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Downhomer
Ramps, Morels, Poke, Shoney and Fiddleheads

I love this time of year. I really don’t mind April rains, as long as they don’t cause flooding. I also don’t mind a good thunderstorm, as long as it’s not part of a tornado. Mostly, I don’t often think about such things. I just remember that April showers bring May flowers. Also, they say whenever it thunders early in the spring season it’s because the potato wagons are rolling. I am not sure what this is supposed to mean, except perhaps that thunder in the first part of a new year signifies that it is time to plant potatoes. There’s another saying that tells us you should plant your corn when the first whippoorwill calls. So far, I have not heard those birds tuning up. Yet I have seen a couple of hummingbirds flitting about, beating their tiny wings in a whirling celebration to spring. I too celebrate the season, and today I will make sugar water for the birds that are here. Later I will sauté the gathering of wild Ramps Walter picked for me yesterday. I might wish to have some stalks of Poke to add to the mix, or maybe even a few spears of wild Asparagus. Whatever, I’ll sauté the Ramps, eat them with appreciation. I do relish wild greens, and not because I have a need to eat them, my body requiring the cleansing which they provide. No, it is that I like to utilize the plants that grow around us, those that are edible and often delicious. Our families knew about such things, as did those who went before. However, with the ability and the ease with which we now acquire food, we are losing knowledge of those wild things the older folks treasured. Early on, the Indians never had a nearby grocery store. Even so, any Indian worth his salt knew how to gather a meal from the wild. The first peoples of the earth were hunters and gatherers and knew about herbs and grains, roots and berries. They knew where to find wild honey and they knew where to get salt. I wonder, if our food supply became drastically limited, would we know the wild non-poisonous plants that were safe to eat.
As it happens my daughter Deb has two Master degrees; one in English, one in Biology. Isobel Mowat, my Michigan friend, had a girl with a Masters in Biology. So between these two and along with Isobel who often took part in several Michigan State Ecological Surveys, I learned a lot about edible plants. I learned which of those plants were on the endangered lists, and which ones you never ate because they either had carcinogens or were poisonous. Like the lowly, tightly curled and quite tasty Fiddlehead Fern. “Eileen”, my friend told me, “Some say these have a carcinogen in them, but I eliminate that by par-boiling them a few moments, then pour out the water and reheat them in a skillet with a little oil. Actually, their season is so short that we don’t eat enough of them to hurt us.”
It’s the same with Poke. In its berry stage, the plant is very poisonous. But before that stage, it is safe to eat! Our folks ate it for years, often cooked it with other greens, thereby benefiting from a double portion of vitamins, minerals, and iron! I myself like Poke best when the young shoots are rolled in meal and pan-fried. As a side bar, I have to say I am glad Poke in Kentucky would still be called Poke if it grew in Michigan. Fiddleheads in Michigan would still be known as Fiddleheads here in Kentucky. Morels there are the same Morels we hunt here. However, Spring Beauty is the name of a little plant that is highly treasured in the north. It is on the endangered list there, and so is seldom picked. Here it is called Shoney, Miner’s Lettuce, and/or Chicken Toes, all being the same plant and all edible. Of course, being so tiny, to get enough for a salad you would have to pick quiet a lot of it. Maybe that’s why it’s on the endangered lists.


Education and Common Sense
I want to gnaw the floor!

