Friday, May 16, 2003

Sweet Water

Did you ever wonder much about what happened to the custom of offerin' folks a cold drink of water?

Back when I was a youngin' it was custom when folks was a visitin' or even if they stopped by as they was a walkin' here or yonder to offer a cool drink of water. Most times that drink wasn't given till someone took time to draw up a fresh bucket of water from the depths of the well.

Wells in the mountains were usually of two types. The first and oldest was the big, open shallow well. Y'all can find these in the hollers...down between the hills where the water runs easy. It ain't peculiar to find it there. Every mountain stream runs down from the side of the hills in Kentucky and into the shallow hollers. The valleys are plumb full of streams, rills, trickles and creeks. They in turn are full of life...

Water skippers, mudpuppies, crawdaddies, minners and chubs. sometimes a hellbender and always, always tadpoles, little ol' frogs, salamanders and in the deep spots, them places where y'all better not tell about if'n ya find 'em is some of the best eatin' bluegill a feller can find. Ya know the ones I'm cravin' about now, don'tcha? They is only about as big as your hand, but when they are cleaned and fried crisp - roll 'em in corn meal and wait till your cast iron skillet is plumb hot. Then drop 'em in real careful like. When they are done...they ain't gonna last long. Whooeee.

Well, enough of chasin' that rabbit of a thought.

The first well is a shallow well, dug by hand, usually dug years ago and not too very deep. Sometimes a feller could go maybe 10 or 20 feet and have a well full of sweet, clean mountain water. Why, some folks just had a spring house built around a seepin' spring on the side of the hill.

The other and newer well wall deep and narrow. Folks had a long pipe-like well bucket they would drop into the depths of these wells. Only way a person could know when it hit the water was to listen for the "blurp". Another higher "blurp" would tell ya to draw it on up.

When a feller would want a drink, folks would draw up a fresh bucket of water. As it made it's way down through the heart of the mountain it was purified till it was clean and pure.

Great Aunt's Mag and Bess never wasted a thing at the old Arnett home place. The old bucket of water was thrown into the ol' tractor tire - cut in half- that laid out in the yard for the chickens. Then the bucket was filled full.

It was polite to give the first sup to the company. If they was more than one...everbody took a drink before youngins did. I don't know why, but other folks drinkin' that cold, sweet water made me want a swaller ever' time. 'Course, ya never drank from the same spot as other folks. Ya turned the dipper to a clean spot.

Didn't wanna pass nothin', after all.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

I have mentioned to you before that my family is an inventive clan. You may remember my Grandpa (and namesake) Steve Hollen was growin' mosquitoes years ago. He was tryin' to see how big he could get them.

Once he got 'em to pocket size, he would fill them up with ink and used them as fountain pens. They wrote pretty good, but was nasty varmints. Folks didn't want a fountain pen that would bite right through a feller's shirt pocket and go after bare skin.

Grandpa Steve Hollen got them mosquitoes to about the size of a small pup after a while. He had the idea of gettin' 'em big enough to fly, but after them Wright brothers came out with that gas powered plane, folks just lost interest in bug powered flight.

Well Grandpa had another idea when he saw how hot tempered them mosquitoes was. He got himself an old tobacco stick about 4 foot long and some balin' twine. He waited till a mosquito fell asleep and tied it's legs to the end of that stick.

Now, they would wake up right mad and start a buzzin' and a carryin' on right smart. Their wings would be a flappin' and all. Grandpa would turn that stick upside down and run it along the fence row and around the cabin.

Y'all ain't gonna believe it, but them buzzin' wings would cut down ever' single weed an' blade o' grass. They weren't nary a one left standin'.

Yessir, my Grandpa (and namesake) invented the very first weed-whacker!

Ya heard it here first.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Over the weekend I told stories at the Appalachian Festival in Cincinnati. It was an awesome time...most of the weekend. The exception was late Saturday afternoon about 4:15. I was in the middle of a story and was about to get to the good part...

'Course it was stormin'. It had rained off and on all weekend. The tent was full because of the rain and in spite of the weather folks seemed to be enjoyin' the stories.

Then the "si-reen" started carryin' on. I reckon the tent was about 50 yards from the pole that there si-reen was on. It was one of them ones that go round and round so the sound gets louder 'bout every 15 seconds.

The folks runnin' the festival came over the loudspeakers tellin' ever' one there was nothin' to fear, just a bad weather alert. We already knew that! Thanks folks. I appreciate the help.

Well sir, y'all couldn't have found a better way to thin out the crowd. All the folks that was a hidin' in the tents, booths and covered sales areas started runnin' for their cars like ants out of a drowned anthill. Half my audience got up in unison and ran into the storm!

Yessir, they was a smart bunch. Forget sittin' under a huge tent till the rain stopped. Forget that it was done announced that there was nothin' to fear. It was rainin' so hard a feller couldn't see 20 feet away...but they ran into that to get into cars and try to drive through the rain.

Within 5 minutes the rain stopped and folks stayed put till the end of the hour...just to hear stories.

Wasn't quite as bad as tellin' stories next to an "Ohm-Pah" band...

Monday, May 12, 2003

This past weekend was the Appalachian Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. I spent Friday through Sunday there telling stories and listening to wonderful music when not telling stories.

The diversity of Appalachia amazes me. The unity of spirit confounds me. A dear friend and fellow storyteller who is African American told her personal stories about living in Ironton, Ohio and growing up in Appalachia. As I listened to her stories...and as we talked afterward, it amazed me that even though we grew up in different states, different cultures, the spirit of Appalachia was strong in both of us.

That spirit calls to us from the ground, the mountains, the ways and paths of Appalachia. It is a way of life. It is a bond that ties hearts to the soil and the people with a cord that is not easily broken.

AS I stood on the stage and told stories I saw folks sit and grin as I made reference to things I knew from the hills. Their smiles were secret signs from one hill folk to another saying, "Yep, I know. I was there. I have seen that very thing.".

I hope that cord never frays, always keeps me safe, always tugs heart and hand back home again to my hometown of Beloved. Kentucky - right up there on the Red Bird River.

I'll be sittin' on the porch lookin' for ya.