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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Few Comments on Books

I grew up a child of solitude.  I had 'older' parents and my father could not stand much noise going on aoound.  I learned to be quiet our of self-preservation.  When we moved to West Van Lear, Ky I was not at all used to being around other kids.  That did not much matter because I was not allowed to associate with them outside of school as one of the few things my parents agreed on was, "anyone and everyone, would be a bad influence on me".

So, my interaction with my 'peers' was limited to two recesses and one lunch period.  Those two recesses and one lunch period were not happy times for me.  Just another push toward a life of solitude. 

I'm not sure what my age was when I started to 'read for pleasure'.  Maybe the third grade.  But, I can say for sure it was in the fourth grade I started reading 'adult' level literature.  (Also where I fell in love with my first black woman, but that is another story for another time.)  In slow times during class I'd read items out of the encyclopedias or learn new words from the dictionary.

I also discovered the great, unexplored world of the 'Western Novel'.  I'd read anything I could get my hands on but the 'Western' was my first venture into adult literature.  I absolutely adored Zane Grey and read Max Brand more because it was a western than because I enjoyed im.  (Just as a matter of FYI he is the author who created 'Dr. Kildare'.  A popular TV Soap Opeara of the time.)  I read somewhere he averaged a novel every two weeks.

I'm not sure where I was (gradewise) when I discovered Sci-Fi.  The names, Asimov, Clark, Heinlein, Anderson, Dick (Phillip K.) and many others opened up new worlds of the future and a different take on what was and was not popular, to me.  I still feel the need to go back and read some of their classics.  They feel like old friends and home to me now.

Being a social outcast left me plenty of time to read.  Having a high WPM and comprehension skill meant I'd fly through books.    Mostly all the Sci-Fi I could get my hands on but biographies as well.  I read every bio of every Yankee player I could get my hands on.  I'm still a Yankee fan as much as I am a fan of any pro team. 

I read histories and historical fiction.  And when I did not have anything new to read I re-read whatever I had at hand.  I am so devoted to reading I can't go to the supper table without a book (Now a Kindle), I can't even contain myself to one book.  I generally have a book open in every room of the house so I don't have to hunt for anything.

In my later years I discovered heroic fantasy.  My sophomore home room teacher loaned me his copy of "The Hobbit".  "The Lord of the Rings" was a revelation.  One weekend when I was in Norway for work I read the entire triology.  Take away my books?  I'd rather you just killed me.  It would be much easier to deal with.

Even later in life I discovered Sir Terry Pratchett.  I have just about everything he has written and the re's in re-re-re-re reading have become too many to try to keep track of.  Yet I still read history, historical novels, mysteries, thrillers, Spy stories (Len Deighton is the BEST followed by John Le'Carre)  I just cannot get my mind around the idea of people who do not like to read because everything is found there. There is the present, the past, the future, things that might be and things that might have been.  There are the stars of our own solar system and the myriad of stars in our galaxy and throughout the universe.  Everyting that has every been done or even thought of is in a book somewhere.  How can anyone not love to read?  Its beyond me.

So, what am I reading now?  A book I  picked up in the Miami Airport on the way back from Curacao, a book about Daniel Boone, A novel about Nefertititi disappearing, Aesop's Fables, a story of a boy from the Ky backwoods, a novel about Judas and the 'betrayal' of Jesus and several others.  I am unable to confine myself to one book or even one genre' at once.

I can sit for hours with my hands idle but I cannot go five minutes without needing a book in my hands.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Incident With a Black Snake

When I was in my early to middle teens I nearly always ran wherever I was going.  When I was going to my friend (and cousin) David's house it was closer and quicker to go down the creek, through the old fence, around the hill side and hit the old county road and run as long as I could on it, then go through the fence and around the hill, then across the bottom to his house.

One day en route to his house I was running along the old road and just before I got to the fence across the road where his Dad kept their cattle I stepped across a large (4-5 ft long) blacksnake.  I stopped several steps farther along and turned to look back at the snake.  I expected it to just crawl off.  This one had other things in mind though.

