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Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Dark

When I was a young child (and a child not so young) I was terribly afraid of the dark.  My mother would tell me there was nothing in the dark that was not out there during the day but my imagination populated the night with all kinds of terrors and my brother did not help by telling me scary stories.

My brother would always tease me about it and tell me the same thing but I was not interested in logic. When it got dark I wanted to be inside a house with the lights on.

I'm not sure when that all changed but it was sometime in the late 60s.  In 1967 we moved back to Nat's Creek so my mother could take care of her father and I had to walk from where we lived to where the school bus picked me up.  This spot was right beside an old cemetary.  Well, actually, just down the hill from it.  And, with a 21 mile bus ride to school I had to be before dawn most of the school year I guess I just got used to it.

It is funny how things have changed over the years.  Now, and for years, I have loved the darkness.  Darkness brings me peace and tranquility.  I never have the lights on in my cube at work.  I rarely have the lights on in my "office" at home.  I like sitting outside in the night, watching the stars, hearing the night sounds, feeling the coolness of the evening and just being at peace.

Night time in Kentucky had many more (or at least different) sounds than I have now that I live in a "neighborhood" and I miss them.  Most of all I miss the whip-poor-will's calls.  The call of an owl on the 'hunt' and even the croaking of frogs.  I guess it is all in what one grew up with.  It is what makes us most comfortable, what we knew as kids.

Even such things as a 'mudhole' in the road filled with the scum of frog eggs is nostalgic now.  Any of that is gone for all time now for me.  Circumstances of life have changed things so I doubt I will every experience those things again as they require some separation from other people and a quiet place in the wilds.  Even if I had such a place I could not go as my wife could not survive living in the country.  Lord, you ought to see her react to a very small bug!  I can't imagine what it would be like should she confront a snake lying on the doorsill (that actually happened to me) or even the total darkness of a rural night.  Here in Columbia, SC we have to have large dusk-to-dawn ligts in both the front and back of the house.  It is alway high noon at my house.

I kind of miss having a real night.  I guess it won't be too awfully long before I have as much night as one could ever wish for.  Shame I won't be able to enjoy it.

Some Idle Wonderings

I was watching a cooking show and the hostess was taking about having one cutting board that was used only for chicken.  In fact during all the cooking shows it seems everyone is terribly paranoid about "cross contamination".  Just makes me wonder.  I grew up in the country where fried chicken was a Sunday tradition and chicken and dumplings was often had at other times.

As I can recall, I never saw my grandmother or my mother washing their hands after handling chicken and nobody I ever heard of had gotten sick eating chicken.  It makes me wonder where salmonella really comes from.  Is it endemic to chicken or is it just a result of the commercial processing of the chicken?

This brings a lot of other things to mind.  When I was a very young kid I was always playing in the dirt and, in fact, I loved eating rocks.  The little, thin, blue ones were my favorites.  They had such a nice crunch.  Some years ago I heard a story on the radio where some famous allergist had stated the reason so many of our kids have allergies is our modern thinking that killing all germs is a good thing.  In fact parents are sanitizing their kid's environments to the point where the kid's immune system has not chance to properly develop so they don't learn how to deal with germs.  I tend to agree.  I'm a firm believer in pushing kids out of doors and letting them get dirty. 

Then there was the Internet collection of things we experienced as a kid that is so frowned on today and entitled, "It's a Wonder Any of Us are Here".  It was a list of all the things we were used to as children that people would be horrified of today.

For instance, I grew up in an era where there were no car seat belts or airbags and I always sat in my mother's lap in the front seat.  There was no such thing as 'baby-proofing' a room.  I grew up in an age when parent's told their kids things one time and expected them to obey and pay attention.  If they told you not to go near the stove and you did anyhow and got burned they'd put something on the burn and give you a good, long, "I told you so" lecture.  If they told you not to stick that penny in the electric outlet and you did anyhow they'd just laugh and say, "hurt didn't it?  Bet you won't do that again".

And whining when we were told to do something?  That was a fast track to getting your butt beat.  One of my Dad's favorite lines when I was whiny and crying was, "If you want to cry I'll give you something to cry about".  It eventually dawned on me it was much simpler (and safer) to just do what I was told without objection.  It was much faster and much easier on my butt.

And what about today's attitude towards guns?  I just shake my head when I see where some kid finds a gun in their parent's or grandparent's home and end up shooting themselves or someone else.  That is just pure (and unforgivable) ignorance and negligence on the part of the parents.  Kids don't know about guns and what guns do and that is kill things.  I shot my first gun at age four.  It was my Dad's .45 automatic.  I was using our single shot .22 to burst balloons tied to a tree.  I grew up around guns and knowing what guns did and what they were for.  I grew up with the credo, "All guns are loaded.  Never point a gun at anything you do not intend to shoot and never shoot anything you don't intend to kill."

