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Friday, March 30, 2012

Songs to Live By

I've always loved music.  When I was younger I did not care so much about Bluegrass or (real as opposed to 'the new' Country) though I have come to love it later in life.  My early days were more top 40.  We had one station we could get that was a top 40 station.  WKEY from Huntington, WV.  I listened to them constantly.  When I was not in school I'd nap in the back bedroom between radio broadcasts of the top 40.  I saved my money to buy "Hit Parader" magazine every week and I'd memorize the lyrics to all the top 40 songs of the week.  Forty years later I still know a lot of them.

Some of them made a real mark on me.  I only had radio so I never knew which groups were white and which were black.  I always thought "Chicago" was  a black group.  Wrong.  I always thought Dobie Grey was white.  Wrong.  Isn't is amazing at what you can think when there is no visual evidence?  That should make you think.

One of my favorite songs during that period was "Brother Louie".  Can't recall who did the song but I can remember a lot of the lyrics:  "She was black as the night, Louie was whiter than white, there's a danger when you taste brown sugar, Louie fell in love over night".

Another was "Living in the Love of the Common People":  "It's a good thing you don't have bus fare, You'd lose it through the hole in your pocket, in the snow on the ground, Walking to town, trying to find a job.  Listen at little sister, crying 'cause she doesn't have a dress without a patch, for the party to go"...  It was just music but it opened up a world for me that I could not live in or really understand at the time.  Skin color was meaningless.  It was all about the words and the music.  And, the new thoughts those words and music put in your mind if you were willing to listen to it and think about it.

There have been so many songs in my life that have special meaning I cannot even begin to recall or state them all.  I think the first one was, "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who.  "But my dreams are not as empty, as my conscience seems to be".  Then Bob Seger with "Against the Wind":  "I'm older now but I'm still running against the wind".  Kansas doing "Dust in the Wind".  I don't need to quote this one as it cannot be taken in small parts.  Just listen to it.  That is me.

So many songs over so many years... Tony Rich with "Nobody Knows it But Me".  Peabo Bryson with "Can You Stop the Rain".   Then there are the Bluegrass songs I came to love later in life.  The Stanley Brothers with "Stone Walls and Steel Bars", "Roving Gambler", "Man of Constant Sorrow".  Earl Scruggs (RIP Earl) with "Foggy Mountain Breakdown".   Just so much music over the years I love.

I know I won't be able to have all the songs I love as "funeral" songs as it would take way too danged long.  It is even harder to decide than what songs you want to remember.  What songs do you want remembered by?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Oh, my my, Oh hell yes...."

Back in around 1994 and 1995 I spent six months in Norway with a friend and co-worker.  We were supposed to be evaluating a Life Insurance System that was developed by a company purchased by the company we both worked for.  It was a very interesting time and we visited lots of touristy places and walked endlessly around the old town.

On the weekends we'd frequent a place called "Ye Olde English Pub".  Hey, they spoke English. 

Now, at this time we worked with a woman named Linda and she was fond of the Tom Petty song, "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and would often be singing the lyrics, "Oh my, my, Oh hell yes, better put on that party dress" and the next line or two.

"Ye Olde English Pub" had a juke box.  Three songs for ten kroner.  At the time it was about seven kroner to the dollar so it was about a dollar and a quarter for three songs.  My friend, Russ, and I would take turns feeding ten kroner to the juke box.  We could play anything we liked for two songs but one of the songs every time had to be "Mary Jane's Last Dance".  I'm sure after a few nights everyone hated seeing us come in.

We'd drink Guiness stout, play darts and constantly play the jukebox.  Just how many times can one listen to "Mary Jane's Last Dance"?  I don't know but we did it around ten times an evening.  Still, when it comes on the oldies station I have to crank the volume and sing along.

Not one of my funeral songs I guess but one of those songs that will always have memories tied to it.  Russ and I in Norway with the snow falling outside, the streets covered in ice in that nice, warm bar getting wasted and listening to Tom Petty. 