You've seen movies or even photographs of a Cobra standing up on it's tail?  That is what that black snake did.  It raised up so only a foot or so was left on the ground and the other three to four feet of it was standing straight up and the head turned to look at me.

I was looking around for a rock or a strong branch but the section of road where both the snake and I were was over grown with honeysuckle vines.  So we just stood there looking at each other, neither of us moving for what seemed ages.

Then the snake dove over the bank and disappeared.  It did not drop to the ground at all but dove in the air over the bank.  I'll swear the whole thing was in the air for a while.  Afterwards I ran on down to Dan's house but I'll never forget the way it was just standing there watching that snake look back at me for so long.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

About One Song

I fell in love with this song in the late 70's.  I tired to buy it on 45 as I could not afford the LP. (look it up you young squirts)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJJFvXyLV6Y

It is a story about a wild country boy (is there any other kind?) who has a devilish epiphany...

Either way...I love the banjo.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some Memories of My Teachers (Grades 1-7)

My first teacher was Mrs Cooper.  She and her husband lived in the little cabin where I was born up Nat's Creek from my grandparent's place.  I was staying with them so I could go to school.  Truthfully, I don't remember much about her.  I think she was relatively young.  Had she much experience she would not have been relegated to a one-room school out in the middle of nowhere.

But I do remember she would get out and play (or at least referee) the games we played at recess and lunch.  It was a long time ago but I don't ever remember anyone "acting up" in her class or getting a paddling.  Teaching all eight grades in one room that must mean she was a pretty good teacher.

When we moved to West Van Lear, Ky for my second grade year my first teacher was Mrs Green.  She was a somewhat overweight, thirty-something (at a guess).  She was not much on paddling but she surely loved to grab you by  your shoulders, lift you up out of your seat and shake the dickens out of you.  Made your teeth rattle.  Only happened to me once but I surely do remember it still.

Third grade was Gay Bailey.  I can't recall whether she was a Miss or a Mrs Baily.  She was really young though.  She  gave me my first paddling in school.  It was for running in the classroom.  I always felt a little bit of injustice in that as I was not running.  I did jump across my desk but I did not even take a running start.

Fourth grade was Mrs Hazlette.  I can't remember too much about her in any detail.  She seemed old then, like most adults, but I guess she was on the sunny side of forty.  I can remember the first half hour after lunch she would read to us.  Two of the books she read to us were "The Sword in the Stone" and "White Squaw" which was the story of Jenny Wiley and took place locally.  In fact Jenny Wiley is buried twenty or so miles from where that school house sat.

It was also while in her class President Kennedy was assassinated.  The fourth grade classroom was also the main entrance to the school and had a porch in front of it.  I can remember sitting on the left side of the porch (standing outside and looking toward the school) in the sunshine and thinking about the assignation.  I know it was late November but it was a sunny day there.  I was very sad.  I just did not understand how anyone could kill our President.

We had all kinds of contests which made schooling more interesting.  We had math contests, spelling 'baseball', plays on historical events. The one I remember was Edison inventing the light bulb.  Our group did that one and we ran way short of the time limit and had to improvise to fill the time.  Most enjoyable time I had in a while was that improv.  The other two people on my team were petrified without a script but I had a feeling of being freed up to do what I felt instead of being forced into a rigid script.

I guess that is where my personal insecurities began to show because I can remember her telling me on one occasion to never feel down because there was someone I did not know who looked up to me and thought I was just the best thing ever.  I thought she was talking about a real person and not just an idea and I always wondered who that was.

Fifth grade was Mrs Mollette.  I think she must have been the oldest teacher in the school.  She was the only one I can remember had any grey in her hair.

In her class was where my inability to participate in many activities really hit home.  No valentines, no Christmas play, pretty much no nothing.  Except cake walks.  Do they still do those?  It was kind of like musical chairs.  All the contestants would form a circle and when the music played we'd walk slowly in a circle.  When the music stopped the person on the 'mark' selected before the walk won the cake.  I won three in a row.  On the fourth one Mrs. Mollette gave me the dime I needed to enter for half the cake if I won.  I did not win and was heart broken.

