Saturday, June 14, 2003

Rainy Morning

Uncle Billy woke about 5:30 as he always did. He hadn't used the old wind up "Big Ben" alarm clock for years. Aunt Del used to use it when there was a holiday to cook for or if it was calfin' time. She would set it every couple of hours to get up and check on the mama cow. These days Uncle Billy had his internal alarm set from scores of years of farm work. Funny how even though a feller didn't need to get up his body woke up at the same ol' time, day after day.

As he lay there in the same ol' brass bed he had slept in since him and Aunt Del had taken up housekeepin', he heard the rain fallin' onto the tin roof. The sound made a constant drummin' that would lull him right back to sleep if he weren't careful.

"It must be a rainin' hard for them birds not to be stirrin'" he thought. There was a big holly bush outside his open window and usually the birds nestin' in it would sing "good mornin'" to him 'bout this time each day.

Every now an' agin thunder crashed up over the hills surroundin' the holler where his ramblin' cabin sat. It weren't no big ol' storm. Just one that pleasantly rumbled and flashed just to keep things lively. The rain was constant, though.

When he reached across the bed for a pillow to prop himself up, Old Dog's tail started thumpin' in time to the rain. Old Dog looked up without movin' his sorry head. That dog knew the easiest way to do anything. No wasted motion for him.

"Old Dog, I reckon we'uns might just lay her for a while yet. I don't figure y'all will want to get yer sorry ol' backside wet doin' yer business in the rain."

Old Dog thumped his tail harder as if to agree. Other than that tail there weren't a muscle movin.

Uncle Billy pulled the quilts up closer to his neck and put his specs back on the side table. He reckoned he'd close his eyes for just a bit longer.

At 6:45 his eyes opened and he sat up quickly. "Well, we have done slept all day. Why'd ya let me lay here this long? I'm gonna have to get shet of ya if'n I can't depend on ya to wake me." He rubbed Old Dog's head hard as he chuckled.

Now, years ago Aunt Del would bring Uncle Billy a washpan full of hot water, a washrag and a towel. He'd wash up right there in the bedroom so he wouldn't have to parade through the cabin half dressed. That offended Aunt Del's manners, ya see. These days they was a bathroom an' Uncle Billy was by himself an' didn't much worry 'bout offendin' Old Dog's manners so he strolled into the bathroom in his drawers.

He remembered coffee and wandered into the kitchen to start a pot... then back to wash up. He carefully lathered his face with his shavebrush and shaved with the same straight razor he had used for years. Wasn't a day went by that he didn't shave. It were just the proper thing to do.

A couple of eggs fried in bacon grease, store bought biscuits in the oven and a little ham meat fried just before the eggs an' Uncle Billy was set. He added some jelly an' butter to his biscuits. He still had mason jars full of jellies and preserves Aunt Del put up several years ago. He would have sweetnin' till the day he died, he reckoned.

Everything was carried out to the porch an' Uncle Billy settled in to eat an' watch the rain. Now an' again a truck or ol' car would wander by and Uncle Billy would throw up a hand. He would holler a greetin' if he knew the folks.

Hap Collins stopped in the road and leaned over to roll the window down, "How in the world are ye, Uncle Billy?"

Uncle Billy got up and walked to the end of the porch with his ever present coffee cup. "Fine as frog hair, Hap. You?"

"Gettin' by, gettin' by."

"Ever'one OK over to your place?"

"Yessir, Uncle Billy. They is doin' fine. Mama is mighty poorly, though. We are a goin' over to London to see her come Saturday, I reckon."

"Tell her howdy for me. Tell her I might come a courtin'."

Hap laughed, "Now that would perk her up, I gar-untee. I don't know if I'd be a wantin' ye as a Daddy, though. I've seen ye at the supper table. Mama might starve."

"Yessir, she might just. Why don't ya come on up for a while? I got coffee made."

The invite was sincere and was always offered to friend, family or stranger by Uncle Billy.

"Cain't right now, Uncle Billy. I got to get the youngin's an' go over to town for a while. How 'bout I stop with the ol' woman later tonight?

