Drinking your pop through a straw
For 30 years, or so, once a week -- usually on a Sunday after church -- I find myself staring at a blank sheet of paper (or these days, a blank computer screen) wondering what words I can use that will be interesting for those who read this newspaper.
Guess in that length of time, I’ve covered about every subject one could think of, except of course, politics and religion. But it seems the older I get, the more my thoughts take me back to the days of my youth. Of course, if you read this column regularly, you know a lot of ink -- probably much more than necessary -- has already been used on that subject.
People often ask me how I can remember all that stuff I write about that happened 65 or 70 years ago. I assure you that it’s all … or mostly … true, at least to the extent that my pea brain and memory will permit. But to be perfectly honest, I get a lot of help. Like I’ll mention a particular person or event, then run into two or three old friends who enjoyed the same upbringing that I experienced, who say what I had written about reminded them of something else, which, in turn, will also remind me of something else that ends up being excellent column fodder.
For example, a while back I wrote about how some people today are blaming all this childhood obesity stuff on fast-food restaurants, some even threatening to sue a couple of the major corporations. A couple of people who I’ve known since I knew anybody, reminded me that, although they were few and far between, we had a few fat kids running around the neighborhood back in the day, but we didn’t have fast-food restaurants. So, they asked, how do we account for that?
Back then, we had a couple of drive-ins, but by and large, a restaurant was just a restaurant. You went inside, sat at a table with a checkered tablecloth, or a booth, and ordered a plate lunch. You got to drink your pop through a straw and while you ate, booth sitters could play, without leaving their seat, three Perry Como songs for a quarter on the juke box.
I suppose that in most such eating establishments the food was usually pretty good, and relatively inexpensive. But to tell the truth, it was indeed a rare occasion when a coal-camp kid like me ever experienced a go-in-and-sit-down restaurant. I was probably 12 or 13 years old before I did and to this day can’t imagine what prompted such action since I never went anywhere that I couldn’t get back home before suppertime.
Anyway, the point here is my friends were absolutely right. Those little oval-shape boys and girls we knew and loved back in the day, could not blame their physical appearance on fast-food restaurants. Too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, maybe. But the fast-food industry was innocent, at least in this case.
The Best day ever
His name was Charles Floyd and he held the rank of Sergeant in the United States Continental Army. And even though he is relatively unknown, he does have one claim to fame: he was the only man to die on the greatest exploration project in our early country’s history. The expedition was called “Discovery”; and as a daring venture by even more daring men, it had no equal until America’s first astronauts walked on the moon.
More often referred to as the “Lewis & Clark Expedition” (named after its two co-captains, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark --- younger brother of George Rogers Clark) it was deemed foolhardy and even suicidal by some because this party of men left St. Louis in 1803 and were not heard from again until 1806. By 1805 they were written off as dead because their quest to travel up the mighty rivers of the Missouri, the Snake and the Platt and then hike across the Rockies to the Columbia River and follow it to the Pacific Ocean was considered impossible. And of course they then had to backtrack home through the same hostile country populated by numerous Native American tribes --- some friendly, and some not so friendly.
But after everything was said and done, there was only one fatality on the trip; Sgt. Charles Floyd, a Kentuckian, died on the way out near what is today Souix City, Iowa, of what appeared to be a ruptured appendix.
And were it not for the tenacity of one young girl here in Paintsville, Kentuckians might well have never heard of this hero’s sacrifice.
Mary Ellen McKenzie, daughter of Mark and Alicia McKenzie of Paintsville, first discovered “Discovery” around five years ago. Only eight years old at the time, she was amazed by this fantastic adventure. Even more amazing to her was the story of Sgt. Floyd and the seemingly shameful way his state had ignored this fallen hero’s contribution to our history. Souix City, Iowa, long ago erected a 100-foot obelisk in his honor, but Kentucky sort of reacted with “Sgt. Charles who?”
All of that would change as Mary Ellen spearheaded a movement that would give Sgt. Floyd his due. With the help of her parents, family and friends (it’s hard to say “no” to Mary Ellen) a proclamation was announced by Steven Breshear in 2013 proclaiming August 20 (the day Floyd died) as Sgt. Charles Floyd Day in Kentucky. Representative Hubert Collins presented the resolution on the floor of the Kentucky House of Representatives, after which it was passed by the Senate as well.
For the past four years Sgt. Charles Floyd Day has been celebrated on August 20 in Louisville (the first two years at Locust Grove --- the home of George Rogers Clark --- and the past two at the beautiful Frazier Historical Museum in the downtown district).
Guest speakers in full authentic costumes, and Chatauqua actors portraying historical characters such as George Rogers Clark and “York”, William Clark’s personal slave who accompanied him on the three-year journey, round out a two-day celebration of the life of a great Kentuckian, Sgt. Charles Floyd.
Mary Ellen herself has received numerous awards and medals for her efforts, and at some point each year can be heard to say, “This is the best day ever!” And indeed it was!