I'm always amused when watching TV and movies when the "hero" is standing there with a loaded gun and the "villain" grabs a hostage and threatens to kill her/him if the hero does not put down his gun.  And they DO!  That is so stupid.  Now the hero has no power what so ever.  What I believe is you tell them, "OK, but when you do I'm going to blow your effin' head off".  Besides, I was a pretty good shot.  I always felt I could put a shot through their eyeball by the time they shut their mouth and got real.

It reminds me of a series of spy books I read by an author named Donald Hamilton.  The Spy was Matt Helm. (Yes, Dean Martin played Matt Helm in two movies but they bore no relation to the books other than the title).  His theory was when you were covering one man with your gun and another came up behind you and told you to "drop it" was to first shoot the person you already had the gun on and take him out of the equation then try for the guy behind you as the odds were he was going to kill you if he could either way.

That is rambling but the point is we do not really teach our kids cause and effect any more.  We try to protect them from everything even when letting them try and fail. Making mistakes and getting hurt is part of growing up.  I guess its natural though as we love our kids and want to keep them from making the mistakes we did.  Only thing is, they're going to make those mistakes anyhow no matter what you say or do.  After all we all knew everything there was to know by the time we were fifteen.

They say we either turn into our parents or we turn into the direct opposite.  I think I tried to be the direct opposite of my father.  He would use his belt on me several times a day.  I don't know if I was that bad of a kid or he was just impatient.  I suspect it was a combination of the two.  I tried to not be that way with my kids.  As I can recall I have never raised a hand with either of my girls and rarely, if ever, even raised my voice to them.  I just tried to explain that every action has consequences.  Some consequences are good and some are bad and if you do actions that have bad consequences you are going to suffer them and don't whine about it.  If you choose to do bad things then you just have to deal with the bad consequences.

I don't have any idea whether I succeeded in any way but I have two daughters of whom I'm very proud.  My elder is thirty now and has two wonderful sons and a great husband who seems to me to be a good husband and father.  My younger will turn twenty-four in July and has the most beautiful little girl in the world and will bless us all with another grandson in September.  She also has a husband who seems to be a very good father and husband.  However much I had or did not have in shaping their lives I'm proud of both of them and very happy for them as long as they are happy.

In the end a parent must realize each child must find his or her own way and just wish for them to find happiness and be happy for them when they do whether or not that happiness is exactly what we may have dreamed of when we first saw them in the nursery.  I think both my children are happy where they are now and I can wish no more for them.

Ok, another ramble for me.  I guess I just write "stream of consciousness" things that start with one point and weaves it way around and about wherever it wants.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Just a Story From a Long Time Ago

Back in my "second" single days I would go out a lot of weekends with a couple of friends, Jolly and Andy.  Jolly was a guy I was in the Army with and Andy (Andrea) was a woman he met after I had gotten out of the Army.  They lived in Myrtle Beach would come to Columbia a couple of weekends a month and we'd go to five-points and hang out in a couple of bars.  Our favorite was a bar called "Group Therapy".  I thought the name was somehow appropriate.

There are more than one story to tell from these nights but I'm only going to relate one.  Jolly, Andy and I were all in personnel at Ft Jackson.  I wrote up paperwork for people getting out of the Army and coming from Germany and Panama.  After a while (when I got my NCO's trained) I stopped doing ETS (regular exit from the Army.  Expiration Term of Service.  I only did "chapters".  They were people getting kicked out for one reason or another and were much more interesting to write up because I got to read all the chapter packets.)

The two most common chapters were "Misconduct:Pattern of Misconduct and Homosexuality'.  Some of the stories I read would make a really successful reality TV series.  But just say I was familiar with certain modes of activity and attitudes.

I've put out a First Sergeant with over 20 years as a private with no benefits just because he could not wait a few more months to smoke some pot.  I put out my first sergeant from the reception station because he could not keep it in his pants with female trainees.  I put out a girl I went to school with in Ft Ben Harrison up in Indiana.  She was mental I think.

However, this is just about one evening at Group Therapy.  Jolly and I were both more solitary but Andy was a social person and when she found a group of young men were at Ft Jackson waiting to get out the next day she invited them to sit with us.

Sit, is not the right word, as in Group Therapy there was an area where there were no seats but had huge wire rollers as tables.  We were all standing around one.  There were four or five of the guys from the Fort and us there.  We'd stood and drank beer (pitchers) and talked for a good while.  There was one very short black guy who exhibited  all the stereotypical aspects of a homosexual and Jolly, Andy and  I all assumed he was a Homo Chapter.

Anyway, Jolly, Andy and the other guys all went to the bar for another pitcher leaving me and shorty at the table by ourselves.  He moved around to stand right beside me and filled my glass and said, "So Frank, where are you from?"