"I'll be here. Y'all drive safe, now"

"I will you an' Old Dog stay out the rain."

Uncle Billy looked over his shoulder...Old Dog was up on the hill, doin' his business. "I ain't goin' out for sure and I'd bet that is the only time Old Dog gets hisself wet."

"Bye, Uncle Billy"

"Bye, Hap."

Uncle Billy settled back in. Old Dog came up onto the porch, walked to the end and shook hisself and walked over to fall in a heap at Uncle Billy's feet. Uncle Billy reached into the chink between the logs to his right and pulled out a couple of cedar sticks. His Case knife was already open. He looked the blade over and was satisfied it was sharp enough.

Blade hit wood and a long curl of wood ran from the blade to the end. He looked up for just a second, "Old Dog, let's us jus' sit here and rest our bones today."

Old Dog's tail thumped his agreement.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

No one stirs

It is early mornin' here in my hometown of Beloved, Kentucky an' we are visitin' some of my cousins instead of stayin' at the ol' homeplace. We stopped by an' they begged us to stay the night. Sort of a mountain thing, y'see. Some folks might not understand when the ol' homeplace was right close. Some folks may have never heard someone say, "Come go home with us." or "Y'all spend the night an' go on home tomorrow after havin' a big ol' breakfast with us.".

Last night we sat on the porch of this ol' cabin an' talked an' talked. We told stories an' laughed rememberin' things we got caught at when we was kids.

Rememberin' we was afraid of things in the smokehouse.

Rememberin' when we was chasin' one another with willow switches an' slapping the calves of the slowest among us. Laughin' till our sides hurt as we ran up an' down the holler back then.

When the gnats and mosquitos got to stirrin', I suggested we make a gnat smoke instead of sprayin' ourselves with a bug spray. I rolled up an ol' piece o' cotton rag and lit the end. When it was smolderin' I laid it on a dustpan. We sat quiet for a long time, watchin' it an' rememberin' nights sittin' on the porch with Great Aunts Mag and Bess and Great Uncle Bill.

When the big ol' light that hangs on the 'lectric pole came on at dusk we smiled at the memory of the old folks gettin' up from the porch an' startin' to get ready for bed. That was their signal the day was done.

The ol' iron bed was covered in quilts an' was feather bed deep. Oh my oh my, how good it felt to sink down into that bed, to smell bleached white sheets that hung to dry in the wind that wanders down the mountain an' into thisholler.

Durin' the night I heard a couple of mice in the walls. These ol' cabins is full of 'em. It is hard to keep 'em out of the walls of ol' log cabins...especially when other rooms have been added on way back when as families grew. There is a comfort in hearin' 'em run an' chew an' crawl an' play durin' the night.

This mornin' I woke early an' listened to the critters in the holler wakin' up. The window is open an' the birds started first, glad for a new day, callin' out their good mornin's to each other. Way down the creek an ol milk cow woke an' was a bellerin', wantin someone to get up an' get to milkin' her.

I sorta wish that ol' cow was on this farm. I would love to get up an' go out to the barn to milk. I can just smell the earthy scent of a cow barn, remember sittin' on a stool older than me or even my folks an' layin' my head against the side of a cow. The reward of takin' hold and seein' a white stream of warm milk fillin' a galvanized bucket is a fine way to start the mornin'.

When the bucket is full an' ya walk to the house a feller can almost see the thick yellow cream separatin' from the white frothy milk. If I did the milkin' this mornin' - I would get me a dipper and dip up a glass of that fresh milk an' drink 'er down right now!

Instead I lay deep in this feather bed. I wonder how many folks even have feather beds these days? Since the cabin is by a creek here in the holler, it is damp and chilly this mornin. I am glad for the four quilts on my bed.

Oh My Darlin' is snuggled down deep an' only the top of her head shows. As I lay here I look at the frayed ends of the sheet stickin' out from under the quilts. It is bleached the whitest white an' is well starched. It gives tribute to the ways of the mountains. Folks may be poor, but they are clean an' proud. I reckon that is the worst harm movies and TV has done to mountain folks...makin' it look like they don't keep clean.

