must have gotten cut down when they moved their trailer in that area as I don't recall it after that. 

Next were blackberries and dewberries.  They looked the same but the blackberries grew on talk briers and the dewberries grew on a vine close to the ground and were a lot sweeter.  They were also very rare.  In fact the only dewberry vine I knew of grew on the edge of the path from the road to my grandparent's house.  I watched that vine like a hawk every  year to make sure I got all the berries it produced which might be a half dozen.

Blackberries were more plentiful but not overwhelming until after the strip mines cleared off vast patches of land.  Birds would eat the blackberries and drop the seeds all over and soon there were vast tracks of blackberries growing on every old strip mine.  Nothing better than a good blackberry cobbler hot from the oven with ice cold sweet milk poured over it.

Then there was strawberries.  Wild ones as well as farmed ones.  There was a strawberry farm over in Martin County where we went a few times to pick strawberries.  And, there was a small patch of wild strawberries on the hill just past the graveyard where Skip Boyd build his house in later years.  Wild strawberries and the ones you get from the supermarket are not even close to being alike.  The wild ones are quite small and bursting with flavor.  Those tiny berries packed more berry taste than a hand full of store bought big strawberries ever could.

The last of the local berries I remember are goose berries.  Walter Osborne had some goose berry plants down across the road from his house.  Mother would get permission from him for us to pick them and we'd spend hours there picking berries.  I remember the bushes were well over my head.  The berries were large and green in color and tasted really nice.  That was over forty years ago.  I wonder if those bushes are still there. 

There is one more that I don't really know if it is a berry or a fruit.  I suspect it is a fruit as the seeds are on the inside.  We called them 'ground cherries'.  They grew in the fall in the gardens after all the crops were gone.  They were about the size of marbles and were inside a papery cover similar to that of a tomatillo.  They were yellow in color and had a good flavor.  Bunches of them grew where my mother had melons planted. 

I once bought some tomatillos thinking they would be like those ground cherries and was quite disappointed to find they are more like green tomatoes.  I guess it was the paper-like covering they are in that fooled me.

Berries of all kinds were a big part of my childhood and teen years.  Today I still love them though I don't eat them like I once would have.  My body has changed as well as my tastes and even ability to taste.  I guess even the taste buds get old and worn out as one gets older so food is kind of bland and nothing is like it was in memory.

Oh, I almost forgot Elderberries.  They grew on a small tree in large clusters of tiny berries colored like blueberries or even more towards black than blue.  There was a big elderberry tree (or bush) that grew about half way between my grandparents and our houses and I'd keep an eye on it every spring and raid it daily as long as there were berries to be had.  Had to be quick to beat the birds to them.

Then there were polk berries.  These were not edible and grew on the mature polk plants.  Young polk was used as an eating green during the spring.  Later in the year as the plants matured they would have long pods of blue berries on them.  They were not good to eat but they were fun to throw at things as they left a very bright stain on anything they came in contact with.   It was kind of like a precursor to paint ball when we would have wars with polk berries.

I still enjoy berries though I don't eat them as eagerly as I once did.  They just have so many antitoxicants and other good stuff one needs in one's diet and the flavors are still great.  About all that is left is to buy them from the store and they only have blackberries, raspberries and strawberries and they are all very expensive.  One certainly has to limit one's berry indulgences lest one break the bank.

Late Spring and early Summer was berry time in Eastern Kentucky and was one of my favorite times of the year. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Pies and Cobblers

I have often wondered what the actual difference is between a pie and a cobbler.  Well, at least the fruit kind.  There just seems to be dome fruit relegated to one or the other.  I wonder what the reasoning is.  We have blackberry cobbler but rarely ever a blackberry pie.  We have a  strawberry pie but very rarely a strawberry cobbler.  They are so similar, though.  They are both just a concoction of fruit in a pan surrounded by pie crust.

I guess the only ones I can think of that are good for both cobblers and pies are apple and peach.  I don't know what the reason is and I cannot explain the difference but I like cobblers better than I like pies and I love pies.

I guess you can tell I've been watching a lot of pie making shows on the food networks. As well, my youngest just made a vanilla custard pie.  (My personal all time favorite).  It has just been a good week to think about pies and pie making.