I just told him the truth and told him I was from the coal fields of  Eastern Kentucky.  When I said that I did not seem him move.  He just disappeared from my side and reappeared on the other side of the table.  I always have to smile when I think of that.  What a reputation Kentucky must have.  LOL.

We later questioned the rest of the group and found out he was a regular ETS and not getting chaptered at all.  We were all quite surprised as it was like he was shouting I'm gay with every move he made and every word he said.  I still believe he was queer as a three-dollar bill but he apparently made it through enlistment without getting caught.

Not sure what brought that to mind this morning but that is what I was remembering.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Random Memories of My Father (part 1)

My elder daughter and her family are in Pensacola's, FL right now.  Got me thinking of my Dad's Navy career.  He was an Aviation Ordinance Chief over three Naval Air Stations around Pensacola during WWII.  He, my mother and my brother lived there in the early 40's.  But his story does not start there.

His parents did not want to raise him so they dumped him off on his Uncle Mac (McClellan I think) to raise.  It seems he had a difficult childhood and one I don't know that I could have survived.  Back in those days the adults always ate first (they worked all day and needed the calories) then the women and kids.  But, the "natural" kids ate before the "left off" kid.  My dad said he was an adult before he even knew a chicken had any other parts than a neck or back.

Reminds me of the story he told of being somewhere (San Diego maybe) and getting a restaurant to put back a whole chicken for him.  He came in and had it fried and sat down to a chicken that had more parts than a neck or back and was, apparently, really getting into it when one of those snotty, high-toned, women sitting at a nearby table made some remark to him about "really enjoying that chicken" and he replied that he sure was.  I'm sure she could not have related to his childhood or just how much that chicken meant to him at the time.

In fact, he said he was so hungry he used to roam up and down the railroad track hoping some hobo had got run over by a train had was left lying.  He said he always wondered how a human would taste.   That had to be a hard life coming up.

I can remember him talking about shooting the bell of my grandparent's cow with a .22 rifle.  I guess I know where I get my mischievous streak.  Never really think of the possible consequences, just do it.  I've done a lot of things in my life I would never have done had I really thought of the possible consequences.

I don't know how old he was when he went to West Virginia and stayed with his half-sister, Mamie, and worked in the coal mines.  Must have been around 17 or 18.  He liked to tell the story of another miner who was 'rooming' there and just disappeared one day.  Said one night he was in bed and a woman all in white (just the head and upper body... the rest was just flowing white) came floating our of the air towards him.  he said he just put the covers over his head and went to sleep.  (Likely story.)  Said he ran into the missing boarder later and asked him why he had left and he would not talk about it.  So, my dad told him what he had seen and the man admitted he had seen the same thing.  My dad was a little more crazy than the rest of us (and that is saying something) or he was a little more psychic.

He was involved in the "War of Blair Mountain" in 1921.  He must have just turned 19.  It was a rebellion of the coal miners who wanted to join the Unions against the mine owners and law enforcement.  It would be nice to say he was one of the miners but he wasn't.  He was one of the Sheriff's deputies.  That was a bad, sad time in that area and worth doing some research on.  Google it.  Lot's of information.  It was the largest armed insurrection in US history and required the regular Army to be sent in to preserve (some) the peace.

My dad used to run a Ferry there and he says he once took Billy Sunday across the river.  I don't remember what river it was but I think it was around Charleston, WV.  Billy Sunday was a famous evangelist of the time. 

My Dad left WV in 1922 when he joined the Navy.  He was too short (5'4") for the Navy and they had to send to Knoxville, TN for special permission.  Over the years I had always thought he had just decided to join the Navy but my brother told me not too many years ago he once heard my Dad talking to someone and saying he joined the Navy because he "had to leave" West Virginia.  My brother said he never heard why.  Knowing my Dad it could have been anything from sleeping with the wrong man's wife to murder.

That is it for now.  Later I'll talk about his Navy years.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Everyone dreams and, I'm sure, everyone has dreams on a repeating theme.  I'm also sure they could tell a lot about a person if one knew how to translate one's sub-conscious into conscious thought.

I dream every night and very few of them are what I would term as 'pleasant'.  They all tend to fall into a few recurring themes.  One is high places with sheer drops.  I never intend to go to these high places but between one second and another I move from a secure area to being on the verge of a precipice. 

Another is snakes.  I think this is a pretty common theme.  All of  a sudden everywhere I turn will be snakes.  The snakes do nothing to harm me but I am very frightened of them all the same.

Another is smoking cigarettes.  I've not smoked in over twelve years now but I have regular dreams of sneaking out for a cigarette or being about out of cigarettes and desperately searching for some. 

Another one, and probably the most logical of them all, is searching for a bathroom and every one I go to is clogged up or there are women inside the men's bathroom.  Many things which make me unable to "go".  I suppose that is why when I wake up after one of these dreams I need to "go".

