Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Santa Secrets

As I drove to visit children as Santa Claus this year, I pondered often why a man would determine to be Santa.  To understand a little of my thoughts and why I chose to portray Santa, you probably should read my post, "Why I Believe".

With that background in place, it helps to be a big kid at heart, to have never lost your imagination, to enjoy dressing up in costumes, being Peter Pan, or Superman, or even a pirate occasionally.  It doesn't hurt to have a good laugh, twinkling eyes... or at least some of the girth needed to portray Santa (one can always pad).  If you choose to be Santa, do it well.  The suit doesn't matter so much to a child.  Yep, it is great if you can have real boots, but kids don't notice.  They just see Santa.  Choosing to be Santa is an inside thing, not just a costume.

Attitude is terribly important.  No one wants to see a grumpy Santa.  Can you smile no matter what?  Can you put aside your own concerns, heartaches, hurts and headaches for a short while to make a little one Believe with a capitol B?  Can you be glad to see each and every child like they were your own child, or even better, your grandchild?  Can you listen carefully, no editorials, no rebuffs, no "tsk tsk" from Santa, just a listening ear.   That child really doesn't care about how long you have sat in the big chair, or if you had no lunch.  Its not that they are indifferent, it just doesn't occur to them that Santa has anything else on his mind but their Christmas wishes at that moment.

It is all about undivided attention for those few moments.  They need it, they deserve it, they crave love and attention from Santa, who may have a "naughty and nice" list, but who loves them and puts them on the "NICE" list no matter what orneriness they have been into.  No matter what their home life is like, regardless of their parents (or parent) or socio-economic position of their family, each child is precious to Santa - so act like they are the first and only child to sit on your lap.

You are going to cry, that is a promise (yes, more on that subject later too).  Children share their heartaches with Santa often.  You can't get around it, can't prevent it, can't fix it.  You just listen and sometimes smile sadly, sometimes hug their thin little shoulders, sometimes look away and wipe a tear with that white gloved hand.

You will laugh and grin at parents when a precocious child says something that shocks Daddy or makes Mama blush.  Oh my, think Art Linkletter heard some of the funniest things from kids?  Let Santa tell you a few incidents!  Yes, listen carefully, listen because they speak softly, sometimes whisper shyly.  Don't forget to repeat it so Mama and Daddy can hear and nod knowingly.

Never promise anything, it is not your job.  The last thing you want is to put a parent on the spot, especially if they cannot afford the dreams of their little one.  A new computer would be great for anyone... just not in the budget!

Have you noticed that not everyone can "Ho Ho Ho" well?  It takes practice to do it well, mean it, make it sound like you are laughing AND not frighten the socks off 2 year olds (yes, we will have to speak about 2 year olds soon).  The best advice you can receive is to try to add a few "ho ho"s to your regular laugh to see what it should sound like.  That is all it is, a big jolly elf laughing because he is always happy, joyful and glad to see you!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hunkered Down Cabin

The old cabin sits hunkered down
Covered deep all round by snow.
No path is worn to the porch
Not does smoke curl from the chimney.

Not far behind, the unpainted barn
Has that forgotten, unkept look
As if folks had just wandered off
Leaving barn doors open, swaying in the wind.

Snow drifts deep into the barn
Deeper still on the broken down porch.
Snow covers porch swing and Maytag washer.
It banks high against the old screen door.

From the old dirt road it is a lovely scene
Drawing on memories of beloved times past.
Go closer, see the neglect and you almost hear the moan
Of a once loved, now... forgotten... home.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lights in the dark

Some time ago I sat and spoke with a group about Appalachia, the folks back home, the way it used to be and what we all missed.  Needless to say, it was sometimes emotional for all of us who lived in the mountains. 

One by one folks who were not storytellers stood up to tell their stories from their childhood, from the hills.  We all celebrated the hard times shard by many.  We laughed at "off plumb" uncles and aunts that kissed folks right on the mouth to say hello!

We seemed to share a common bond of Grannies and Aunts who loved us, cared for us, slipped us a biscuit or tater in between meals as our bodies grew way too fast.  Uncles that gave us our first pocket knife, taught us to hunt and fish. 