I want to get up an' go out on the porch, but no one is stirrin' yet an' I don't want to wake folks. Years back every soul would be up, breakfast eaten and chores started by now.

Well, I reckon they will just have to put up with me gettin' up an' movin' around. I am up and goin' out. I want to see the mist sneak back up the hills to hide where ever it waits for the evenin' twilight.

If I sit right still I might see hummingbirds at the flowers down by the end of the porch. If I'm quiet I might see day sneak in an' wave a fond goodbye to the night.

Early Morning in Beloved

It is not quite 5:00 a.m. here in my hometown of Beloved, Kentucky. Unlike many cities up north, there is much activity going on already. As I look out over the town that is just a short distance from my front drive, I see the lights of several businesses on and commerce already underway.

It is not the commerce of a city or even a big town. We don't have no all night drug stores - only the Goins Rexall downtown. They still have a soda fountain, believe it or not and their blue plate special is the same as it always has been - BLT with chips and a pickle. You can also get a tuna melt or a tuna salad plate. I get a cravin' flung on me ever' now and agin for Sadie Goins' tuna fish. She adds things that make it more than a can of fish, I'll tell ya that much.

No sir, our commerce is related to the farmin' and coal minin' that keeps little ol' mountain towns alive. The Atta Boy gas station is already open. Coal truckers are there fillin' tanks with diesel for their constant runs up and down the hollers to the few mines left in Clay County. Farmers stop for a fill up and a few fellers who don't take time for a full breakfast will swaller down a ham and biscuit with a cup of coffee inside as they pay for their gas.

The Farm & Hardware is open and already busy. Farmers stop early for feed, fertilizer and supplies. They still have charges done by hand on paper receipts. The receipts are all entered into a computer, but the folks that run the place prefer to work on paper still.

You want to see a wonderful sight, come when chicks is bein' picked up. Boxes and boxes of chicks, all hollerin' for mama at the same time. Farmers and 4Hers pullin' up , one after another pickin' up their load of pullets. It is plumb crazy them days. They keep a couple big ol' water troughs in the back - sawdust in the bottom and full of chicks for the small farmer what needs just a couple dozen to raise. Chicks are separated into fryer chicks and layers. 'Course, unsexed mixed costs way less than sexed chicks. They are all separated too.

Over yonder at the Henny Penny there is a full house. Breakfast there is a busy time for the farmers all meet to talk about their tobaccer crop, how it has been so wet that they still have 27 rows to get out. Fred Collins said he wasn't able to get his corn out with all the rain so he had to go to soybeans. Several fellers are sayin' the same type of thing about not gettin' the corn crop out and switchin' to soybeans. Folks are hopin' the bottom don't drop out of soy.

Bessie Bowling is busy as anythin', waitin' on all the tables. She is workin' alone this mornin' cause it is the last day up at the high school and all the girls what usually serve wanted to be at school early to get their yearbooks signed and to take pictures an' all.

Bessie is like one of them whirlwinds this mornin', droppin' a basket of big ol' cat head biscuits at one table, fillin' coffee cups at another and callin' orders over the counter like a general commandin' the troops.

The special is the Beloved Breakfast. It is 2 eggs, any style, choice of sausage or bacon, fried potatoes, grits if ya want 'em, a cup of sausage gravy and 2 of the big ol' biscuits that make Henny Penny famous in them parts. Coffee is still a quarter at the Henny Penny and your ol' cup is always bottomless. The Beloved Breakfast is $4.50 and is more than most folks can eat. For a dollar more y'all can substitute a slice of Precious Meats fried Country Ham. I'd recommend the fried Country Ham. Sophie Precious has a way with smokin' meats.

Some of the fellers kinda complained when the Henny Penny went "no smokin'". Too many of the old fellers are home and unable to do nothin' these days 'cause of the emphysema. Bessie went to the owners and carried on till they did it for the good health of ever' one concerned. Tobaccer is the blessin' and the curse of hill folks. They work it all their lives and smoke from the time they are young, only to find their very breath stolen by their very livlihood.