Good time.

Playing Hookey

I always had a problem with school.  I was bored and did not want to be there.  So, from the eighth grade on through my senior year I skipped school at every opportunity.  I had it down to a science.  I'd pick a day when I had not tests and miss school.  Then I'd use my best excuse and if I got an "excused" absence slip I'd just keep it and never let the teachers sign it.  I'd do this in the first nine days of the month.  That way I could skip again and just put a one or a two in front of the original day and be able to make up any tests I had missed.

Now, I had a twenty-one mile bus ride to and from school and most days when I skipped school I'd be back (near) home before the school bus driver was back at his own house. 

This particular day I was skipping with two of my cousins, Stevie and Benny Boyd.  We all got home at a reasonable time in the morning.  We bought a chicken from Wanda Boyd (another cousin) and went to Stevie's house to get a pot to cook it in.  We were walking into the front door when I heard my mother's voice so I did a fast U-Turn and headed out to a convenient hiding place.

Steve and Benny came back with a pot (cooker, whatever... we just called it a small kettle) and a loaf of bread.  We went up a small branch across from Wanda's house where now there is a family graveyard on one side and a house trailer on the other.  I cleaned and cut up the chicken and we got water from the stream and built a fire and cooked that chicken.  I tore up chunks of "light" bread for dumplings and Benny used some salt and pepper he had taken from his house or Steve's  house to season the chicken with.

When we finished there was nothing but a dirty kettle and gnawed chicken bones scattered around where we were.  Stevie took the kettle back to his house and Bennie went back to his house and I headed to my own home at about the right time to have ridden the bus home from school.

I know I was so sick from that improvised meal I could not eat any of my regular supper.  Still, in all, it was a good day and one I'll always remember.  I wonder if Stevie and Bennie remember that day?

One Particular Lunch

When I was in my mid-teens we lived on Nat's Creek in the old Blessing House.  And it was old.  In fact, my dad (who was born in 1902) told me it was an old house when he was a kid.  There was barely a road there and in some place on up the creek there was no road.  Well it was officially a road but in reality it was the creek bed.

At the head of the "Julie" fork of Nat's creek lived Julie Ratliff.  I suppose one would call  her an elderly woman at the time but I've found what was elderly to me over a half century ago and what is elderly to me now are quite different things.

Anyhow, in the summer when I was fourteen or fifteen Julie needed the horseweekds in her back yard and up to her barn cut down.  I borrowed a mowing scythe from somewhere (I don't remember) and set off one morning EARLY walking up the creek to get to her house and get rid of those horse weeds.  I don't recall if I had breakfast or not but the probability is I did not.  It was a good walk there and once I got there I started swinging that "mowing scythe" for all I was worth.  And in a short time what I was worth was not very much.  But, I kept on knocking those horse weeds down until Julie called me for dinner.

Now, in spite of my wife's feelings and those of some other people, dinner is what you eat in the middle of the day.  Supper is what you eat in the evening.  That is why they call it a "dinner" bucket.  So I put down that scythe and went into her kitchen to eat.  I will tell you this... I almost could never eat bologna again.

Back then we got bologna in long, round rolls  instead of a small packet of neat slices and when it was sliced it was done with a 'butcher' knife and only as well as whomever was holding the knife could do it.  And bologna was what I  had for dinner that day.  And Julie was not much of a slicer in my opinion.  The one slice of bologna (baloney) was about an inch and a half thinck on one side and paper thin on the other.  The thin side was charred black and the thick side was still cold.  She had prepared it in an iron skillet half full of used grease of one kind or another.

But swinging a scythe makes one hungry and I was most certainly that.  So, when she flopped that mess down on a plate I started in on it and managed to get the whole thing down.

I don't remember how long it stayed down but I do know I finished cleaning up those horse weeds and collected my pay.  Five dollars as I recall for one full (and hard) days work interspersed with that wonderful dinner bologna.