But, it gets me to thinking of our dreams in a general way and what they may mean.  I've heard dreams are caused by our sub-conscious mind solving the dilemmas of our day the conscious mind has not dealt with.  I'm not sure what dilemmas I have that are not resolved so often as these dreams happen every night.

Last night, for instance, I was with my youngest and some person I did not know and we were looking for something.  All of a sudden we were at a high, sheer drop off.  The daughter and stranger were taking turns throwing rocks off the wall and I was getting way the heck back away from it.

Then I was headed for a little store and realizing I had two half empty packs of cigarettes I was putting them all together in one pack.  When we got to the store I went behind it and lit one up.  My daughter was watching me out a large window and came out the back door and was very angry with me for smoking and I was very angry with her for being angry with me.

Then I had left and was walking along a road which suddenly changed to the edge of a high cliff.   I saw a safe way past and was walking along when I was joined by a male and female whom I did not know.  As we continued along we came to an outdoor office.  There was a desk with a rolo-dex etc but no walls or room and all the things in it were ruined by the rain.

Another recurring theme in my dreams is deep water.  Not over my head deep but like chest deep.  Mostly this occurs up on Nat's Creek from my grandparents and where I was born.  Mostly up the July Ratliff fork just below their house.  I'm walking or driving down the creek and the water is about chest deep but does not stop me.

These dreams are all odd but I rarely ever have the kind of nightmare dreams I had at one time.  You know, those dreams that make you get out of bed and turn on every light in the place and sit and watch late night TV or something until you're sure you won't fall asleep and go back to dreaming those.  I had those almost every night for some years.  Some of them I can still remember as vividly as if they had just happened though they have been over fifteen years gone now.

I wonder if dreams really do have some meaning or if they are just random images our minds throw out.  If they do have meaning I'd dearly love to know what mine mean.  But, mostly, I'd dearly love for them to just go away.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mary Jane Part 3

Just a few unconnected memories of my sister and those who knew her:

Jerry's restaurant strawberry pie.  When she was still mobile but had to stay out of the sun my ex and I would wait until after dark and take her to the Jerry's in Prestonburg and get her a slice of their strawberry pie.  I still cannot look at strawberry pie and not remember that and think how much she would have loved it.

Hours of playing Rook around the kitchen table.  I think I've mentioned that before.  We played with a 120 point deck and I recall one time she and Homer beat Carol and I 120 to 0 when I had the bid.  That was the worst 'widow' I ever say.  Nothing but 5's and 10s.  (If you've never played Rook you will probably not understand)

The large window in her bedroom.  After she got to where she could not get out of bed Homer had a large window cut in the side of the trailer so she could see the outside world and not be stuck just looking at the walls.  That window would not lock so when I needed in the trailer in later years and no one was home I'd just climb in through that window.

I remember how she got along so well with everyone.  When she passed all the nurses on the floor just stood around and cried while they took her away.  I expect death is a common thing to nurses but she was such a special person they all loved her and there was little distancing themselves from the emotions they had at her passing.

I remember her tacos and Hungarian Goulash.  I was wanting to make some myself and tried looking up the recipes on the Internet and found every 'grandma' had her own recipe and Hungarian Goulash was more an idea than a recipe.  Hers had elbow macaroni, ground beef, tomatoes, garlic and some other things I can't think of.  It had a special taste I had never run into before that was great.  Looking back on it I think that must have been the garlic.  We could all just sit and eat bowl after bowl of that.

Her tacos did not have a hamburger mix like you get at today's restaurants.  It was just corn tortillas heated up in grease briefly so they were tender, ground beef, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, grated cheese and Texas Pete (hot sauce for the uneducated).  Those were real meals.  We would go through rolls and rolls of paper towels because the grease would just run down your forearms to your elbows and we were continually mopping it off our arms as we ate.  Those were my favorites.  I used to make them all the time when I lived in my apartment and when a co-worker and I spent six months in Norway I'd make tacos about once a week and he loved them as much as I did.  Now it seems everything is flour tortillas or the shaped and baked corn tortillas.  Lately all the corn tortillas like we had come in packages of about a thousand.  That sucks.  Corn tortillas are so much better than flour.

I recall when I got in trouble when I was 18 she was almost the only one who seemed to understand and did not condemn me.  She and my brother.  I think my mother and dad did not even know as it was kept quiet.  She was one of the few people I've ever knows whom I'd describe as a truly GOOD person.  It is a real damned shame such a wonderful person ended up with such a horrible life in her later years.  If I still had a single religious bone in my body such injustice would make me wonder why such a thing was allowed to happen.


When I was a fairly small child there was a government program where they would send surplus products to various distribution centers and give this surplus to the people.  I don't know what it was actually called but we just called it, "Going to pick up commodities".