Since I could not be in the Christmas play I had to just sit at my desk and watch everyone else get selected for parts and rehearse.  Long before the play I had memorized every line of every part in the play and used to get so frustrated that people could not even learn just their own lines when I knew it all and could not be in the play.

Sixth grade was Tom Hummer.  He was my first male teacher and also the second one to give me a paddling.  And, again, I felt somewhat abused.  He told us not to do our Weekly Reader questions until he told us to.  Well, at the time I was working in the "lunch room" and he assigned them while I was there.  So, I never did mine.  So I got a paddling for not doing them.  I thought that sucked and was completely unfair.  Of course fairness was something I had already learned not to expect.

I suppose I may owe him for some peace at home though I'm not sure.  I had to sit at the dining room table and complete all my homework before being allowed to go to bed.  One night my parent's were fighting (about me as usual) and so I quit working my math problems and just put down a bunch of random numbers so I could show them I was finished and get out of there.

So, when he graded papers I got about half of them right then the next half were all WAY wrong.  He called me up to his desk and asked me about it and told me that was not like me.  So I told him the truth.  I don't know if he had a word with my parents but I really don't remember than ever having anymore big fights over me when I was around.  If he did something like that then I have a lot to thank him for.  More than makes up for one unjustified paddling.

My final year at West Van Lear was my seventh grade year.  My seventh grade teacher was Larry DeLong.  He was the Principal as well as the seventh and eighth grade teacher and was pretty much feared by every kid in school.  I think he was just pretty much misunderstood as I think he was a pretty good teacher.  The end of that year, a couple of weeks before school  was out, we moved back to Nat's Creek and he had no problem with signing off on my advancement from seventh to eighth grade. 

Those are just a few of my elementary school teacher memories.  Later on I'll have to write some of my eighth grade and high school teacher memories.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Winter Mornings at My Grandparent's House

When I was a small'ish child I spent quite a bit of time staying at my grandparent's house.  (Let me be specific here.  I don't distinguish between grandparents as I only ever knew my maternal grandparents.  My paternal grandparents were long dead and gone before me)

The house was a three room affair.  In the back it had a long, narrow kitchen and dining area that ran the length of the house.  Off that was the "living room".  It was also a bedroom and the place where the pot bellied stove was during the winter.  Then off that was a third room which was also a bedroom and were my grandmother did her sewing.

When I stayed with them during warm weather I'd sleep with my grandmother in the sewing room but in the winter we all three would sleep in the "living room" where the stove was.  My grandparents would sleep with their heads up at the head of the bed and I'd sleep with my head down to the foot of the bed.

In cold weather when it came bed time my grandfather would rattle down the ashes (look it up) in the stove and put in kindling wood for the next morning's fire.  We all wore "long john's" so with all the quilts we had stacked on us we were fairly comfortable.  Until morning at least.  At the crack of dawn I was jostled out of sleepfulness and kicked (metaphorically most of the time) out to rush over to the pot bellied stove, open the door and splash a goodly amount of coal oil (kerosene?) on the wood and fling a match in on top of it to get it lit.  Then I'd start stacking small lumps of coal on the flames until it got going then put a few more larger lumps on before I could dash back to bed to lie until the chill had somewhat dissipated.

When the cold got tolerable we'd haul out of bed and I'd go to the kitchen to break the ice in the water buckets and Granny would get the fire started in the wood/coal cook stove for coffee.  Not that was some kick@$$ coffee.  It was in an old, blue speckled, enamel coffee pot.  It was not a percolator just a pot and they rarely ever emptied old coffee out of it or cleaned it.  Granny would just dump some more fresh 'grinds' into it and pour in some water and put it on to boil for breakfast.

Breakfast at my grandparent's house was some affair, summer or winter.  We'd always have bacon, ham (the kind from those old, oval cans), sausage, eggs, biscuits, gravy, red-eye gravy from the ham, jam or jelly (home made) and sorghum molasses.  We'd always put that on the stove until it boiled up all foamy and hot and eat that with butter my granny had churned.