The most graphic picture of frustration I ever heard was a story my husband, Harold Rice, told me about what Mr. George Ramey, then the Director of Mayo State Vocational School, said when he was trying to get a Licenced Practical Nurse program started at Mayo. The state was requiring lots of picky standards, and the Registered Nurses were objecting to the program.
“Sometimes you just want to gnaw the floor!” he complained to Harold.
I have been frustrated with AT & T for some while. I gave up my cell phone when I gave up my car, as I really do not need one. I have been an AT&T customer since I married in 1950, and I like a  home telephone. Since  the Internet has come on the scene, I have had my telephone and Internet bill together. I used to use the long distance phone system a whole lot, but now I am close to Cathy, many of my long-distance buddies are in heaven, where I can’t call them, and usually Steve and Patti call me. Still, I like to have unlimited long distance service.
When I first got the Internet and phone bill together, my monthly bill was something like $57.00 a month. It gradually crept up to $96.00, but when I got a $113.00 bill, I called AT&T and said if my bill was going to be that high, I would have to find another company, though I had been a loyal AT&T customer since 1950.
The representative went to work trying to figure out some way to make me happy. He decided to put in U-Verse, which is a wireless service. The price per month for my home phone and my Internet (the TV Cable fee I pay in my rent) was to be $67.50 a month. I was delighted. When the man came to install the service, he said I would get my bill on line. I said I wanted a paper bill, as I am 89 years old, and I like to see my bill.  He waived the $99.00 installation fee.
I kept waiting for a bill. I did not get one on line or in the mail. Finally I got a bill for $2.50. I paid it. Then I got a check for $32.00. I cashed it. Still no bill. Finally, I got a faint notice on the Internet that I owed $249.80! I could not open the post. Fortunately they had given me  (on line) a number to call to get a real person. I called first about my bill and got a robot who could not ask me the right questions. I called the other number and a sweet voice answered. Finally, I had connected with someone with a human brain and a voice!
I explained my dilemma, and said that if my bill was going to continue to be unreasonable, I would have to find another telephone service.
It turned out that the $249.00 included three telephone bills, as it had been that long that I had the new service. She promised that I would get an itemized bill in two days, and from now on, I would get a paper bill in the mail. I told her that the installer of the U-Verse system had told me that the $99.00 installation fee had been waived.  She found that to be true. I also told her that I had never made a late payment of my telephone bill since 1950, when I first became a customer.
I am looking forward to receiving my bills in a timely manner from now on, but sometimes I am so frustrated with these calls to companies that I just want to gnaw the floor!


Smile Awhile
Sara Blair

Back to the past
You know how certain things jog your memory and you start thinking about stuff you haven’t thought of in years? Well, that happened to me the other day and since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how it was when I was a child growing up in Paintsville.
I’m not sure whether or not it was the conversation we had with Clyde and Wilma Pack, or our attendance at the funeral of Sophia Conley (who ran The Tiger Drive Inn for many years) that brought so many images back to me.  Or it could have been a smell that wafted me back to my early days of Paintsville when it was a bustling “city”.
But I can vividly remember the distinct odor of salted peanuts mixed in with a faint whiff of chewing tobacco that you always smelled when you walked down Court Street near the corner of Main where Murphy’s was located. It’s hard to imagine now, but there were times when it was difficult to get through the crowd gathered on that corner.
And when I started thinking about those places, my mind automatically wandered back to the years when my Dad (Buzzy Wheeler) was County Court Clerk and my sisters and I spent so much of our time in the clerk’s office. I can still see the faces of Dotty Stafford, O. T. Brown, Mr. Miller, and Jerri Conley smiling at me when I would walk in.
Later on in the 70’s, I worked at the courthouse with the Big Sandy Community Action Program and I was reminded of all the stores that were located across the street from the Courthouse: Rexall’s, S & S Shoe Store, Maggard’s, and Home Cash Grocery that was located on the corner of 2nd and Court where Williams Floral now stands.
I can’t remember the year, but one day before Thanksgiving as I was getting ready to leave work, Granny Wheeler called and asked me if I could pick up some pecans for her. As I walked into Home Cash (I can still see the soon to be embarrassed boy who was stocking cans of soup) I immediately blurted out, “Hey Buddy! Where’s your nuts?” It was one of those moments when, in a split second, you wish the earth would cover you up. His face wasn’t any redder than mine when I turned to the counter and saw Tom Pittman leaned up against the wall smiling broadly.
I was also reminded of the time when Daddy, Paul Martin Stafford, Joe Brown and I were sitting in a booth at Malcolm’s (which was located at on the adjacent corner of 2nd and Court) eating lunch.  I was rattling on about how much I thought Joe Brown looked like my idol, Eddie Fisher. At some point during the conversation, Daddy turned to me and said, “I think I need to put a mute in your mouth.”
Of course, all my verbal reminiscing sparked a long and enjoyable conversation with my husband who had similar stories to relate about his memories of Paintsville and growing up in Johnson County (specifically West Van Lear). That’s when we decided to put our heads together and ask that you take a “walk back in time” with us as we remember Paintsville and Johnson County. If you have any memories you would like to have included in these articles, please feel free to contact us. We would value your input.
Have a great week and don’t forget to Smile Awhile!