I can't remember all they had but I can remember powdered milk, powdered eggs and these huge boxes of American cheese.  I think they were 5 lb boxes and, I think, we may have gotten two of them each time.  I don't recall how often this happened and I think the place they went was in Inez.  Might have been Tomahawk school.  Not really sure.

The powdered milk and powdered eggs were really great for those of us who did not have electricity.  And, even in the late 1950's and early 1960's there were quite a few people who lived without that modern convenience.  In fact, most of my childhood was lived without a lot of things we take for granted these days.  And, in my opinion, that is not an entirely bad thing.  There was no bitching of what we did not have but a great appreciation for what we did have.  Though, I would have liked to have been able to have dressed a little better when I went to High School.  Jeans were not as widely accepted then as now.

But, commodities were a big part of our life because of their non-perishable nature.  We kept the non perishables and put the cheese in my grandparents refrigerator since they did have electricity.  I suppose it is jut the childhood colored glasses I'm looking back through but that was the very best cheese I've ever eaten.  But, let me tell you this... powdered milk and eggs suck unless you're just mixing it in baking or something.  By themselves they were nasty.  As I remember.

Still, they were a great help to poor people at the time.  I don't think there is such a program these days but I wish there was.  I hate to think of hungry children when there is so much food being thrown away from our over sized restaurant servings, our buying too much and letting it spoil.  You know, in most of the world food is a lot more expensive and I think in the near future we are going to have to learn to live with that.  Our world has too  many people and not enough resources to provide for them.

You think the wars over oil (energy) have been something, just wait until we start fighting over food.  They say any large city is just three days away from revolution because that is the average lenght of time food supplies there would last and hungry people are angry people.  Kind of makes one want to become a 'survivalist' doesn't it? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Night Alone

This is Mother's Day weekend.  My wife is at Myrtle beach with her daughter and her daughter's mother-in-law.  So, I have the house all to my self.  I have the weekend all to myself.  My big plans?  I'm going to eat stuff I shouldn't, read books on the Kindle and play Asheron's Call on the PC.

Heather should remember AC because of the drudges.  When I would "kill" one it would make a cry like a "strangled cat" she always said.

Over the years I've always enjoyed being alone and having the house to myself but for some reason, tonight, I'm missing my wife.  That is strange as when she is here she spends her time in the living room watching that TV and I spend my time in my "office" playing games and reading Kindle books.  Then I go to bed and sync the Kindle up and read until I have to go to sleep.  Its not like we spend all our time together yet I find when she is not here I miss her.  I don't sleep well the first night she is away and hope to make up for it the second night.

Seems like I hear every little creak and crack the house makes and my imagination runs rampant with intruders all over the place though we live in a fairly safe neighborhood.

I used to love being alone.  I guess I still do as I have no one to nag me when I do things that are not good for me.  Like tonight I fried up some bacon and chopped up a head of leaf lettuce and a bunch of green onions.  I put the lettuce and onions in a bowl, crumbled up the bacon and poured the bacon grease (supplemented with olive oil) over that.  When I was growing up we called it "killed" lettuce.

I love it.  But, I don't get to eat it unless I can sneak it in when I'm home alone.  And I must have an air freshener to hide the frying aromas or I won't hear the end of it.  LOL  In the mooring I'm going to make bacon then fry some thinly sliced potatoes with onion in the bacon grease for my breakfast and tomorrow night I have some more leaf lettuce and onions to use.  I know they are not good for me but I do love them.

That kind of brings up a philosophical question of "quantity" of life vs "quality" of life.  Seems most people (including all doctors) think quantity of life is all important.  Anything one does to enjoy life that might not be conducive to quantity of life is frowned upon.  In my life I have witnessed my sister bed fast for years, my mother bed fast for  years, my father bed fast for years.  And I don't want that for me.  I want to go fast without being a burden on anyone by lingering on. 

Quantity of life is good, but what if there is no quality in that quantity?  What good is it to linger on when all joy in living is gone?  So, when I get the chance I fix the foods I love even though I know they are bad for my physical health but wonderful for my mental health.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to fry bacon, fry some potatoes and an egg and enjoy a breakfast I should not have and there is no one here to scold me but me.  And me wants it.  :-)  I guess that is want air freshener is for.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mary Jane Part 2

Some more memories of my sister throughout the years.  Several of those memories have to do with food.  My ex and I used to spend a lot of time with my sister and her husband.  She was a good cook and introduced us to things we knew nothing about.  One was "Hungarian Goulash".  I've tried to look it up on the inter net of late and find there is not ONE recipe for Goulash.  It is one of those recipes that every 'grandma' has her own recipe for.  I can remember it had ground beef, garlic, tomatoes, macaroni, onions and probably several things I can't remember.  But I loved it.  It had a special kind of weird flavor to it that I loved.  I think that was probably garlic.