Maybe, one thing that differentiates pies and cobblers for me is what one eats with them.  Pies demand vanilla ice cream while cobblers demand cold, sweet milk.  At least for me it does.  And, most especially blackberry cobbler. 

My wife does not like to make them at home because we just eat them with no restraint at all but every once in a while I do prevail on her to make me a good, blackberry cobbler.  Hot cobbler and cold, sweet milk... yum.

All of this has been making me want to make a pie at home.  I guess I'd try out an apple pie.  I have made many a pie crust in my day but, today, I'd just buy one at the grocery.  Most of them are just as good as the homemade ones.  I may have to break down and do that instead of bread one weekend soon.

Pies and cobblers are so much better than candy or cakes.  At least, I think so.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Just Some Racial Observations

I grew up in a time and place where I never heard of a black man or woman ever referred to as other than the "N" word.  In fact both Brazil nuts and a type of candy, which I should know but cant remember, were both referred to as "nigger toes".

Being a fairly logical person even as a child I knew that if there were "nigger toes" there must be "niggers" to have them.  So, one day, out in the garden behind the outhouse I asked my grandfather what a "nigger" was.  Seemed pretty logical to me.

My grandfather said it referred to people who were not "white" but they did not like to be called that and I should always refer to them as "Colored People".  That sounds OK to me but just what does it matter if you call someone a "colored person" but you're thinking "nigger"?    Hey, I was maybe four years old but I was not stupid.

Being raised in rural, southeastern Kentucky I never heard a black person referred to as anything other than the "N" word.  Even by my parents who both claimed to not be prejudiced.  Makes me wonder why I'm not racially biased.  I guess it is because I never had the opportunity of seeing my parents being hypocrites.  They both always told me a person should be judged on his or her actions and not on his or her appearance.  There were no black, Hispanic or other minority around where I grew up so I just had their word for it and, at that time, you believed whatever your parents told you even when it was diametrically opposed.  So, I grew up really believing in the proposition that all men were created equal.  For that I am thankful.

I, personally, never knew anyone who was not Lilly white until I was around twenty five and moved to Florida.  I worked at a garbage company that was completely segregated.  All the mechanics and welders (I was a welder) were white and all the drivers and "can throwers" were black.  I guess I was just naive but I did not see that discrepancy at the time.  Most of the mechanics hated the drivers and did not respect them at all.  I never had a problem with any of them.  They turned in tickets and I fixed their trucks so they could run tomorrow. 

There was one driver who's name was Stan who comes to mind.  He was a good driver and rarely had problems with his truck.  He and I got along really well.  I did not think anything about it other than he was a nice guy.

Our shop was on Lantana Road about a half mile before it intersected with route 441.  On the corner there there was a small selection of businesses.  There was a small store (run by a white man) and a bar/liquor store and a (less than five star) motel as well as a little restaurant.  I used to go to the restaurant at lunch and get ox tail and rice and .... some other stuff...  I was always the only white person in there.

After work I'd go to the bar and buy some vodka.  That bar was a long, very narrow place where you barely had room to walk behind the people on the stools without hugging the wall.  I remember walking in there one evening after work and Stan has some other black man in a head lock and talking trash to him.  When I came in he swung the other man out of my way and I said, "Hi Stan" and he nodded.  I got my bottle and when I was leaving Stan was still giving that other guy hell and he swung him out of my way again so I could leave the place.

You know, it is a big piece of commons sense, but if you treat people with respect they will treat you with respect.  No matter where it is or what you're doing and I've been in some pretty shady places at one time or another.  Still, I've never found a place where I was that if I treated everyone with respect that they would treat me differently.  Maybe that is a revelation and maybe it isn't but it sure will never hurt to treat all other people with respect and demand that you are treated the same.

I wonder about Stan from time to time and wonder what ever became of him.  I got laid off and came back to Kentucky for various reasons (mostly political) and have no idea what happened to him or any of the other drivers. 

And I'd rather know that than what happened to most of the stupid SOB's I worked with on the "white side" and one in particular who is only alive because I did not believe the satisfaction I would get from killing him was worth spending the rest of my life in jail for.    And, should I ever get the word I have "X" amount of time to  live I'll spend that time looking him up and making sure he precedes me to judgement... whatever that may be.

They say forgive and forget... A VanHoose neither forgives or forgets and the only time we give up a grudge is when they start shovelling dirt on our face.  And then I'm not 100% sure.