Those coveyed up there fell in love all over again when one then another arose and spoke with tears in their eyes of lost loves from childhood, of those who wait for them on the other side of the Jordan, of rugged cabins stuck with determination on the side of a mountain.

Then came the story that stopped us all for ever so long in quiet reflections.

A dear woman rose carefully and told us she promised not to cry.  She spoke of her life in Eastern Kentucky, of her Mama and Daddy and little sister, of her Granny who watched them during the day while her Mama went off to clean house and cook for the superintendent's wife at the coal company while her Daddy went deep into that mine to dig coal.  She spoke with love about that Daddy who would walk out at night and get in the truck, careful not to rub the ever present coal dust onto his sweet darlin' as she sat beside him.

They would arrive home about the same time each night, hindered occasionally by snow or high waters after a hard rain that would swell the creek bed that was also the road for a good part of their journey.

Once home, her Daddy would take off his work clothes while her Mama boiled enough water for him to go on the back porch and wash the coal dust off.  Hot water, rough washrags and Lava soap would leave his skin rough and red, but clean.  It took that to get the dust out of his pores each night.

When her Granny would see the lights come on across the mountain, she would bundle both girls up, give them lard buckets filled with dinner, maybe fried chicken and biscuits in one, bowls of slowly cooked green beans with ham hocks, turnip greans, butterbeans, maybe a big bowl of fried taters in that other lard bucket, all carefully wrapped with wax paper so there would be no precious food spilled.

She and her sister would follow the path to home.  The start of the trip was always easy, but after about 100 yards they would go down into the holler.  Though the path was clear and wide, it always made them fearful.  Those girls would cling tightly to each other as they walked, carefully holding the handles of their lard buckets.  Every sound would make them jump.  Yes, they were country girls, but as she said, "we were all girl".  We all laughed at that.

She then broke her promise as she spoke of walking up the last rise in the holler.  That was their favorite moment.  That was when they knew they were almost home.

She said, "When we got to the top of that there rise we could begin to see the lights of home in the dark.  We knew Mama and Daddy were there.  We knew that if we called out they would come.  We saw the lights in the dark and knew out short journey home was complete, that the dark and the holler were nothing to be afraid of.  When we climbed that rise and saw those lights we felt safe, happy and loved."

We all helped her break her promise not to cry as she concluded, "Oh, if I could just walk that path again.  That little holler wouldn't scare me anymore.  I have been there and it is just a short walk.  Don't y'all think my folks were cruel, we probably didn't walk more than a minute in that holler.  We were just little girls goin' home."

She paused, turned and got a hankie out of her purse, "This is silly, cryin' like this, but I would give all I have to walk that path one dark night, just one more time, say goodbye to Granny with a hug and walk down into that little holler.  I would run through them woods and up that hill just anxious to see the lights in the dark.  I would run to the porch, hollerin' as I ran, Mama, Daddy, I am home, I am home and its supper."

Wouldn't all of us love to run back home just one more time, to the mountain we love, down the hollers and up the rise, to the memories we cherish, cryin' out, "I am home and its supper"?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Postcard Marketing

A while back I wrote several blogs about the best marketing tool a performer can have… a business card.  I carry cards with me anytime I am out and hand them to others constantly.

There is another card to be played in a winning marketing hand.  It too is inexpensive and easy to use.  I am talking about the postcard, of course!

As I mentioned before, I use for most of my printing needs and postcards are no exception.  There are several other good online companies that you may choose to use to order postcards.

I use postcards in place of brochures much of the time.  Brochures in smaller quantities run about $1.00 on vistaprint.  Postcards about 7 cents.  This is a no brainer. 

A lot can be said on a two sided postcard.   I personally don’t use color on the backside, black and white printing is usually free, but it really doesn’t increase the cost much if you choose to do a color backside.

Full color postcards are often on sale at vistaprint with the first 100 free or significantly discounted.  The last cards I ordered cost about 7 cents each.  Combine that with 28 cents postage for a total of 35 cents per mailed postcard or $35 per hundred.

Important note!  Postcards are not a part of a broad marketing plan for me.  I tend to start with e-mail which is free or very low cost to do mass contacts.  Postcards are used for specific projects and/or specific mailings to a limited group.