She is also the one who first made tacos for us.  No sauce, just browned ground beef, lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese and hot sauce on a quickly fried corn tortilla.  I still do not like flour tortillas.  I just long for the corn ones.  Over the years I've made them a lot though not of late.  They are soooooo good.

My ex and I lived in a small apartment or a small house and did not have room for a chest freezer but my sister and her husband did.  We also has a 'slaughter house' in our nearby town (Paintsville) and we'd split a half hog and a quarter of beef.  They would keep the meat in their freezer and we would go up about once a week and select enough meat to last us for the next week.

Growing up country and sharing that meat I want to tell you the fresh killed beef and pork we grew up with bears little resemblance to what you buy today in a market.  I'd love to have a freezer and a local slaughter house today and I'd never buy any meat at all from a supermarket again.  People who have not been exposed to it don't realize what a great difference there is.

Another of my great memories is sitting around the kitchen table with my sister, her husband, my ex and myself playing Rook.  We played with a 120 point deck.  That won't make any sense at all if you are not familiar with Rook but there are several configurations in scoring.  There is a 120, 150 and 180 point deck.  We'd sit for hours and hours playing Rook.  Just like with my brother and his wife we'd sit for hours playing Hearts.  I never realized, at the time, just how precious those times were.

But back to food.  Due to my sister's Lupus she could not be out in the sunlight so when it was dark we'd take her up to the Jerry's restaurant in Prestonsberg and she'd get the strawberry pie.  First time I'd ever seen anything like that with all the whole strawberries covered by whipped cream.  She loved them so much.  And it was about the only time and way she could leave the house.

Homer (her husband) raised a small garden every year and made the typical stuff plus something called 'Pickle Lilly'.  It is a kind of mix of peppers and other veggies.  It was something I'd not encountered prior to that and did not care much for.  In later days it has become something I enjoy.  When I'm not feeling well I crave hot/spicy foods.  Though the way my stomach has gotten those hot/spicy foods do not like me very much.  :-)

Maybe more memories at a later date.  Feeling a little on the emotional side now.

More About Gardens of My Youth

I wish I had cared more about fresh and preserved vegetables in my youth.  Both myself and my mother would have been a lot happier.  Now I long for those meals I viewed with disdain way back when.  In the summer we would have the table loaded with fresh green beans, potatoes, cucumbers, corn etc and I just ate whatever meat we might have and turned up my nose at the rest of it.  And, of course, I always got treated to the "starving kids in Asia" speech as well as a reminder my older brother loved such food.  I guess anything to make me feel bad.  Though, I'm sure they did not see it that way.

The next thing on our menu was melons.  Mother planted watermelons and cantaloupe.  Cantaloupe to use was "Mush Melons".  There was  a large inclined area between the house and the creek she would clean off every year and make hills for her melons.  Loads and loads of melons.  And, I'd have to take a water bucket to the old chicken house and fill it with dried chicken manure and carry it up to fertilize the hills then take the bucket down to the creek and carry bucket load after bucket load of water to irrigate the newly planted seeds.  This routine seemed to last forever to me.  I was never cut out for physical labor and always hated it.  I'd work just as hard playing a football or basketball game which provided not long term benefits but I hated working in the garden.  Except for planting and very little eating.

Mother, on the other hand, seemed to relish all the  hard work a garden took.  I don't know how Dad felt about it since he was mostly off hunting so I guess he  did not like garden work either.  Probably considered it "woman's work".  Kind of like my grandfather.  Women worked in the garden.  Men hunted or sat on their butt reading.  :-)  See?  I come by it honest.  :-)

When it came time to harvest most produce was canned.  However, root vegetables were treated differently.  With the onions when the tops became dry and brown we'd go pull them out of the ground and tie the tops up and take them to the outbuilding and hang them on nails.  Potato were dumped in a bin in the cellar.  I think turnips were all eaten before the need for storage arrived though I'm not sure.  I can remember a few years my grandparents raised sweet potatoes and I think those were stored in the same bin as the 'regular' potatoes though I have no definite memory of that.

In the Spring were berries.  My grandmother had a large raspberry patch and someone would buy a bucket or blackberries or huckleberries from some local kid who would go out and pick them.  Now blackberries are much more prevalent though huckleberries are almost gone.  Strip mining is the reason.  Huckleberries grew on the tops of the points and ridges and strip mining took all of those.  Blackberries grew almost anywhere and with all the strip mined land and all the birds "dropping" seeds soon there were blackberry vines everywhere.

Then there was one (and only one I knew of) wild strawberry patch.  I'd go to it daily during the early6 Spring to make sure I got every berry as it ripened.  It is not there any longer as my cousin, Skip, built a house right where it was.  Not farm raised strawberry comes even close to the flavor of a wild raspberry.  They were very small but packed more flavor in their small berry than the largest farm raised berry can these days.