Aug 24, 2016, 08:13
The rose of our hearts is an iris
On August 6, 2016, the most famous figure in Van Lear, Kentucky, was not country music legend Loretta Lynn --- it was Iris Blair. Forgive me if I brag a bit, but Iris Blair (my mother-in-law) was honored at Van Lear Days as Grand Marshall of the annual Van Lear Town Celebration Parade that is held the first weekend of August. (Defiantly modest, Iris would tell you that she was selected because she was old, but she was truly deserving of the honor).
Iris (Ward) Blair graduated from Van Lear High School in 1944. At the time, she lived on Davis Branch road and walked or rode a bus to Van Lear to attend high school. (On many occasions, she and her brother, Ralph and her two sisters, Marie and Wilma, took a row boat across the river to attend classes at West Van Lear Grade School).
On the Friday night before the parade, Iris addressed a group of people and told them about her graduation. She said that the commencement exercises were held in a church. It was a sweltering, hot evening so the windows were open to allow a breeze to flow freely through the packed audience. Iris said she distinctly remembers that as they sat listening to the orator, a big, black bug came flying through the window and flew directly into the speaker’s mouth. Without missing a beat, Iris said the man reached up and pulled the bug from between his lips, flung it to the floor and continued talking as if nothing had happened. Iris said she could remember the incident, but she couldn’t remember the man’s name.
After graduation, Iris worked for a short time in Columbus before she returned home and a few years later married Dennis Blair in September of 1947. Ronnie was born nine months to the day after this union and his brother, Jim, came along four years later. Iris and Dennis were married almost 60 years before his death in 2008. Ronnie said that even though his parents had different political affiliations and attended different churches, he never once heard them argue about these issues. (I find this fascinating since Ronnie and I rarely agree about these matters). At the present time, Iris is still playing the piano at the Missionary Baptist Church in West Van Lear where she has played for over 60 years.
For many years, Iris worked at Cox’s Department Store. I’m sure she waited on me at one time or another but I never knew her until I started dating Ronnie. At the time, I didn’t know we had anything in common except for her son, but I soon learned we had more in common than either one of us knew.
First of all, Iris was a Ward and my great-grandmother (Emma) was a Ward. In fact, Emma and Ronnie’s grandfather, Asbury Ward were related. Also, Iris and my mother both dated Richard Sparks. Richard attended Van Lear his freshmen and sophomore years then finished high school in Paintsville where he played football. And, ironically, several years ago while Ronnie and Jim were mowing their family graves located on Cumbo Cemetary in West Van Lear, Ronnie glanced down and noticed that his younger brother, Donnie Lee (who was stillborn) was born on August 21, 1950 --- the same day that I was born.
Although I’ve only known Iris Ward Blair for 18 years, I’ve come to realize what a remarkable and wonderful woman she is. Even-tempered and genuinely sincere Iris speaks ill of no one and leads a christian life. She laughs often, wears a perpetual smile, listens to music, plays cards, works puzzles, and continues to attend dances at least twice a week. She is an avid letter-writer (a lost art) and if you’re fortunate to receive one of her letters, you would know that her sons (and daughters-in-law) have no equals and that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are the smartest, most beautiful and talented children on earth. And she would tell you she’s old enough to know that’s true.
I can truly say that Iris is enthusiastic about life. She has survived snake bites, a horrific bout of shingles that left her blind in one eye, and the death of a child. Yet she is the strongest person I know. They just don’t make them like her anymore. She’s the original “Made in the USA” patriotic kind of girl and now she’s the Belle of Van Lear.
Have a great week and don’t forget to Smile Awhile!
A bumper crop of reading material on display
Although I’m not much for placing bumper stickers on my own car, I’ll admit that I sometimes enjoy the messages others choose to display on theirs.
Unfortunately, as was the case when I got behind a pickup at the James S. Trimble Blvd./Rt. 321 intersection a while back, there are some who exercise their freedom of speech by displaying graffiti-like tirades bordering on obscenity. Or, as was the case with the pickup, are inflammatory, divisive and racist. I didn’t recognize the driver nor the truck, and I’m kind of glad he wasn’t a friend of mine.
Then, there are those cute little ideas that provide smiles for motorists driving behind them. The message was pretty clear that read, “Discover wildlife. Raise twins.”
But really, when you come right down to it, bumper stickers often reflect the true feelings of those behind the wheel. It’s not hard to believe, for example, that those vehicles that display “Coal keeps the lights on” and other pro-coal messages, are driven by those who are passionate about the industry that has put food on the table of Eastern Kentuckians for generations.
I’ve read a lot of bumper stickers that are religious in nature and are affirmations of faith, and others that express how the owner of the vehicle feels about such things as ecology, gun rights, global warming, abortion and dozens of other causes.
Some drivers, I’ve noticed, are like me in that they drive around town with a naked car bumper. However, many of those have moved their message to eye level with magnetic stickers of yellow and pink ribbons. Of course, there’s a little competition for that particular space on the car because that’s where most auto dealers have already placed their own little logos. And lest we forget, there are those little computer-generated stick-figures representing the family -- including ole Rover -- that are stuck to the rear window.