The front side – in color is the hook to get the attention of your designated audience.  The backside allows you to give more information.  If you want to know how clean your mailing list is, be sure to include your return address on the backside.  If you know the list is clean, save that room for copy and forget the return address.

Pay attention to font size.  You may be able to use a size 4 font and get a ton of information on the back of a postcard… BUT NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO READ IT!!!  Limit the content to a reasonable amount and use a decent sized font.

Keep it brief.  Make the point you want to make and point the recipient to your website or blog.  I prefer to have my website address on both sides of the postcard.

Include your phone number!  Make it visible and easily found.

Want to add more information or send an additional note?  Find envelopes that fit your postcard.  Use the address area to write a note or add info.  You would be surprised how cool it is to open an envelope and pull out a  full color postcard!

If your printer can print on postcards, don’t use labels.  Stack them and print the address on each card.  If you have a small number to send, consider hand addressing them.  If you need to send a large number, consider the invisible labels.

The oversized postcards are nice, but the mailing cost is 44 cents, the cost is higher and averages about 60 to 65 cents each.  Almost double the cost of a standard card.  For a special event or program they are neat.  You can also get envelopes to fit them and you have more space to write in the address area.

I have several postcards I am using at present.  I redesign the postcards to fit specific needs and order limited quantities so the messages stay fresh.

The great thing about postcard marketing… you can try it without major expense! 

Friday, October 08, 2010

Jonesborough Friday

Friday started as I shared breakfast with folks in the Retreat Center.  We talked at length about who we wanted to see and hear.  The drive to town was slow and filled with anticipation as I pushed through heavy mists and seemed to come out of the past and into today.  I parked in the lawn of a cool gentleman and we talked for a while.  I crossed the tracks and walked through Jonesborough, snuck in a few shops and made my way to the tent where Corrine Stavish and Kathryn Windham were to tell.  I was not disappointed in making this my first tent of the morning.  Both were funny and caught the audience by the heart.

I always make the tent where Kathryn Windham will tell my first.  I don't know how many time I will get to hear her, so I make it my mission to hear her ASAP.  The neat thing is I renewed my membership to NSN that day and received a CD of tellers from past Festivals.  It had an earlier version of her Scooter story on
it.  I listened to it as I traveled home and the contrast was interesting.  The early one was awesome, the current one she told on Friday was just as lovely.  Different, from an older Katherine, but just as good.

Several years ago Chuck Larkin told me I spent too much time in the tents.  I followed his advice over the weekend, shared that advice with my friend Ellouise and heard those I wanted to hear and spent time on a few benches, visiting with friends, meeting folks, greeting folks, making contacts.  I had 6 walking sticks
I made and shared them as gifts with several friends along the way.  In some ways those are my favorite memories.

Kevin Kling was terrific, Bil Lepp... gotta love a tall teller!  I heard a woman talking on the phone about Bil.  She told someone they would like him, she wasn't sure if he was a stand up comedian or a storyteller.  I wanted to tell her a comedian doesn't tell stories.  Bil is a storyteller.

Carmen Deedy, Andy Offutt Irwin, Michael Parent (who looked thin) and my sartorial hero and role model - Donald Davis.  Oh my, what a story about his Mama and pimento cheese.  I will always think of him when I have a pimento cheese sandwich. (wait, was this when I heard him Friday or Saturday?)

The exchange place was electric! Nothando Zulu told a Langston Hughes story that just took hold of me and wrung me out.  Whew!

Our own Jeff Gere, what can I say?  I thought I was animated!  Give me a double gallon dose of habanero sauce with itching powder as a chaser and I might be able to match him.  His story of a homeless woman who stopped the world... and a bulldozer kicked backside.

Afterward I accepted a gracious invite from Megan Hicks, met some great folks, talked about the Viet Nam draft and being of a "certain age".  I was able to visit with Mary Hamilton and Charles Wright around the table also.  It was over way too soon.