One more note on potatoes.  We used a bin in the cellar for them but others of our family had no cellar so they 'helled' their potatoes.  Helling, (quite the interesting term) was done by digging a large hole and lining it with hay/straw.  Then when the potatoes were dug they were dumped in the hole(s) and hay/straw layered over them and a thick layer of dirt shoveled over them.  Enough to keep them from freezing in the winter.  When one wanted potatoes for supper one of the kids (yeah, everyone had kids who could be tasked with it) would be sent out to dig through the dirt and take out enough potatoes for supper.  Then you were careful to replace the hay before shoving the dirt back in the hole.  Back then, kids were careful 'cause they knew if they let the potatoes freeze nobody was going to eat.

Next on my list is rhubarb.  Rhubarb is a plant that resembles a giant celery though it has much more flavor and that flavor is sour.  On a small bank in the part of the garden across from the chicken house my grandparents had several rhubarb plants.  I have eaten a lot of them raw though it was more a test of stubbornness than a joy.  But, my grandmother could make the best rhubarb pies.  Hard to believe anything so difficult to tolerate raw could make such a great pie.  And, my brother-in-law Homer, used to make a churn full of rhubarb wine.  It was quite good as well.

We never had pumpkin pies and nobody I knew ever grew pumpkins.  We had 'cushaw' pies.  They tasted pretty much the exact same.  Not sure but I think a cushaw is a kind of squash.  Other than those we never grew much squash.

I'm sure I'll remember more about our gardens in time and I'll write more then.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mary, Mary, quite contrary; How does your garden grow?

This morning I have been emailing a friend of mine who lives in the Dallas, TX area.  We used to work together some years ago and still keep in touch.  I was talking about my wife being gone to the beach with her daughter and the daughter's mother-in-law this Mother's Day weekend and told her I was thinking of making a couple of meals I really love but don't get when my wife is around.  Various reasons.  One is they are unhealthy and they will probably make me quite sick but I do love them so much.

They are meals from my childhood.  The Ironic thing is back when they were common and available I did not like them at all.  It got me to thinking about the relationship I had with food in my childhood years compared to the way it is today.

I grew up in a pretty rural setting where everyone had a garden and preserved their own vegetables.  There were some pretty good time and some times that were a pure pain in the butt.  I know we always had a garden but I don't recall a lot about them so much as I do about my grandparent's garden.

My grandfather planted faithfully by the Farmer's Almanac.  I can recall quite clearly him telling me that potatoes should be planted "in the sign of the bowels".  That fell in February and if the ground was still too wet to be worked he would fret and fret the potatoes would not do well.  So he would get Virgil Boyd (One of the three Boyd brothers who married three of my Aunt Burnice's dauthters) to bring over his mule and plow and turn the garden in the bottom by the creek.  I supposed he also did the one across from the chicken house but I don't remember that one.  But, it got done some way.

After he'd turn the bottom he'd attach a "drag" to the single tree (look it up) and smooth off the turned ground.  When I was younger I'd sit on the drag and add my weight to it.  If we'd have had a harrow I think the ground would have been harrowed before dragging.  Then when the ground was flattened he'd attach the 'laying off' plow and make long furrows for planting the seeds.

You've seen the little spots on potatoes?  They are called 'eyes'.  We'd sit and cut up a sack of seed potatoes into small chunks but we had to make sure at least one eye was in each chunk as that is where the vines grow out of.  Then we'd walk the furrows doing the planting.  One person (generally me) would carry a bucket of cut up potatoes and drop about three of them about a foot apart in the furrow.  Behind me someone came with a bucket of fertilizer dropping some between the potatoes where the fertilizer did not touch.   Last came someone with a hoe to cover up the potatoes and fertilizer.

This part of gardening I never minded.  I always enjoyed the planting.

This was pretty much the same procedure for everything.  We would plant corn, beans, potatoes.  Other things were planted with "sets".  They would get seeds and fill a long bread pan with dirt and plant the seeds and let them grow indoors until time to plant.  Then we'd take and put them in the ground.  Tomatoes and cucumbers were done this way mostly.

Then there were things we grew in raised beds from seeds or, in the case of onions, small onions called 'onion sets'.  Lettuce and onions were planted very early in the Spring.  About the same time as potatoes and they were planted in raised beds.

This is about where my real interest in gardening ended.  The rest of it was just hard work and that was one thing I was never into.  The biggest pain in the butt was when the harvest came in and it was time to preserve the vegetables.  I remember my grandmother and mother working all day in the kitchen with an old coal cook stove canning tomatoes, making pickles and sauer kraut.  Kraut was the one I particularly hated.

