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Downhomer
Ode to the Sourwood Tree

Writer Ray Bradbury wrote many fine books. In particular, he wrote one that was called “I Sing the Body Electric!” Not exactly science fiction, and not exactly a fantasy, it had a large following when Bradbury first wrote it. While I personally never cared much for that kind of reading material, I always thought “I Sing the Body Electric’’ was a very interesting title. So this day I borrow it to say — “I sing the Sourwood Tree!”
I could write a book about this lovely southern tree, for, as you might possibly guess, I am very fond of it. I have known, from when I first researched it, that it is one of the Sorrel families of trees and bushes, and is unique in that grouping. Think of a 30-foot-tall version of the miniscule ‘lily of the valley’ that grows in our flower gardens. You will understand then that another name for the Sourwood is a Lily of the Valley Tree. Sourwood trees grow as far north as southern Ohio, and southern Illinois, even into the southwestern tip of Pennsylvania. However, predominately it is a tree of the Appalachian area. As a child, I heard so much about these Sourwoods that I always thought of them as Kentucky trees, and perhaps that is what they are.
Some will tell you that Sourwoods are not considered to be profitable products of the forest, being hard to cultivate in any kind of natural grouping. In addition, most of the demands for its wood have dwindled away. Known as Ironwood, another of its names, it used to be greatly valued for its hardness of wood. In fact, it was so hard that old time pioneers used it to whittle out their plow handles, shovel, hoe and ax handles. I can’t say what is used to make such things nowadays, but I very much doubt it is Ironwood. In a postscript; Once upon a time the Cherokee and the Catawba Indians used the wood of these Kentucky trees to make shafts for their arrows. Nevertheless, and from a strictly ascetic point of view, no tree of the forest is more beautiful than the Sourwood. In early summer, it blooms, and I always know exactly when this happens. From the time the weather warms up, I watch for its blossoms to appear, and it delights my soul when they do. Lovely to behold, its florescence burst out in hangy down pendulums of cream-colored flowers that last until late fall. Soon after that, their preordained nature turns them bright red. Now. I come to the crux of this topic. Because of its flowers, Sourwood trees are a magnet for bees. They are attracted to those fragrant, long drooping clusters of bell shaped flowers that the tree displays in June and July. Speaking personally, I am convinced that honey made from Sourwood blossoms is the finest that any honey lover can ever taste. Even so, it is considered a rare find for serious honey enthusiasts, due to the scarcity of a crop that might occur only once a decade. So few Sourwood trees now grow in their normal habitat that lately, they have become almost an endangered specie. We did this. As we cut down our hardwood forests, we didn’t bother to be selective. Thus we cut down any Sourwood tree that happened to be in the way of our progress. I can remember a time long ago when one of my Hall cousins ran to tell my dad of a swarm of honey bees. They were clustered in a tree near our home on 45th Street, in Ashland. Back then, this was a very rural area, with patches of woods surrounding any house. The woods that belonged to my family were a Hansel and Gretal kind of place where we children, loving to be scared, often played. Everyone knew my dad kept bees, and that he was always gung ho at any time he could acquire more. So we kids knew he would rescue those swarming in his back yard; as a freebie, in fact.
“What kind of tree are they on?” Dad asked. And if it was Sourwood, he went even more swiftly to collect those bees. For he knew they would surely have sourwood nectar in their honey making apparatus. My dad loved sourwood honey, as do I. To me, it is the ambrosia of all honey, the piece-de-résistance, so to speak. Oh! Did I mention that another name for Sourwood is the Bee Tree? Hallelujah! Good honey!
To me, the very best. Therefore I say that if you want to plant a tree, plant a Sourwood!