I think I probably kept it down though I'm sure I might have preferred the alternative.  And, for a good many years after that, I could not stomach bologna at all.  In later years I've gotten to where I kind of enjoy it again but now I'm old.  Man, I will never forget that day and that chunk of cold/burned bologna I was given after a full half day of swinging that scythe.

I can't say how long Julie has been dead now but it is probably over thirty years.  They strip mined the head of that hollow our and there is a lake sitting now where that old house and barn sat.  A little bit farther up the hollow (across an dirt road) is a much larger and prettier lake.  Nothing left to be seen from my little bologna adventure.  Nobody left to remember it but me.

I can eat a bologna sandwich now but I still remember that one and my bologna has to be COLD.  Do not put it in a skillet to heat up.  I shudder still to even think about that.  I mean, how difficult is it to run a knife through a roll of bologna and get it half way even? 

Just one more wonderful, childhood memory.

Red River

There is a place in Eastern Kentucky called the Red River Gorge.  It is a beautiful place if you enjoy scening overlooks, natural bridges, nice hiking trails and things like that.  It is about a forty-five minute drive from where I lived in Johnson County and is near the Natural Bridge State Park.  Used to go there on weekends a lot with my (now) ex-wife.  We'd stay in a little hole-in-the-wall motel and go vor hikes for a couple of days.  Just an absolutely beautiful location.

But there are lots of very high places with very LONG drops for those who are not careful and those who choose to mix alcohol and high places.  We always heard of two or three people falling to their deaths there each summer.

Places like Rock Bridge (my work desktop), Sky Bridge, Angel Arches linger in my memories.  I read this is the second largest natural gorge next to The Grand Canyon in the US.  But it is not baren;  it is covered with trees from top to bottom and filled with streams.

I'm really glad I had the opportunity to experience being there though the last time I was there was many years ago now and I'm not able to walk enough distance to ever go back.  But each and every trail I've travelled will live on in my memory as long as my memories live.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Changes

Many, many things change for us over the course of our lives.  One of the things I never thought of being changed was my love of food.  Mostly, my carnovoire love of meat, meat and more meat.  When I was a youngster my mother and my grandparents raised huge gardens.  Summers were filled with fresh vegetables and winters were filled with vegetables that had been canned at harvest.

Unfortunately, I never cared much for them fresh or canned.  What years of great food I missed!  But as far back as I can remember all I ever really wanted to eat was meat.  My mother forced veggies on me but I fought and fought them.

Oh there were a few things I did like in the veggie line but most of them involved meat in one way or another.  Especially bacon.   Bacon and bacon grease were foundations of my food when I was growing up.  We had bacon every morning and never wasted the bacon grease.  It was all used as seasoning for other foods.  We used is as a base for breakfast gravy and to season the biscuit dough and the eggs were fried in it.    Green beans, pinto beans and most other veggies were seasoned with it.  Bacon grease was the most universal part of our diet.  Virtually everything we at had some component that used bacon grease.

When I was young I never cared for pinto beans but I did like green beans.  I loved "killed" lettuce.  Most people have never heard of "killed" lettuce but that is all I ever knew it as when I was growing up.  I guess today  you'd call it "wilted" lettuce.  It is not iceberg lettuce it is leaf lettuce.  You'd chop it up and heat bacon grease to smoking hot and pour it over the lettuce.  Crumble some bacon in it and chop up some green onions (scallions) and put them all together.  Now, those I loved. 

My brother loved pinto beans and I heard about that every time we had them and I did not want to eat them.  He would take a big bowl of beans, lettuce and onions and eat them with cornbread.  I wish, now, I had been able to do the same thing.  But, I just wanted meat.

Now things have changed almost completely.  I'm not sure what it started with but I believe it was pork.  Pork (except for fried pork chops) started making me sick when I'd eat it.  I thought it was just the amount of fat in pork.  Next was chicken.  I could (and still barely can) eat fried chicken but any kind of baked, broiled, broasted chicken just feels nasty in my mouth.  I used to love both chicken livers and gizzards but livers make me very sick though I can still eat gizzards.