Now they is a smokin' circle out by the big ol' ash bucket. Fellers get up every now and again to go out for a smoke. It ain't so bad most of 'em say...and the food does taste better these days without the smoke in the Henny Penny.

Come daylight, the dozens of trucks in the parkin' lot will start up like it was a race or somethin'. Headlamps will come on and they will be a mad dash outta town to the fields and farms all over and around Beloved.

Men with farmer tans, workboots and well worn workshirts will step into barns to work, will mount tractors and move into fertile fields. The morning stillness will be broken with the sound of bush hogs, mowers, plows and planters as the men of Beloved do what they love.

This is the lifeblood of Beloved. It is the muscle and sinew and the good earth is the bone on which it builds. These are the children of our forefathers, honest, good and simple.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

How Cousin Peanut got his name

Actually that is an interesting...and factual story.

Vergie and Mz. Chappell had several children, five to be exact. They were simple folks without a lot of education. That is not to say that they were dumb. No sir, they were smart and inventive folks.

Back when Vergie was younger he invented the cotton gin. Not the machine for combing cotton, it was a drink made with cheap washtub gin that made you feel all fuzzy and bleached your mouth white. He also invented a substitute for margarine. Actually it was petroleum jelly with a little salt and flour and sawdust mixed in, but it was filling on store bought white bread.

Well anyway, back when Ms. Chappell was rearin' youngin's they weren't real creative and didn't have much book learnin'. Vergie's brother, Constantinople Chappell had his youngin's before Vergie and Ms. Chappell started and had taken all the good Bible names, like Baltheshazar, Abednigo and Selah. Why, he even named his mule Isme. That mule was a worker. It wouldn't want to stop onct it started plowing. You could hear Connie (that's what we called Constantinople) in the field, trying to get that mule to stop plowin', hollerin' "Whoa Isme!"

So when Ms. Chappell started having youngin's, she didn't have a stack of names for 'em. That's where Beulah comes into the story. Beulah was the local midwife and granny woman. She birthed babies, made healin' potions and sometimes hexed folks for the right cause and a little pocket change or some fresh vegetables from your truck garden.

When she delivered the first Chappell baby, Ms. Chappell didn't know what to name it, so Beulah helped and named him Chester N. Chappell. Even went to home town of Beloved, Kentucky and registered the birth at the courthouse. Did the same for the other kids; Walter N. Chappell, Hazel N. Chappell, Brazil N. Chappell and Phineas N.Chappell.

For years no one thought much about it till some Collinses started beatin' Phineas up cause a' his name. He had enough and high-tailed it to Beloved and asked the clerk to look up his birth certificate and see what his middle name was. He figured he'd rather use that than Phineas.

The clerk, another cousin of mine on the other side of the family, Lucinda Carpenter, checked and told him his middle name was Nutt. Yep, he was a Nutt from birth.

He couldn't believe what his earbones was hearing. Nutt. Nutt! Nutt? What kind of name was Nutt?

Lucinda laughed and asked him if anyone round Little Jabez Holler, where the Chappell clan had lived since the 1840's, had ever asked Beulah what her last name was. 'Course no one did. They just called her Mz Beulah for respect.

Come to find out her last name was Nutt. Her late and much beloved husband was Ephriam Jubal Nutt, famed moonshiner and ne'r-do-well that got the attention of the local media (the Manchester Enterprise and WWXL radio) when he shot it out with the Revenuers there in the old abandoned outhouse behind the Henny Penny Broasted Chicken Restaurant and Pool Hall. Bessie Bowling saw the whole thing.

She was so shocked she tripped as she was skating an order out to Jim Bob Sizemore. Broasted Chicken flew everywhere and she went a slidin' under a 1957 Chevy Bel-Aire convertible. She slid so far under all you could see was her roller skates. She laid under that Chevy and watched the whole thing.

