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Downhomer
The norm we live in

This Monday morning as I look back at the past week I think of all the turmoil, which is the norm for the world that we live in. Death and mayhem and violence in many different places are an everyday occurrence. Lately we have begun to think there is no safety anywhere. We tell each other it can’t happen here, but we know it can happen anywhere.
Then there is the political skullduggery of those so-called National Conventions. Amidst all their chaos they tell us this is where the people speak to pick a candidate for president, according to their party affiliation. We all know this is not at all what happens. The party and not the people make the choices! The only thing people do is to follow willy-nilly the propaganda each party puts out on the other one.
Once a man went through the land with a candle trying to find an honest man…If we did as Diogenes, and looked high and low for a specific kind of honest man, (spell that politician,) I doubt if we’d find one. And as far as those political parties go, in my opinion, we’d be so much better of with NO PARTY! (Wow! I can already hear the negative reaction to this!) Whatever, I personally believe that our two designated parties have been the ruination of our country.
Even so, I am still comforted by knowing that God is still God and will have His way. I might not live to see the working out of His will in the last days when all human endeavors fail beyond the fixing. Then will our Lord return to gather his people out of what comes next on the late great planet Earth.
In the meantime, here at home we are still in these intermittent, monsoon-like rains, and more recently, a breath robbing heat index. Then do we all tend to stay inside, to be cooled by fans and/or air conditioners. I remember when few people had any of these marvelous cooling devices, had not even heard of them. Now we think we can’t survive without one or the other.
When I was a child there were no such things, as air conditioners, and also not all that many window fans. I can remember the house being only a few degrees less warm than the outside temperature. Yet we made it, and we children even went out to play as usual. Most of us knew of some shady, unpolluted water hole where we spent a lot of our day. Of course we all heard family warnings about the ‘Dog Days of Summer’, when it was so unbelievably hot that we children needed to stay in the shade. In addition we were also told that during this time snakes were blind and would strike at anything, so we had to be extra careful. I don’t remember seeing many snakes when I was a child, nor a day so hot that we didn’t continue in our usual pursuits. When the heat began to be really oppressive we hued ourselves to that favorite swimming hole.
I remember that during those vacation times from school, we usually went out every morning as soon as breakfast was over. We might have had oatmeal or biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Whatever, as soon as we had eaten, regardless of how hot it promised to be, we went where we pleased, climbing the hills, roaming the hollers, climbing trees to swing from some sturdy wild grape vine in an imperfect but quite satisfying imitation of Tarzan, that Lord of the jungle.
At noon, when our stomachs began to grumble, we’d wander into the house for a left over biscuit or a piece of corn bread saved from the night before, then back out we’d go.
Sometimes we’d be called in for some of the tasks our families expected us to do. Then, at first chance we’d be back doing our own thing, only calling a halt for supper.
When in the course of the day nightfall began to fall, we’d wander out to the yard to dart here and there to gather lightening bugs, which we always let go again. When the night birds began to sing or an owl began to hoot, we’d answer the call to come in to go to bed, often to plan and dream about what we’d do the next the day. We slept secure even though no one ever bothered to lock their doors. For no one had ever heard of a so-called drug culture. And few people had any more then just one gun that was kept for use during hunting season. Later on, when summer faded and autumn began we started on a new set of pursuits. Of course there was school. However when it was over each day and on the weekends we hunted and gathered papaws, and persimmons, then hickory nuts, and black walnuts. We rejoiced to see when the crop of popping corn our family raised was harvested and stored in the barn loft. We could almost taste the big pans of popcorn our folks made from this goodie. Of course we were aware but not terribly impressed by how diligently through the summer our mothers had worked to lay up summer fruits and vegetables for winter’s use; it was just what they did, and our own normal childhood activities was what we did. All through the summer, dog days and all, we roamed as we pleased, and no one we knew were ever snake bit or had a heat stroke or were ever bored: this even without cell phones or Facebook or iPads!


Education and Common Sense
A visit to a simpler time?