They would take a large dishpan and cut up the cabbage heads into chunks until the pan was almost full then I would have to take the 'chopper' and chop it down to where it was kraut sized pieces of cabbage.

The chopper was an instrument with a horizontal wooden (or plastic) handle with two long tines with blades on the ends and fixed in place.  In between these two tines there was a third blade on a spring that stuck out just a little farther than the two fixed bladed.  I'd have to take this and chop and chop and chop...  I did not enjoy that at all.  And, I did not  even enjoy eating the kraut.  The one reward was I got to eat the cabbage 'cores'.  I did like those.

Well, that is enough for the day.  I'll continue my food meandering on another day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Some Memories of Those Already Gone

On a facebook post my one of my nieces I learned another of my first cousins (once removed) has passed away.  I never really knew him as he was so much younger than I.  In a way that makes it even sadder.  I'm 58 now and he was probably not even 50 yet.  Complications from pneumonia it was said.

I really only knew his older brothers and sister so it is not like I lost a close, personal friend.  But, it got me to thinking of all the people from my childhood who are no longer in this world and, through no vitrue of my own, I am still here.

Kenny "Buck" Spradlin whom I attended West Van Lear Elementary with put his Mustang under the back of a coal truck up by Porter Elementary in my early 20s.  Never really knew him but I did go to school with him and I remember he lived just across the street from the swings.

One person, who's name I don't even remember, from my high school class lost a confrontation with a train some years after I graduated.  And, that was just the beginning.  I guess it is just a part of life that we have to watch so many leave it before us. 

My first cousin, Elizabeth Fitch, married Johnny Borders and they are both gone now and have been for some years.  Elizabeth (Lizzie) lived with us when we lived on Stafford and went to school with my sister Mary Jane.  Johnny would come to see her and I loved him to come because he did a great Bugs Bunny impression.  "What's Up Doc?" was the way he always greeted me.

I recall one time they rode motorcycles over the swinging bridge at Whitehouse and came to see our family in West Van Lear.  I could not then (or now) imagine taking a motorcycle over that bridge.  I guess when you're young things are just different.

I remember when some of my cousins and my ex turned sixteen they held a communal sixteenth birthday party at their house.  We played "Post Office".  I'm afraid I did not acquit myself well.

I used to bum cigarettes from them all the time.  They both smoked so there was no shortage of tobacco around their house.

Lizzie and my brother, William, had a harrowing experience at Dewey Lake where they both almost drowned.  William would push her up where she could breathe then he would thrust himself up where he could breathe.  I was there on the shore but I don't really remember anything except hearing about it.

Then there was Aunt Bernice's son Jerry Lee.  He was a farmer, cattle grower, bull dozer operator on the strip mines and had a family of three boys and three girls, as I can recall.  He was always off working somewhere but he finally build a house (across from Johnny and Lizzie's place).  I helped Delbert Lee (the oldest) and Dan (the next) dig the foundation for them.  I can recall going to the stock market with them and taking a cow for Jerry Lee to sell and then he'd buy another one to bring home.  His memories mingle with the memories of his sons whom I hung around with.

Delbert Lee was slightly younger than I and Dan (known as Groundhog) was a few years younger though he is the one I became the closest with.  Dale (as Delbert preferred to be known) was allowed to quit school early by a doctor for medical reasons.  He started working really young and used his Dad's big truck to haul coal and sell it.  In fact the first time I drove a vehicle was taking that truck, loaded with coal, down a steep hill from the strip mine.  If I were him I'd have never trusted me in those circumstances.  Seems all my life people have had more faith and confidence in me than I did in myself.

Well, Dale is still living though Groundhog is not.  Seems he drank himself to death some years ago. I'd not heard from him in years but he and I spent some interesting times together when we were both younger.

We walked to Sherman Lemaster's store and each bought a case of pop (sodas) and went camping up a hollow from Virgil and Wanda's house.  I cut pine boughs and wove them through other boughs on the tree to make us a shelter.  Good thing as it rained that night.  We sat up just talking and trying to drink a case of soda (I think it was RC) each.  We did not manage but it was still a good night.  Getting dripped on by the rain and listening to the sound of it in the trees around us.

We did a lot of things together and I'll probably elaborate on them later in another post. 

My best friend during high school was Dave Burgess.  His dad was named Burl.  He was really close with my cousin Lizzie.  Now Lizzie had a half brother named Joe.  I can't say too much about him but he ended up getting killed in a fight with Burl because of something he said about Lizzie.  I was not there and just heard stories.  Burl, later died of lung cancer from years of smoking.

This is not even a good beginning of the remembrances I have of people from my life who are no longer here but I don't think I want to go on with this just now.  I'll continue talking about and remembering them at some later time.  Suffice it to say, none of us are promised tomorrow and every day some of us will not be around when tomorrow comes.  And all we will leave behind is memories in the minds of others.