It took 859 shots to get Ephriam Jubal Nutt. The law was aimin' at the top part of the outhouse. Little did they know Nutt had snuck down to the bottom of the old abandoned outhouse and was just stickin' his head up through the seat to fire a shot every now an' then. They finally got wise and commenced to shootin' low and got him.

No one wanted to go down an' get him so they buried him right there.

So when Beulah's man was buried, she swore the world would remember him. She then proceeded to give every child she birthed the middle name of Nutt when she registered the birth at the courthouse.

So, Cousin Phineas Nutt Chappell decided to use his first initial and middle name. P. Nutt Chappell. Sounded kinda hi-falootin'.

And his brothers and sister? Yessir, you got it, Walter is known as Wal Nutt. Then there's sister Hazel Nutt and brother Brazil Nutt Chappell. 'Course Hazel don't get razzed as much since she married the preacher of the Booger Holler Holiness Church, Brother Woodrow Wilfred Budder. Yep, folks round Booger Holler show respect for Sister Hazel Nutt Budder.

Thanks to the legacy of Ephriam Jubal Nutt and his loyal wife Beulah, there are Nutts all over my home town of Beloved, Kentucky. Every time you turn around you'll see a Nutt. Why, some of my best friends are Nutts.

Over the years, P. Nutt was changed to Peanut by folks who didn't know the rich legacy left all the Nutts 'round Beloved by Beulah. Of course, as town historian, I do remember and will keep these precious memories alive for another generation of Nutts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Smokehouse Time

Daw Collins stopped by the cabin long 'bout 10:00 in the mornin' on a Tuesday. It was late fall and the weather had turned right cold. Even at 10:00 they was frost still on the ground under the shade of the big ol' cedar trees over to the side yard. The grape vines wrappin' themselves along the split rail fence still had some leaves on 'em and a few wizened grapes hung kinda lonely like from the vines. Birds will eat them soon enough.

Daw called to Uncle Billy a couple of times as he walked into the side yard. He knew Billy wouldn't be in the house, even though he saw a little smoke comin' out the chimbley. He called again and Uncle Billy answered and appeared at the door of the barn, coffee cup in hand.

Uncle Billy carried a cup of coffee with him 'bout ever where he went on the farm these days. He said he needed it to keep his blood warm.

Daw and Uncle Billy talked for a while and Uncle Billy showed Daw the pile of apple wood he was workin' on. It was hog killin' time round there and folks would start comin' with their sides of bacon, shoulders and hams for Uncle Billy to hang in his smokehouse. Fact is, Daw had stopped to see if the smokehouse was goin' yet.

It was for a fact and both men walked over to stand and jaw a while. Each drew in the sweet smell of smokin' apple wood. When the door was opened a feller could smell the hams and bacon hangin' inside. The smokehouse was dark and wispy smoke came from a raised area in the middle of the buildin'.

In the center was the bottom of a 55 gallon drum with smolderin' sticks of apple wood. Uncle Billy soaked the wood in water and a little cider before he would add it to the pit. Some small splits of hickory were on the side and occasionally would flare up with a small flame. Uncle Billy had rigged a lard can over the smokin' wood. It was on chains so he could raise it up an' down. He would fill the lard can with clear spring water. A few little bitty holes poked into the sides near the bottom of the lard can would weep and drip now and again onto the wood. It would hiss and smoke would rise in place of the flame.

None of the meat was directly over the raised wood pit. Indirect smoke for days made Uncle Billy's smoked meats the best in the state, or least that is what folks claimed.

Daw worked it out to bring over his meat the next day and him and Uncle Billy shook hands on it. When he asked Uncle Billy about makin' sausage, Uncle Billy told him he was a makin' one batch this year. It was a lot of work for an ol' man, even with help. Sometimes he would get a tear in his eye an' tell folks sausage makin' time was when he missed "the ol' woman" most. He would laugh and tell ya that was what they called each other the last couple of years, ol' woman an' ol' man. He would find some good reason to walk away 'bout then and not say much more for a while.