My friend Lee Moyers and her husband are selling their condo and moving to another one that is more convenient for them. Naturally, she is involved with checking what she wants to take with her and what needs to be discarded. I had the same problem when I went from a seven-room house with basement and garage storage that I had lived in sixty years.
Lee told me about some books she had found that I might be interested in. One was a cookbook that had been published by the Paintsville Eastern Star ladies in 1963-64 that her husband, who is from Auxier, had bought because his cousin had a recipe in it. Lee graciously gave me the cookbook, which I shall write about later.
She had a “Little Black Sambo” book that she had when she was a child. I loved reading the story and seeing the same pictures that were in MY childhood storybook. It’s a shame that the story has become “politically incorrect” as it is a perfectly delightful story. I loved rereading it.
The third book Lee loaned me was “Anne’s House of Dreams”, by L.M. Montgomery. (A.L. Burt c1917) I read “Anne of Green Gables” as any high school girl who reads did when I was in high school. It was and is a story about a red-haired orphan girl who comes to live with a Prince Edward Island (Canada) couple, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who really wanted a boy to help him on the farm. They take Anne Shirley and she has many adventures at home and at school. Her main rival at school is a boy named Gilbert Blythe. I have forgotten much of the story, but I do remember I loved the classic book.
I also know from being a high school librarian for over thirty years, that Montgomery wrote several further adventures of Anne Shirley in which she goes to college and begins teaching. The book I was privileged to read this week (through the generosity of my friend Lee) was the story of Anne’s marriage to her old rival, Gilbert Blythe, who has become a doctor and they move into a lovely old house in a new community. It was wonderful to meet my old friends and find out that they had grown up to be useful citizens.
(I feel much the same way when I read on Facebook about the good citizenship of the people I only knew as high school students.)
I enjoyed reading about the neighbors and their life stories in the three or four years Gilbert and Anne lived in that particular house. I was surprised that I remembered some of the names of the people in Anne’s early life. I enjoyed being immersed in a simpler time, and not being concerned about what is happening on my television.
In the book, I met an old sailor who is a lighthouse keeper, a beautiful neighbor who takes care of a disabled husband for years before discovering he is her dead husband’s look-alike cousin, and a man who vowed not to shave, trim his beard, or cut his hair until his political party won. After about twenty years, nobody recognized him when he appeared clean-shaven after the election!
I’m so glad Lee unearthed that book in her moving upheaval and that I could travel to Prince Edward Island in pre-World War I times for an enjoyable vacation.


Smile Awhile
Sara Blair

How hot is it?

It’s time we discussed “Climate Change”.
Whether you believe it or not, this year and last year are the two hottest summers I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve seen quite a few of them.
Now if you don’t think the climate has changed just take a trip to the North Pole and you’ll find Santa and his elves sun-bathing on the sleigh. That’s the truth! Up water-skiing. If the Arctic Circle is melting we better get our sunscreen out.
Even though we had a terrible winter two years ago, this past winter was unusually mild except for February. In fact, one of my best friends had a family reunion two days after Christmas and they sat on her front porch!
My paternal grandfather (he passed away in 1968) once told me that he ice-skated on the Big Sandy River in 1914. And though I’ve seen ice floes in the river, I’ve never seen it frozen over in my lifetime. I do remember my sister ice skating on the pond at the country club but that’s just a small stretch of water.
I inquired about the warming trend with several informed individuals and I received some interesting opinions. One person told me that we experienced 100-year-cycles and he believed that’s exactly what’s happening. I also spoke with two young people who are currently living in California and are working on environmental issues. They both told me that the situation was critical and if we didn’t address global warming immediately we would have serious consequences in the near future.
It would be nice if we had a Floridian summer 10 months out of the year, but we would then need to worry about the polar ice caps. If the ice caps melted, our coastlines would change and our axis would shift. Florida and California might disappear into the oceans.
It appears that Conservatives tend to believe that there is no global warming; Liberals believe it unconditionally. I’m more inclined to be Conservative, but I believe our climate is indeed changing.
Even though I’m not a scientist and I certainly don’t have any expertise in meteorology, it’s my opinion that we probably need to start building another Ark.
Have a great week and don’t forget to Smile Awhile!