That coffee would "put hair on your chest" and I cannot ever remember not drinking it for breakfast.  My Dad would put loads of milk and sugar in his but I always wanted mine hot and black. (Somehow hot and black has been a common denominator in my life)

After breakfast it was time to go feed the chickens and collect the eggs.  After that I really can't remember a lot about the winter says.  In the summer I'd "skin the cat" on the quince tree or play in the creek.  In the winter all I can remember doing is listening to Poppy tell stories and cracking and eating black walnuts from the trunk full of them they kept in the attic.

They never had a TV and really the radio was only played on Saturday nights to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on WSM out of Nashville, TN.  Decades before video games and home computers.  I guess it was pretty much if you could not find something to interest yourself in you just sat around and whined about being bored.  Of course, when I was growing up, whining was pretty much a quick ticket to getting an A$$ busted so it was mostly find something to do and shut up.  :-)

My Gradparent's Creek

My grandparent's lived in a house up on a bank and faced Nat's Creek.  This is not unusual as most houses face the road.  In fact, in older places, you can tell the age of the house when you see if it faces the river, railroad or paved road.  It was natural my grandparent's house faced the creek as the creek was the county road in that area and gave a literal meaning to the old saying, "If the good lord's willing and the creek don't rise".  If the creek got very big you were stuck walking around a footpath on the hillside.

This creek had several different characteristics in the short length where it was the roadbed.  Up the creek near where I was born it was a mostly gravel bottom with scattered large rocks I was told had washed out of Mill Branch during a cloudburst.  It was gravelly with enough larger rocks to make it a great place to catch craw fish.  Then the portion in front of my grandparent's house was kind of deep (relatively speaking) and a little overhung by the willows and weeds.  I never was comfortable in this part of the creek and rarely ever was in it.  In fact when I wanted to go between the portion of the creek above my grandparent's and the portion below them I would climb the hill and hike through the yard and down through the field to the creek below.

The creek below my grandparent's house was also pretty gravelly with far fewer larger stones for craw fish.  I think that is where I spent most of my time when "playing in the creek".  And, one could hear a car coming for a long time and had plenty of chance to move out of the way.

Down the creek between my grandparent's house and where the road came up out of the creek was more sandy than rocky and a person needed to know the creek to now which side of it to hold the car on to to keep from getting stuck in the sand.  They called it quicksand back then but I really think it was only thick sand.

I did enjoy walking down that way as one side of the creek bed was above the water and the other side was kind of deep.  Now, deep in this reference was maybe ten inches.  During normal times at least.

This creek was my favorite thing in the world for some years.  I could not wait until it was warm enough in spring to get in it and dreaded the fall when it got too cold.  Except for winter when it would freeze over and I could go ice skating on it.  Never had any skates.  Just in our leather soled shoes we'd take a run and stop and slide and see how far we could go.  Like the intro to Tony Bourdains's show, "No Reservations".  It was never far, maybe ten feet at the most.  But, it was a world of fun.

That little creek gave me a goodly number of happy times when I was a kid.  But, like most of my childhood, time has destroyed those things except for my memories of them.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Storms

It has been raining here for the past few days and that is welcome in central South Carolina in the summer.  My elder daughter and my two (so far) grandsons were here and we briefly talked about storms.  She is writing a novel about the survivor of a tornado and I mentioned I enjoyed storms and rain.

I told her I did not necessarily like destructive storms just the loud, windy storms that drop a ton of rain.  Then this morning I realized that is not true.  I do like destructive storms.  One of my favorite memories is sitting in our kitchen in a duplex in Lake Worth, FL when hurricane David went through.  I was highly disappointed as I'd see what I considered far worse storms in my Kentucky hills growing up.

I guess when one is young one does not realize the human toll of those destructive storms and where we lived there was NO danger of a hurricane and very little of a tornado.  (However the exception to that rule happened last spring as devastating tornados hit that area)  What we had were thunder storms from light to fierce and from fleeting to lasting days at a time.