I made my way back, down the quiet roads with no sound but the engine, re-hearing and remembering the day and the stories.  I rode with windows down, my hair that is too long blew in the wind as I remembered the conversations around Megan's table about our youth.  I felt my hair go every way in the world,
remembered when my hair was longer, darker, almost black... stories and friends made me forget today and for a moment, just a moment I knew I and my stories and the stories I heard that night would live forever.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Jonesborough & The National Storytelling Festival

I left for Jonesborough early Thursday morning.  I was up at 4:30 am and getting
ready since I was too excited to sleep.  It had been 3 years since I had been to
the Festival and I was ready.  The trip is always cool for me since my Hollen/Holland family
moved into that area in about the 1760s.  As I drive around the area I recognize
towns and names that have importance to our history and wish I knew those
ancestral stories better.

I arrived, registered and went to the little Methodist camp I stayed at, settled
in and enjoyed the mountains for a while.  I could have stayed and listened to
the little creek behind my cabin forever.  The tall pines cast a dampness all
round and it seems the mist never rises in the holler where I was.

Back in town I wandered a little, looking at the preparations, thinking already
about who I wanted to hear, who I hoped to see, friends I wanted to run into.  I
stopped and looked at Doc McConnell's Medicine Show wagon (not only nostalgia,
but also to get ideas to build myself one) and was reminded that his family were
to donate it to the ISC on Saturday morning.  I made a note to be there.

It started to rain a little and i decided to find a place to eat... found a
Chinese buffet and snuck in.  Before I finished a storyteller friend, Eric also wandered in and
we sat and shared a meal and talked of many things.  Eric and I live maybe 12-15
miles from each other here and it is cool he was the first person I connected
with. We talked of many things, shared our opinions and enjoyed the conversation.

Thursday night rain sent me back to the camp and into that little holler.  I sat
on the small porch with my harmonica and played a while, listening to the
rambling creek, the drips of rain that eventually found their way through the
thick pine canopy and the wind that danced with the trees.

I sat and thought of staying with Chuck Larkin in that very cabin several years
ago - his last Festival.  I thought of the tellers we have lost over the past
few years and the legacy they left.  For a while I felt so very old (at 57) as I
thought of friends that have gone. 

Enough of the melancholy, I thought and went to bed.  Life is grand, happiness
is like moonshine and I am in Jonesborough!  Excited about the morning, about
seeing friends, hearing stories... starting a new adventure in my life!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sabbath Morn

The newborn day
Is damp and fresh
Doves take flight
Wings whistling whee whee
Nervous doe pauses, listens
Looks intently
Peering into the fog
In the bottoms.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Do you remember?
Where you were
Who stood by your side?
When the news came
When you first saw the horror?

It is an image
That is seared
Into the backs of my eyes
Burned into my brain.

Images that will never fade
Shock that doesn't ease
The sight of men, women
Jumping to their death
Can you imagine
A situation
When that is the best option?

Copyright 9/11/2006 Stephen Hollen

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Business Card Marketing - Part 2

Now that you are convinced that business cards are an awesome way to promote yourself or your business, why not think about the card itself.  It is your miniature billboard, your mini-brochure, your hook for more business, more gigs, more sales.

Design -  This is a bigger deal than you might think.  First of all, color is important.  It is especially important if you provide artistic or creative services or products.  I don't mean some wild chunk of card stock that looks like leftovers from Woodstock.  I mean something coordinated, tasteful and RELATED to what you do.  A plain, raised letter business card on white card stock is fine... if you are an undertaker!  If you are a ballet dancer, or if you make ballet shoes, why not a picture of ballet shoes on the card.  A bookseller's card could have books.  IN COLOR!  Most card printing companies offer full color fronts AND backs fo nominal fees.  I usually get a full color front and black & white or gray-tone back.

Size - Don't try the odd sizes.  They don't fit in card cases, won't go in a wallet and aren't worth the extra money they usually cost.  Stick to the traditional size.

Folded or Not Folded - This is a personal preference.  I have seen many articles about folded business cards.  Some say they are like a "mini-brochure", but I am not a fan.  Sure, they can contain a lot of info.  Sure, they look nice.  However, they cost more for fewer cards and I can carry fewer in my card case.  As I checked on price for me they came to about 3.2 cents per card compared to 2 cents per card.  I can give away 50% more cards for the same price!  Also, instead of 20-30 cards in my case I can only carry 10-15 cards.  Again, personal preference.