My favorite thing was beef and now that is also beginning to make me sick when I try to eat it.  Now, I mostly just want pasta and vegetables.  And, I don't eat an awful lot of those.  I will eat raw cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, cabbage etc.  I will eat all that lightly steamed as well as raw.  I also love cucumbers, tomatoes, turnips etc.   What I have trouble with is meat.  Except for bacon.  For some reason I still love that.  But, now, all I want other meats for is a little flavoring for my potatoes and other vegetables.

How happy would have my mother have been had I wanted to eat like this when I was growing up.  How happy I would have been had I wanted to eat the bounty of garden produce I was provided.  How I wish I had it now for free (well, free except for a large amount of hard work).  Fresh corn on the cob, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, onions, turnips, sweet potatoes and all the things I'm forgetting.

It would be so wonderful to have all that again without all the phony stuff used in today's agriculture to  fool us into believing we are getting something naturaly.  They gas our tomatoes, they spray chemicals on everything, they feed the chickens and other animals growth hormones and antibiiotics.  No wonder we, as a people, are a sick lot.

It is now Spring and in a little more than a month the local Farmer's Market will be open and I am so looking forward to seeing something that might just be a little bit like all those things I did not want when I was a kid but want so much now.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gnat Smokes

Nat's Creek, where I grew up, has a plethora of gnats.  Enough so the name of the place is sometimes confused.  The Creek itself was  named by Daniel Boone for one of his fellow "long hunters" named Nathaniel Auxier.  Auxier, Ky is also named for him.

But Nat's Creek is where I grew up and where I developed many of my habits.  Some good and some not so very good.  But, one constant in either version of the place's name was the gnats.  When the sun went down you got introduced to them really well.  Bites all over your body and flying in your eyes.  This was every summer day and not just a few days.

The main way we had to escape the gnat's attention was a 'gnat smoke'.  My grandparents would sit out on the porch with one going.  One in the swing and one in the rocking chair.  Both on the front porch of my grandparent's house.

A quick comment on "Nat Smokes".  Those were made from scraps of cloth left over from other things or  too worn to be repaired.  My favorite was denim.  Light the cloth off with a kitchen match and let it git a good fire going then beat it til where it was not flaming but just smoldering with smoke coming from it.

I'd take that and run around the  yard with the smoke just trailing behind me like I was  a train or a ship or something.  Mostly, though, I was a gnat deterrent.  :-)  But, I can recall the smell of the smoldering cloth as though it were yesterday.  No wonder I'm a pyro.  :-)  I love fires and the smells coming from fires.  I've had that love all my life.  The smell in the air when the fires are burning in Spring and Autumn.

Those Spring/Summer nights were special.  Gnat smokes until after dark then catching lightening bugs until you had a jar full.  We would get a real, honest tired that let us go to bed and right off to sleep.  Only, to waken far too early.  At least I did not have to jump out of bed and start the fire in the pot-bellied stove.

There is a feeling I had way back when (a half century ago) I wish I could experience again.  Not going to happen as the only place it still exists is in my memory but I'd sure love to be able to go back and run around the yard with a gnat smoke.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Greatest Invention in the History of the World

I believe it is credited to Ben Franklin but, I'm sure, there have been many precursors over the ages.  That is the FREE lending library.  The free, lending library is the progenitor of the Internet as it provided information to anyone who could read and was in a position to visit a library.  A lot of people just do not realize the impact of access to information.  You no longer need take the word of your "lords and ladies", you can just go look it up and find out.  You no longer have to be quiet with your ideas and opinions.  You can publish them for anyone to read and think about.