Poison Oak
Clyde Pack

Animal friends and folklore: a remarkable partnership

With the weather being as volatile as it has been lately, I find myself tuned to the Weather Channel quite a bit. But in the days before we had a weather channel, or any other channel for that matter, folks in this part of the world apparently depended on their familiar animal friends to aid them in figuring out whether or not tomorrow was going to “be too wet to plow.” For example, according to folklorists, if early Appalachians saw one of their dogs eating grass, it was a sure sign it was going to rain.
Not to be outdone, the family cat, and there was a time when everybody had a family cat or two … or three, would let everybody know when it was going to rain, by simply sneezing.
A couple of other early weathermen included horses and bats. If ole Dobbin stood with his backside to the fence, rain was on the way. Of course, all that would have been canceled out if the bats were observed flying real early in the evening.  In that case, good weather was on the way.
Seems that the four-legged critters that shared space on the planet with human folk in the old days were also considered pretty good predictors of other things besides the weather, some of it not so pleasant. For example, if a dog was heard howling three times in a row late at night, it meant a death would soon occur. Folks also believed that while the aforementioned cat was sneezing, if he got carried away and sneezed three times in succession, someone in the family would catch a cold.
I can’t remember the last time I ever dreamed of a cat, but it was once believed that to dream of a white cat meant good luck. And if you were ever lucky enough to see a one-eyed cat, you were expected to spit on your thumb, stamp it in the palm of your hand, and make a wish. You guessed it, your wish would come true.
And speaking of bats and horses (check three paragraphs above), they also played a significant role in early folklore beyond that of being weather forecasters. It was a bad omen, and the marriage was doomed, if a bat was seen inside a church during a wedding. On the other hand, it was once believed that a horse could be very helpful in curing a child of whooping cough. All you had to do was have the child inhale the horse’s breath. How that managed to happen remains a mystery, at least to me.
 It seems domestic animals didn’t own a monopoly on old-time superstitions. Even the common honey bee played a role in early folklore. If a bee got inside the house, you might as well set out another plate. Company was coming. However, you were in for some good luck if a butterfly managed to find its way inside. Maybe the company wasn’t coming after all?
Anyway, guess some things never change. Here it is 2015 and we still can’t seem to get along without our animal friends. One of my friends keeps a Ram locked up in his garage.


Education and Common Sense
Bible Rule uncomfortable? Change them!
Each morning, when I log on to my e-mail account, I have a posting by Jonathan Garthwaite entitled “Townhall Daily,” which is an assortment of current articles by different authors from various publications. Usually there are one or two that I am interested in enough to read the whole article.
This morning I was intrigued by an article by Michael Brown entitled “ The New York Times Wants Us to Rewrite the Bible.”
When I read Brown’s article, I found that he was castigating Frank Bruni for an article in the New York Times entitled” Bigotry, the Bible, and the Lessons of Indiana”.
It seems that Bruni thinks that because society has progressed far beyond the “ancient texts”, and rules about how we are to live with each other and opinions about what is right and what is wrong have become a “a matter of choice,” then we can just rewrite the Bible to have God agree with what the current opinion about what sin is.
Several places in the Old Testament the writers describe a time when everyone “did was seemed right in their own eyes,” and that seems to be what our nation is descending into these days.
I think Mr. Bruni is mistaken if he thinks  a mere human being - or masses of human beings — can rewrite the Bible. Those of us Christians and Jews who believe the God of the Universe gave us the Bible to show us how to live together in peace and harmony do not believe we have the authority to change what God has written. We believe that long after our civilization has been forgotten, the Bible will still be true.
Often I think what a wonderful society we would live in if everybody obeyed the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses on the top of that Middle Eastern mountain over 4,000 years ago.
Just think! If everybody loved and obeyed God; took off one day a week to rest; honored their parents; honored their marriage vows; did not steal; did not bear false witness (lie); did not murder; did not look at anybody else’s possessions to want them; nobody cursed anybody; nobody  worshipped anything other than the God of the Universe. Wouldn’t  that be a wonderful society? And, when Jesus added that God is love, and we are to love one another as God has loved us. Wouldn’t that put the icing on the cake of an ideal place to live?
Now we are hated for disapproving of anything anyone wants to do, whatever their lifestyle and however anti-God anybody wants to be.
I disagree with Bruni when he says that the Scriptures are just “ ancient texts” and that “ all writings reflect the biases and blind spots of their authors, cultures, and eras.” I believe the Bible is truly written by the God who created the Universe, all science, the DNA molecule, and the rules for humans to live by.
And one of the hardest rules for me is to love everybody, whether they agree with me or not.
I have to vote against rewriting the Bible, however hard it is to follow its teachings.



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