Font Size and Style - recently I ordered postcards with a printed message on the back (more on post card marketing on another post).  Online the proof looked fine.  When they arrived the print was too small.  I used a font that looked neat, but really was not a good choice.  Stick to recommended sizes and styles.  Most business card sites have templates that give you recommendations. 
Don't mix fonts.  Not a good idea.  Keep it simple.  One or two fonts on a business card max.

Content - Don't try to overwhelm with information.  It will just clutter the card.  Keep it simple, tell what you do and leave it at that.  Use your website or blog to post your resume or CV... not your business card.  Use the back side of your card for additional information.  However, I recommend you print LESS on the backside than on the front.  I usually print my website and phone number on the back.  (Note: also contains my name, so you can add your name to the back)

Make your business card reflect YOU.  Give it away freely and carry it with you everywhere.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Business Card Marketing

If you are a performer, speaker, storyteller, musician, business owner or earn money by providing services or goods - you need a business card.  That is the best marketing advice you will ever read.  It is not a good idea, something to consider or your next purchase.  If you don't have a business card, stop reading this now and search "business cards" on Google or Yahoo.  Find a site that sells them and order today!

Business cards are a must, not a luxury.  They are also the most inexpensive way to market yourself, services or products. I love using business cards and use them constantly.  If I haven't seen friends in a while, I  give them a couple cards to make sure they have my number and address.  (I also ask that they pass the extra ones on, if the opportunity arises.  The opportunity does arise!)  I give them to folks when I am speaking.  After the event, while I am visiting with the crowd I always have a handful and give them to everyone.  I have never had anyone reject one!

I use the back of my card to write notes when I have to leave a message for someone.  I offer my card to others if they have to write a note.  They are easy to write on, convenient - they fit in a wallet!

People tend to keep business cards.  I don't know why, but they do.  I keep a tickle file of cards with services, friends and products.  Sure, I could look things up on the computer, but like most folks, I keep the cards.

I normally carry a soft plastic business card holder in my pocket and it is full of cards.  Cards get bent and soiled in a wallet or loose in a purse.  The soft plastic holder is lighter and easier to keep in a pocket than the fancy ones made of metal, leather or other materials.  Normally I can carry 20-30 business cards with me at all times.

Here is a helpful hint... keep additional cards in your car.  I have a "sandwich size" Ziplock bag in my car and my wife's car with business cards, post cards and similar marketing materials.  If I run out, I can always go to the car for more.

Don't be stingy with business cards.  Online you will find many companies that sell high quality business cards for very low cost.  Do some comparison shopping.  Order a suitable quantity.   Many sites have user friendly templates and designs.  My last several cards took 10-15 minutes to design and order.  Spend the extra money and get the better cards without the printing company logo and info on the back.  Better yet, put your website and phone on the back. 

If you like the design you choose order plenty and use them!  My last business card order cost TWO CENTS a card.  If I give 1,000 cards away it only cost $20!  If you hand out 10,000 cards a year you would spend $200.

Business cards are a great marketing investment!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Road - Audio podcast

powered by

Bitin' Things

I'm so sick of bitin' things
Skeeters, chiggers an' ticks
Wish the Lord would clip their wings
Or teach them other tricks.
I know, I know they have their place
They fit some cosmic plan
But why do they bite the human race
And make me

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Melancholy Landscape

Goldfinches happily pickin' at thistle seed
Singin' carefree goldfinch melodies.
Doves dancin' an' bobbin' below
Heads up an' down, up an' down
Harmonizin' with an alto "coo-whoot".
Peaceful day, lovely day, hint of fall
Twitter, tweet, coo-whoot, coo-whoo.
Sudden jet, rocket, flash, shock, slam
Redtail hawk appears, flashes by
Angry brown blur cuts through grey and yellow
Like a malevolent artist slashing brush
Through a lovely pastoral scene.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Road by Stephen Hollen

Life had changed him, death stopped by and robbed him of a Daddy, Mama, his family, his kin.  Jimmie walked numb through the mourning, the handshakes, hugs and prayers.  Hands reaching out to him just never could reach through the fog to pull him back into living.