While there are and have been very many great inventions in the world the two greatest have to have been the printing press (with movable type) and the lending library.  Books were not longer the purview of the few rich and privileged but were available to all.  I think the Internet will be the third great invention in this line at it brings freedom of information and freedom to think and decide for oneself what is right based on information and not propaganda.

Free access to information is a great light shining in the darkness of our world.  How many evils have been committed in secret that could have been avoided had there been the light of documentation and access to information available to all? 

But, free access to information implies the responsibility for us to make use of it.  We can no longer turn our heads and say, "I didn't know".   How can you not know now?  It is all there at your fingertips.  You just have to make the effort to open your eyes and look.  Information is shining a light on the hidden places in this world but we have to open our eyes and look at them and then make sure everyone knows about the evils we see.  The world is not perfect but it is much less perfect as long as so many evils can be done in secret.   We all need to use the tools available to us to shine a light where once were only shadows.

The Role of Sports in my Life (Pt 2)

I came to absolutely all sports.  I was not allowed to participate in organized sports at school or other places when I was young due to my parent's fear "he might get hurt".  I don't know, maybe that kept me from being humiliated.  It was readily apparent the kids in my school had grown up with a much greater familiarity with sports than had I.  They knew the rules, they knew the players, they knew...  well, everything.  I knew pretty much nothing and, being an outcast for other reasons, was not in the circles where I could ask.

But, I did have one avenue for learning no one could deny me.  That was books from the book-mobile which came to our school once a week.  I learned the rules of "the game" there and I delved into the biographies of the greatest players in basketball, baseball and football.  When we could get the ABC TV channel I watched "Wide World of Sports" on Sundays and learned about those sports I would not have otherwise known.  What is called the "Olympic Sports".  This was a long, doggone time before ESPN.

Now, I was never a great (or even good) athlete but I loved playing (and watching).  I watched the New York Yankees growing up and read all about Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle.  I knew as much about Yankee history as most Yankee fans though I got to see one game a week on TV.  Football was not much to me at the time but I read a book called "Paper Lion" by George Plimpton and that inspired me to take a real interest in that game.  I came to absolutely love football as well.

For a few years an aging star from South America named Pele came to the US to play soccer and he was the most amazing athlete I had ever seen even though he was in the twilight of his career.  Until he retired I always watched Soccer.  I even watched Ice Hockey back when the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders was a big rivalry.  If it was a sport I'd watch it on TV, read about it when I could find a book and play it whenever I could find anyone to play with.

In 1967 we moved back to Nat's Creek and the only TV station we could get was the NBC station from Huntington, WV.  That was the year the Cincinnati Bengals became a part of the American Football Conference and, being the local team, their game was on every Sunday.  So, I became a Bengal Fan as well as a fan of the old AFL.  They played a completely different brand of football than the staid, old NFL.  It was wide open offense and purely nasty defense.  Probably was not a single play on defense in the old AFL where there would not be a personal foul called in today's wussie brand of Football.  Ray Nitschke is turning over in his grave and how "civilized" the game has become.

So that has been the great triumvirate for me.  Kentucky Wildcats, New York Yankees and Cinncinatti Bengals.  And, for a good while I liked the NBA.  Mostly I liked certain players.  First and foremost is Wilt Chamberlain.  The man absolutely changed the game of basketball.  After that was Julius (Doctor J) Erving.  Doc is who Michael Jordan wanted to be when he grew up.  People who think Mikey was the  greatest ever have not seen Wilt or Doc play basketball.

But, as I've grown older, my interest in all pro sports has waned.  I now absolutely despise what the NBA has become and do not watch it or follow it at all.  I'll watch the Bengals if they are on and I'll watch the Yankees if they are on and I like to check the scores but I don't really feel the "fire" any more.

Then there is Kentucky.  UK Basketball and UK Football along with the Lady Cats and the Bat Cats and all the other Cats (including the MANY time world champion cheerleaders) just stands alone to this day as what I love in the world of sports.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Role of Sports in My LIfe (PT 1)

I was born into a family that did  not care about sports, either armature or professional.  I never really noticed because I had no clue there was such a thing until after we moved to West Van Lear back in 1961.  I had spent my first grade year (not kindergarten or pre-school in my day) in a one-room school while staying with my grandparents.  I spent more time staying with them than going to school.