Some of the ladies over to Booger Holler Holiness Church had sewn the muslin sleeve/bags he would fill with his special blend of sausage meat, salt, pepper and spices. They would stop by on sausage makin' day to help Uncle Billy fill the bags and tie them shut at the open end. The strings would be long enough for hangin' from the nails on the long wood timbers on one side of the smokehouse.

On sausage makin' day folks would come with their meat and Uncle Billy would weigh it, write the weight on a paper sack he used for figurin' and put it through the grinder.

Everbody's meat went in together as he added spices, salt and lots of pepper. He worked it with a paddle an' his hands till it was ready. He then put it into the grinder with the filler fittin' on the end. He would turn the crank as someone held a muslin bag over the filler end. When the bag was near full it would be tied off and hung right away in the smoke house.

Days later Uncle Billy would dole out the sausage by the amount you brought. Say he took in 100 pounds of pork meat and y'all brought 10 of that. In the smokehouse they was 50 rolls of smoked breakfast folks would get 5 rolls. That was how he worked it.

Folks could hardly wait to get home to fry some of his sausage up. They would pay him way more than what he asked and he would make a fuss an' all, tryin' to give it back to 'em.

His clothes would smell like sweet smoke for weeks as he worked his smokehouse. Since he had to get up a couple times a night to tend the smoke his cabin smelled sweet and smoky for months after. Womenfolks would hug him and tell him he smelled better than the hams. Uncle Billy would slap at 'em with his hat and tell 'em to get on now.

Know what? I reckon I would give 'bout anything right now for a big ol slice of ham from Uncle Billy's smokehouse. It is gone now. Just a pile of broken logs and rusty tin layin' in the weeds over on Arnett's Fork. I would give 'bout anything to see him standin' there in the door of the old barn, coffee cup in hand, wavin' shy like to folks who stopped to see if it was smokehouse time yet.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Smell of an old barn

Don't know what it is about a barn that draws folks into it. It is the look, surely. I love the careful clutter of an old barn. Tools placed on the walls or hangin' from a beam. Nails driven in just far enough to be convenient for an ol' sheep shear or maybe a shovel handle.

Up to the hayloft there is always a surprise. I reckon y'all might see that ol' yaller striped cat with another load o' youngin's. I don't care much for her morals. She's always got an ol tom from some farm hangin' round, courtin' her till it's time to care for the youngin's. Then it's up to me when she starts bringin' em round the back door to the cabin

All these things make a barn a wonderful place...but it is the smell that I love. A tobaccer barn has a sharp smell different than others. Like a giant cigar when you walk in and smell. Take another deeper whiff and you'll smell the fertilizers in the corner. Get too close to ol' Joe's stall an' all ya will smell is mule droppin's. That adds to the smell though. It is rich and earthy as you smell the rest.

Close to the harnesses and tools the air becomes slick with oils rubbed careful like on tools and leather for a hundred years. In some places the ground is dark with the remains of the oils that fell to the sweet, sacred earth of our beloved Appalachia.

The ground underfoot is hard like an ol' rock from feet comin' and goin' day after day, year after year...generation after generation. The path is one that could be navigated in the dark because it is so familiar.

Walk over to the harnesses and collar and smell deeply. There, there is the smell of rich leather soaps used to clean and keep supple. The oils added to keep the leather for dozens of years and help it shine in the hot Kentucky sunshine.

Here and yonder it will smell dusty, but no the dust of neglect or abandon. It is the dust from generations using a barn well.

Look, see, smell...remember. Do not let our barns and farms fade in your memory. They are callin' us home even now. The homeplace beckons. The barns that stand empty now ait for us to know what we have lost. The soil cries out to its tenders...

come home. Come home to the hills, to the hollers. Come and work me, till me, walk my hills and know your blessing, your heritage. Daddy's generation left, but did not forget the call. Again and again the roads were filled with children of Appalachia goin' home. It just was never long enough.

The hills call us back. they call to our youngins. They call to our blood, no matter how thin, they are haunted by the call of the soil in our blood, the smell of the barns, the sight of an ol' cabin. Stop and listen, quiet like it calls, it sings in our ears, beats a rhythm in our blood...

Come home, youngin's, come home.