Anyway, I kind of like the magnetic sticker idea because one can avoid the ugly gooey residue and having to get a sharp blade to remove what was once a political endorsement or an idea no longer considered worth displaying.
With another election campaign underway (if you use the term loosely) we’re becoming inundated with candidate’s names and slogans staring us in the face every time we stop at a traffic light or stop sign. It would be interesting to know how many votes are added to the total because of a bumper sticker.
I heard of one local voter who collected bumper stickers from as many candidates as he could. Then, after the election, he plastered his car with the stickers of the winning candidates. He said he never knew when he might need a favor from some big-shot politician.
But regardless of how effective they might be as a campaign tool, with the election, plus all the other worthy causes there are out there, an observant driver should never be without something interesting to read.
Hopefully, the above-mentioned pickup is from somewhere else and was just passing through.
And life goes on
Now that I have graduated from the cast on my right foot to a boot, I am ‘supposedly’ doing better. Walter says to me, “I guess that thing is pretty heavy to drag around,” and I answer, “Do you remember “The Comancheros”; the movie where John Wayne is a Texas Ranger trying to get Stuart Whitman back to Louisiana to stand trial or killing someone. Stuart Whitman keeps getting away from him, so John Wayne shackles him to an anvil. My walking in this boot is like having to walk around carrying that anvil!”
Actually, I do appreciate the advantages of my boot. I am allowed to remove it to take a bath or to go to bed, and or when I just sit quietly in my chair with my feet up. So yes. With a walker, I can hobble in my boot to the sink to wash the dishes, hobble to the fridge where with Walter’s help I can make the two of us a sandwich, can make our coffee, even hobble to the stove to make a simple meal or warm up leftovers some of our family has cooked for us.
With Walter to fetch and carry for me, I can make the bed, and do enough laundry to provide us with clean clothes. Even so, it is good when bedtime comes and I can be off my foot and out of the boot for that renewing rest.
Of course I am not doing my usual canning activities, and worse still, I have not been in church for two weeks. I always keep track of the services I miss; how many were there, who did the preaching, who sang and what did they sing, and what was the message of the hour. I miss it all. In particular, I miss the services when a guest preacher comes. For I say truly that almost as much as I love my own Pastor, I also love all these other men of God. In fact, I have often said that I have never heard a message that I wasn’t able to learn something from, nor a preacher I didn’t like listening to, as long as they preached THE WORD!
This past Sunday the visiting preacher who came to deliver the message of the hour at Hammond was Rev. Harold Salyers. I really did hate to miss that service, and have depended on my sister in the Lord, Bradelene Mollett, to tell me all about it: What Harold and his wife Marlene sang, she playing the piano, and the two of them doing the old mountain song, “Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad;” which just happens to be one of my favorites. After that, according to my friend Bradelene, Rev. Salyers preached on Psalms 103, which is also one of my favorites.
Now it is a new week, and life goes on, an ever changing and static thing, which, regardless of what might come our way, still has to run its course. I might moan and groan at the inconveniences of my present state, yet there is always something to be thankful for.
Today, as I sit at my computer to write this letter from down home, I can see that so far, it is not raining. In addition, at the moment, the airways are not bombarded with the propaganda of two warring political wanna-bees. Of course this is but a brief respite, for soon they’ll be back at it again.
In the meantime, and in spite of this little glitch in my lifestyle, I enjoy being a part of the underlying goodness of life.
Sitting here this morning I can look out the window and see hordes of hummingbirds eating from the sugar water we provide for them. Those first few days after my accident I was not able to replenish those feeders, and suddenly the hummingbirds stopped coming. Then with Walter’s help we managed to make up a new batch of go juice, and almost as soon as the feeders were refilled, back they came.
I really do believe these tiny birds can communicate with each other, pass the word of where food is available for their kind, their family. It’s like the two cardinals I saw out our kitchen window the other day. It is very easy to tell the difference between a female and a male cardinal, so I truly know it was a male cardinal I saw pick up a seed and put it into the bill of a female cardinal.
I could formulate a page-long narrative about the act of devotion, and about the way all of nature, the animate and inanimate, have this invisible and inarticulate wavelength which every single thing seems to hear and respond to, a voice we humans do not often hear. I know that this loving voice is the same one that sends the wind and the rain, commands the waning and ebbing of the seas, the lifespan of the rocks and the trees, the stars, the planets and the entire universe.
The ordaining voice comes from He who sees every sparrow fall. This is also the same one who knows the exact number of hairs on my head. It was likely His voice that inspired Louise Wiley to call me today to say she was praying for me. What wonderful medicine is the spurt of courage a friend sends you.
Believing this, why then should I ever be disheartened at some unexpected circumstance? For just as it is our Father’s Beloved voice that directs the birds in their nest, the animals in their dens, He just as easily can direct our ways if we are willing.
Thank you, Lord, that this even includes me.