I can't remember any storms in the two places we lived before we moved to Spring Knob in around 1957 or 1958.  That was a forestry tower way back from the paved road between Inez and Paintsville.  There was a small log cabin (three rooms) that sat somewhat down below the tower.  The tower was one hundred feet high and stood on the highest point of Spring Knob.  In order to get to the outhouse one had to leave the cabin, walk up the path to the tower and beyond and down over the hill.  Guess if you were in a hurry you ran instead of walked.

But that place was my real introduction to storms.  For our part of Kentucky we were pretty high.  Nothing like a real mountain but pretty high enough where the clouds were going past below the cabin as well as around and above it.   When we had a thunder storm there we had a front row seat.  I guess you could call it a holoscopic view of a thunderstorm.  Of course I was not allowed outside while the storm was going on but I would have loved to have been.

Lightening fleshing up and flashing down and thunder so close it would make your soul rattle inside your body.  We lived there about four or five years and once you've gone through that many hill top storms there isn't much in the lowlands that is going to impress you.

And, it was not just thunder and lightening but I also loved snow storms.  Those little bits of "spitting" snow to those huge, wet flakes that floated down like they were reluctant to leave the air and settle to earth.

When we moved from Spring Knob we went to a place called West Van Lear, Ky so I could go to school without having to stay with my grandparents and walk to a one room school on top of a hill a good walk aways.  I can't really remember any thunder storms there though I'm sure there were plenty but I do remember the snow storms.  The second place we lived in West Van Lear sat on a little rise beside the road and there was a dusk to dawn light on an electric pole directly across from our front steps.  I can remember lying in the little, unfinished section of the second story looking out the window and watching the snow flakes fall coming from the absolute darkness into the light and floating down to cover the grass and road.

Then in 1967 we moved back to a place known only as Nat's Creek.  RR2, Louisa Ky, 41240.  It was a twenty-one mile bus ride from where I caught the bus to the school.  A lot of time spent on those school buses.  But that is where I really fell in love with storms.

We lived there from my eighth grade year until a year after I graduated from high school, got married and moved away.  In those six-plus years I saw some jim-dandy storms.  When one of those, long steady rains would set in I'd move my old, iron bed from the middle of the room over by a window facing the creek and lie there propped up on pillows with a book and a good view of the rain and the rising water.

I remember well the way that tiny trickle of water in the branch between the house and outhouse would be full to overflowing and the crisp, clear water would go jumping over rocks on it's way to the main creek below.  And, the main creek would turn from a small stream of five or six feet across into a 'river' of fifty to sixty feet across covering our 'foot bridge' and up into the lower rooms of the old barn that sat below the house.  I was always so disappointed when the rain stopped and the creek started to subside.

Of course, that was not the only great time I've had via storms.  Hunting was something I grew up doing and "hunting season" was something that was just some words which had no meaning at all to me.  But that comes into conjunction with relationship (or lack thereof) I had with my parents.  I sought any and every way to spend as much time away from them as humanly possible.  So, the old reliable, was to take my shotgun and head for the hills.

Now, being out in the forest (woods) and seeing a storm coming up was nothing to cause consternation as I knew those hill tops well and a good, dry rock cliff was never far away.  Duck in, start a nice fire and find a comfortable place to lie or sit.  Unload the 12 gauge and put it at the end of the cliff so it if got hit, I didn't.  Then just sit or lie there with my fire going and watch (and listen) to the rain falling softly through the leaves.  That was a very peaceful time for me.  I never cared much if I got any game or not.  The beauty and peace of the forest was plenty good enough for me.

I will always love my storms.  In fact when I bought my current house the front yard was overgrown with trees of various sorts and when a good storm would come along I'd sit outside on my small porch, smoke cigarettes (I've long since quit) and drink beer and just enjoy the wind, rain and fury of nature.

I really do feel for those victims of storms who lose their whole life's work or even their life to a storm but something inside me can't help thinking, "Damned, I wish I could have seen that!"