But when we moved to West Van Lear I discovered sports.  I was not good at them and I did not understand the rules and I really was forbidden by my parents to play them.  Still, I loved them.  I tried to get involved in every way I could though that was few and far between.

I guess my first  love was baseball.  When we got a TV we only got one station and that happened to be the one that owned the New York Yankees.  They had the Yankee game on every Saturday afternoon and I grew up with such famous Yankees as Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Tony Kubec, Roger Maris et al.  But, for some reason, my first love was basketball.  Maybe that is just born into anyone from Kentucky.  But I only knew it from grade school games which I was not allowed (by my parents) to participate in.  But, I'd go out and watch practice and rebound for the team (even in the rain) and when I could get chosen for a team I'd try my hardest.  Was not very good but I did give it my all.

I really did not discover "Kentucky Basketball" until a few years after we moved to West Van Lear and we moved to the big, white house.  I remember lying in bed listening to WSIP  (Paintsville Radio Station) that was carrying the UK games.  I'd lie there in the dark and listen to the pregame shows with Cawood Ledford then the game (which he called) and the post game shows before going off to sleep.  I cannot remember those exact years but they must have been from around 1963 - 1967.   I remember Cawood so well and I remember the interviews with Coach Rupp.  Coach Rupp was an acerbic type.  Nothing was ever his fault.  I remember one night when Ronnie Lyons took an ill-advised shot and UK lost and Coach Rupp said, "I told Ronnie not to take that shot but...."  Coach Rupp was fun to listen to.   There is nothing at all like Kentucky basketball for me to this day though the people I really remember are long in their graves.

Those were wonderful times.  I had a big, old, batter radio like you see on "The Waltons" that had been converted to to electricity.  It sounded wonderful turned way down low so only I could hear it.   I don't even remember talking to any of my peers about UK but I came to love them listening to all the pre-games, games and post-games on that old radio.  That love of UK basketball is something I still have and could not help trying to instill into my own children.  I think I may have succeeded there.  :-)  That and a sincere, deep-seated hatred for UNC and DUKE.  I'd cheer for Satan and a team of Demons before I'd cheer for UNC or Duke and that is no exaggeration.  I have, what I'll admit, is an unhealthy hatred for both of those teams.  My three favorite teams are UK and whoever is playing UNC and Duke.

Back then we rarely ever got to see our Cats on TV but there was always Cawood and the radio.  When I was able to start receiving the Cats Pause newspaper there were always stories of Kentuckians who had moved away driving around searching for the Cincinnati or Louisville clear channel AM station so they could listen to the Cats on the radio.  Endless stories of being parked in and empty parking lot where they could get the game and cops stopping by to see what they were doing.  I don't anyone not of UK can comprehend what it means to a Kentuckian to see/hear the Cats play.  Anytime, anywhere.  We put 24,000+ in Rupp arena for "Midnight Madness", We put over 10,000 in Louisvilles' arena this week for a shoot around.  We "take over" any city where the Cats are playing in any game.  I don't know if it is a good thing or not but UK fans are not like any other fans in the world.

I don't miss a lot of UK games any more.  I have DirecTV with the sports packages for the specific purpose of watching UK basketball.  ( I do love and watch UK football but....)  Right now it is "March Madness" and UK has not won a national title since 1998.  They have a great team and have a great chance of bringing back #8 to hang in Rupp.  If another team wins the title their fans will be happy but only a UK fan will truly understand what it means to Kentucky.

Kentucky is a poor, rural state with very little to be proud of.  But, we've always had the Cats.  Things you don't mess with (especially in Eastern Ky where I was raised) is a man's dog, a man's still or a man's UK Wildcats.