Education and Common Sense
A happenstance unearths precious memories

Because I mentioned my high school English teacher, Miss Vida Lee, in a column that was published in the Southeast Christian OUTLOOK a few weeks ago, I received a call from a member of a widow’s group, NEXT CHAPTER, who is the program chaiman for the organization. She said her name was Nina Hunt, and that her late husband had always talked about his high school English teacher, Miss Vida Lee, who had his class memorize any famous poetry. When she said his name was Albert Hunt, I recognized him as being a year ahead of me in school and that he was an excellent pianist.
She invited me to visit the group meeting, and offered to come by and take me across the street to the church, where the group met. I was glad to go, as they had invited me to speak at their August meeting. They are a lovely group, and I enjoyed that day’s program, a gentleman from the church who told us about his involvement with a prison ministry.
Nina handed me a book that was the 1942 Annual from Morgantown High School, which is now Butler County High School. She let me keep it for a month so I could look at it. I was delighted.
Our 1943 class was not allowed to put out an annual because of World War II. It was interesting to see, from an experienced educator’s eyes, what a wonderful job those nine high school teachers did teaching about a hundred fifty high school students. We had no Physical Education classes, no Home Economics, typing or shop classes. The building that had been constructed to house shop classes was being rented by the County Agricultural Agent, Samuel B. Kent, who was my brother Neil’s best friend.
We did have a wonderful English department, a great math teacher, wonderful geography and history teachers, and a great biology teacher, who was also the Principal, C.A. Rone. His picture was in the annual, alive and healthy, but before the next years’ class graduated, he would die in a car accident in which the truck he was riding in burned up with him and his brother in it. Our biology class was strictly from the book; we had no biology lab. We could spell the names of every genus and phylum, however, and when I took biology in college, I was offered a position as a lab assistant there!
I saw in the senior class pictures, a picture of my dearly loved college roommate, Juanita Taylor, and on the autograph page, I saw the names of many of my friends. I was not a special friend of Albert’s, so my name was not inscribed there.
My picture was at the top of the Junior class page. Winifred Simpson was president, and I was vice-president. I was also assistant editor of the fledgling newspaper, THE BLUE MIKE. I remembered what a pain it was to produce that paper. The only mimeograph machine was in the Superintendent’s office, and Mr. Louis Armold graciously let us use it. Since nobody could type and nobody had a typewriter, we were up the creek without a paddle. However, Wilma Snodgrass, a lower classman who later became Mrs. Troy Lee Tuck and a faculty member, had the use of her family’s typewriter and typed all the copy for us. Typing for the mimeograph machine involved cutting a stencil, and correcting a mistake was almost impossible. I remember being involved with the production. The editor, Neel Tanner, mostly wrote long editorials about national news. (He wrote me a letter from some army base where he was stationed after the United States used the atom bomb on Japan, “I think using the atom bomb was out-of-bounds—even with the Devil for the referee and Hell for the skirmish line!”)
I saw a picture of my freshman crush, Thurman Peay, in the pictures of our class, and grieved again that he was killed in France on D-Day.
Evidently, our class was given one page to write something about our class. Nobody was given credit for anything, but I think, as well as my 71-year-old memory can resurrect, that Bernice Clark, Charles Romans, and I, who were the three “scribes” of the class, wrote the poem naming each of our class members. For example: “Gerald is our geographer; Charles is our photographer.” And “Aubrey is studying to be a pharmacist” (he worked in the Drug Store after school) and “June wants to be a journalist.” (Pharmacist/journalist, get it? Great high school rhymes!) and “Bernice is a very good poet; Tack can pass but doesn’t know it.”
We ended the poem (?) with “If you want to know the author of these poetic flares—Well—er—ah—-uh — It’s just one of those XYZ affairs.” (Evidently we had been studying American History and were familiar with that term. )
I called my friend Bernice Clark Curtis and had a delightful conversation with my old high school buddy. She married a soldier and moved to his hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, after the war. We have kept our friendship intact fot 75 years and counting. She is still living in her own home, driving to church and the grocery store at the ripe old age of 89, still handing out bulletins as a greeter for her church. Charles is still writing a column for the county paper, and I still want to be a journalist!
I’m so happy that Nina shared the annual so I could go on that precious memory trip!