Poison Oak
Clyde Pack

The Weather Channel vs. the critters

For some reason lately, I feel compelled to check the Weather Channel the last thing before I go to bed and the first thing when I get up in the morning. Don’t know why, really, unless it’s just that people tend to have an innate curiosity about such things.
In the days before we had the Weather Channel -- or any other channel, for that matter -- folks in this part of the world sometimes depended on familiar animal friends to aid them in figuring out whether or not tomorrow it was going to be “too wet to plow.” For example, according to folklorists, if they 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 every family had a cat … or two … or three -- would let everybody know when it was going to rain, by simply sneezing.
A couple of other early weather forecasters included horses and bats. If ole Trigger stood with his backside to the corral, rain was on the way. Of course, all that would have been cancelled if the bats were observed flying really early in the evening. In that case, good weather was on the way.
It seems that critters that share space with humans on this planet, at least in the old days,  were also considered to be pretty good predictors of things other than the weather. 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 if the aforementioned “family cat” got carried away and sneezed three time in succession, someone in the family would catch a cold.  
I can’t remember ever dreaming of a cat, but it was once believed that to dream of a white cat meant good luck.
Of course there are still people who believe the old superstition about having bad luck if a black cat crosses the road in front of you. But there was a time when folks believed that 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 horses and bats (check three paragraphs above) they also played other roles in folklore. It was a bad omen -- and the marriage was surely 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. Exactly how that could have been accomplished is beyond my pay grade.
Anyway, back to the real world and the Weather Channel. As simple as it is to turn on the TV, it’s still sometimes sort of confusing to me. I mean, can anybody tell me the difference between “scattered”  and “isolated” showers?


Poison Oak
Clyde Pack

Farmers’ harvest comes to town

According to an article in this paper earlier this month, the local farmers’ market is going strong, thanks, of course, to the hard work of a few dozen local gardeners and the home extension office.
And, of course, that’s a good thing since the time has long since gone when more folks did than didn’t raise a garden in Johnson County. Sixty-five or 70 years ago at about this time of year, our own back porch and kitchen were cluttered with fresh-from-the-garden goodies. Although Dad was a full-time miner, many’s the time when he was on the day shift, he’d head for the garden after his day in the Northeast Coal Company’s Number 3 mine and work his garden until darkness drove him home.
To be perfectly honest, I was a bit too young to be of any help, and I’m sure Dad considered me more trouble than I was worth when it came to both growing and harvesting. But you might say I came in handy and more or less earned my keep when it came time for Mom to can what Dad, for most of my pre-teen years, toted by the bushel from his little garden plot.
My contribution in the great scheme of things occurred when it fell upon my little brother and me -- mostly me --to help wash those tons of empty jars that had been accumulating in the corner of the smokehouse for the past year.  I’ll never forget how much trouble we’d have getting those rust rings from the grooves in the neck of those things. No matter how much we’d scrub and scald, if Mom would see one speck of brown, and she was a thorough inspector, back in the soak tub it’d go, and we’d have to start all over again.
I can’t speak for anybody else, but even after all these years, I still remember that, except for the canned tomatoes Mom would use when she’d make a pot of vegetable soup, I cared little for things she canned. I didn’t like the greenbeans, be they canned or fresh from the garden. And I absolutely hated it when she’d open and serve a jar of corn or kraut. But apparently, not only does wisdom come with age, so does an improved appetite. These days, I could just about eat my weight in those things and founder on home-canned vegetables.
Anyway, just as it has been with many other old- time mountain traditions, Time has put a good- size dent in the art of canning, and gardening too, for that matter.  I’m sure there is still some of both going on, but nothing like it was before the days when the supermarket bins featured heaps of vegetables of all colors, shapes and sizes.  
But it still just might be a pretty good bet that if you’ll listen closely, you can still hear some kid, elbow deep in a tub of soapsuds and hot water, complaining about having to wash -- and wash again -- a big- mouth Mason jar.



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