Education and Common Sense
A blessed birthday shoe-in 
My friend Lee Moyers’ great-granddaughter, Diana Walden, loves shoes. When she said she wanted new shoes for her ninth birthday, her mother, Jessica, told her that she had enough shoes, and she was growing so fast she would need new ones soon, so she needed to wear the ones she had.  
Her father, Chris, said that when he was growing up in foster homes and the Home of the Innocents because he was orphaned at age eleven, he never had new shoes, but he was glad to wear some other child’s hand-me-downs.
To find out that her daddy had never had new shoes when he was growing up broke Diana’s heart, and she determined that she was going to do something for the children at the Home of the Innocents and ask that instead of birthday gifts for her, that people provide new shoes for her to give to those children.
Lee told me about her grandchild’s determination as I was riding with her and Diana’s grandmother, Dinny, on the way to Women’s Bible Study at West Broadway Baptist Church. I told our Woman’s Missionary Union about Diana’s project, and we put a box in the Welcome Center at church appealing for shoes. Diana’s mother, who works at River City Bank, got permission to put boxes in four of their branches to collect new shoes. Diana would not tell anybody who was coming to her birthday party that she wanted anything but shoes.
We collected 37 pairs at our church and the Girls in Action (Diana’s age group of mission learners) spread them out along the wall so the churchgoers could see how many were donated. The total number of shoes Diana and her mother, daddy and little sister Christal took to the Home of the Innocents was 135 pairs!
As a relative newcomer to Louisville, I was not familiar wth that ministry. I called to get a quotation from someone about the child’s generosity. I got a quotation from Lilly Lang, Child Development specialist. Ms. Lang said, “It means a lot to our children to get new shoes. We are so happy that Diana thought of our kids and took the time to collect shoes for them.”
Ms. Lang also sent me, through the magic of e-mail, a brochure telling me all about the Home of the Innocents. I had mistakenly thought it was a church charity.
The Home of the Innocents was founded in 1880, with eight children as the first residents. The MISSION STATEMENT reads: “Home of the Innocents is our region’s open arms to kids in crisis. The home provides theraputic, loving care to children who are victims of abuse, abandonment, and neglect: children who are medically fragile; children with autism and other behavioral health diagnoses; and families with a host of exceptional needs. Our mission is to be a community of dedicated people who provide the skills and opportunities by which vulnerable children, youth, and their families may improve their lives.”
The brochure states that approximately 73 percent of the 30 million-dollar a year budget comes from Kentucky state funding, and the Kosair Charities Pediatric Convalescent Center provides 10 percent. The rest is made up of grants, donations from corporations, and from more than 14,000 private donors. They also accept in-kind donations of clothing, toys, and personal care items.
I was impressed that their administration costs were only 7 percent of the total, and they only used 2 percent for fundraising.
There was much more about the ministry than I knew and I was glad Diana nudged me into finding out about it.
I am sure that the 135 children at the Home of the Innocents who get a pair of new shoes courtesy of Diana Walden will be proud and happy, but I am also sure that a 9-year-old blonde angel named Diana will be the happiest of all!
She has learned that Jesus spoke the truth when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  


Downhomer
Great minds (may) think alike
I have heard a lot, but do not know much, about such things as Thought Transference, Mental Telepathy, the Reading of Minds, and such. Even so, I am sure that somewhere, in those so-called “Think Tanks” even now scientists concentrate on perfecting some such qualities a few might actually have. The hope seems to be that such mental acuity might be harnessed — become, if possible, a thing of self-defense, even an advantage in a time of war.
I can remember that during the Second World War anything that was a help to either side was explored and used. Along that line, Indian soldiers were trained back then to use their native languages to send out messages the enemy could not decipher or understand.
I, myself, happened to live during that particular time. Thus, I’ve enjoyed watching all those Indiana Jones movies where the plot line is that the enemy we fought against in that particular conflict kept trying to find something that would disprove the Bible. From the get go, Hitler’s philosophy was that if you could destroy America’s faith in God, America would fall. Long before Indiana Jones, the Christian community knew this. Eventually, word of that close call did leak out, winding up on the cutting room floor as movies for the masses.
Now some of the people in some of the countries across the globe are trying to move outside the goals of war. Of course, there is, and always will be, the jockeying of position if such an event should happen again. For us, the focus of our national resources now seems to be channeled towards an exploration of the vastness of the Universe. Even there, there are some who think to disprove those words given us all those years ago…”In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” However, just as Hitler failed, any who stand against God will also surely fail.
Moving outside the norm, the attitude among some is that the human mind is actually just another frontier of space, every individual a world unto itself. These things are much too deep for me, and I don’t bother my mind about it. However, I do think that even an old country woman such as I, even a down-home individual such as you might be, can sometimes have flashes of insight. We don’t always understand it, don’t bother to label it with some ambiguous title, but for a few moments we sense that our brains have worked overtime, outside its usual channels.
My sister and I often have, if not identical dreams, at least ones that are similar enough that it gives us a shiver of unease. Living so far apart, she and I do often phone each other, but invariably we have not done so the night we have our dreaming connection. Is this then, a sleeping kind of thought transference? And who is to say it does not sometimes work like this.
My mother used to say that similar minds work the same way. This has to be evident in my column of last week. The DownHomer is printed on Friday. I write it at home, either on Monday or Tuesday, and send it in to the paper on Wednesday.
The columns of Clyde Pack and Sara Hopkins Blair are printed on Wednesday. I would say they probably wrote those columns the end of the previous week, sending their offerings in on Monday to make the deadlines for the Wednesday edition of the paper. Fact is, some of the time I don’t always start to write my column on Monday, so I know none of us can be copying from each other. So you tell me how we all happened to write the very same thing last week, it being all about cast iron skillets and the special place they have in our individual households.
Is this then, an exercise in mind reading, thought transference, mental telepathy, or what? That old saying my mother used to quote was not exactly the way I wrote it just a few lines back. Actually, what she used to say was that small minds (the emphasis being on the small) moved in the same way. I can accept that Clyde, Sara, and I often have parallel points of view. I don’t think any of us could be thought of as having small minds, proof of this being in our mutual writing ability. So maybe there is something to the concept of minds that work in a similar way… and isn’t that a scary thought!


Smile Awhile
Sara Blair

Come to me, my melan “collie” baby

(This is a reprint of an article I did for The Paintsville Herald nearly 20 years ago. It seems impossible that much time has passed, but I’m still here.  Much progress has been made in the treatment of animals since this was written so keep that in mind. And, also keep in mind that there are many animals in need of homes; animals that have been abandoned and mistreated. They need our help, so please support our local organizations that are in desperate need. I hope you enjoy it.)
With all the recent advancements in medical science, I was not surprised to read an article that told about a new pill being developed that had the potential to treat depression in animals.
This mentally stimulating topic of discussion evolved at lunch as my co-workers and I bandied about the many reasons dogs might have that could project them into the throes of depression. 
“Besides the obvious reasons, what would cause a dog to be depressed?”  Susan asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I laughed. “How does the word “neuter” make you feel?”
“Bothers men more than me, but that would probably qualify for major depression all right,”  Susan replied.
“Sharpei’s have something to be depressed about,”  Tania stated.  “They’re ugly!”
“That’s those wrinkly dogs, aren’t they?”  Susan asked.
“Yeah, if I looked in the mirror and saw that many wrinkles I’d need more than Valium to  make me perk up,”  I stated.
“You’re close to there now, aren’t you, Sara?”  Tania asked, apologetically. “Well, animals, particularly dogs, are sensitive to several things that people don’t understand,”  Susan interjected.  “For example, if someone fed their dog a cheap soy bean dog food that caused the animal to pass gas, that could be traumatic. Whenever they passed gas, the owner would blame it on poor old ‘Rover’ and that could cause permanent damage to their little psyches.”
“How so?”  we asked.
“Can you imagine how many times that defenseless animal would be cursed and kicked-at under the table under those circumstances? That could be so embarrassing for an animal and cause it to have a persecution complex.  We’re talking major therapy.”
Tania and I looked at Susan in amazement, but how did she come up with this analogy?
“Is flatulence a problem at your house?” I kiddingly asked.
“Oh, yeah!  My dogs are bad for it,” Susan laughed. “My husband berates our dogs every time we have company. And I’m not quite sure it’s always the dogs that are having the digestive problems.”
The more I thought about it, Susan did have a valid argument. After all, what about all the pointer-retrievers whose owners can’t hit the “broad side of a barn” when they’re out coon-hunting? Imagine the animals frustration? I can just hear that poor little coon-dog saying to the others, ”I point, he shoots, but there’s never anything to retrieve. I’m so confused.”
“You’re right! And think of the befuddlement if a Chihuahua fell in love with a Saint Bernard? Tell me that wouldn’t cause depression,” I said to the girls.
“Oh, but wouldn’t they have the cutest pups!” Tania exclaimed.
Susan and I looked at each other in amazement as Susan said, “Yo Quiero, Taco Bell, Tania. Which when translated into English means, “Are you serious?”
I hope some company generates a dog insurance policy before all my friends’ animals have to go into shock therapy.
Have a great week and don’t forget to Smile Awhile.



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