Though he was almost ready to leave home, Jimmie had not pulled up anchor and drifted away from that house deep in the holler not too far outside of Beloved, Kentucky.  He had a summer job at the Carnegie Library.

That is where the deputy sheriff found him the day his folks slid into the guardrail to avoid that deer.  Their truck tumbled down a ravine and settled on its side more than 300 feet below.  Their horn cried long and loud until Uncle Billy Gilbert drove by, windows down.  The smashed rail and braying horn caused him to stop.  All Uncle Billy could do is cry and pray when he got to the bottom of the ravine.  It was too late to do more.

Jimmie sat for days in the home his folks had brought to life with harmony, smiles and the joinery of heart, hearth and table that makes a mountain home.  He looked into a dusty hearth without seeing.  He walked the halls and stood on the big wrap around porch without feeling.  One moment he rose for a bit from the hurt when he heard the creak of the porch swing.  His head turned to look before reality reminded his conscious mind it was only the wind.

No one called from the library to remind him he needed to come to work.  Neighbors had been kind, had brought a mountain of food to show their love before the funeral.  Now they all seemed to have deserted him.  Reality was they didn't want to be a bother.

Jimmie needed the bother.

This went on for two weeks.  The only person that realized anything was wrong was a little bitty fellow that was the last person to offer help.  He was short, thin and of no social consequence.  He didn't bathe often, he kiddingly told folks he was H2O intolerant.  His name was Peanut Chappell and he was distant cousin to Jimmie and his family.  The longest conversation Jimmie had ever had with Peanut was over the quality of the moonshine that ol' Bert made over on Double Creek, near Peabody.

Jimmie might have thought it odd if he had not sunk so low, had not been so far from living as he was, when Peanut stopped by in his Daddy's old International truck.

"Jimmie, I hate to bother you, but I really need someone to help me.  There is a real problem and I can't find anyone else who could help solve it."

Peanut had to beg and cajole Jimmie for over half an hour.  Finally Jimmie agreed to help.  He sat and looked at nothing as the truck rumbled down a road he didn't recognize.

After nearly twenty minutes they stopped and Peanut told him they were "there".  They both got out and Peanut told Jimmie to have a seat on a big log that had fallen on the side of the road.  Road was actually an exaggeration.  This was little more than a growed up path to nowhere.  Jimmie didn't notice.

"Jimmie, here is how it is.  You are worthless right now.  You are in some kind of way an' no one is doin' a thing about it.  Specially you.  do you think your Mama would like what she sees?  Shucks man, you haven't even had a bath in days.  I know!  I am an expert in that area.  You need a good kick in the pants is what your Daddy would say and I am givin' it to ya.  I am leavin' an' you are not comin' with me.  You can sit here on your sorry tail an' die if you want.  Or you can get up an' walk home.  Take time to think as you walk, ol' boy.  I got you about 15 miles from anyone, so you are on your own"

As he spoke these words, Peanut became more than he ever was before, or after in his life.  The good Lord must have laid this on his heart, for he never had a moment like this again.

After Peanut drove off Jimmie sat there for a while in the same funk as before.  Then he got mad.  He got plain ol' ticked off.  How dare Peanut Chappell preach to him.  How dare him leave like that!  Hey, how dare he leave without a bit of food all this way.

Then he noticed the brown bag layin' by him.  Inside were half dozen biscuits, a couple small tomatoes, some sliced ham and a peach.  A note was scrawled on the bag, "love you man." in Peanut's simple handwriting.

Jimmie got up and began walking pretty slowly.  He just had to follow the road back.  It wasn't really hard going, just tedious.  He carried the bag in his left hand and didn't think at all as he walked.

Since Peanut picked him up late in the day, Jimmie ended up spending a uncomfortable night in the holler, cold and alone.  He was already feeling that way inside... all he needed was to feel that way outside.

In the morning he ate more of the food Peanut had left and sat for a while wondering what in the world Peanut thought this would accomplish.

He walked till about 10:00 and as he walked around a corner he saw an old board with words painted in white paint; This a way Jimmie".  It pointed up a dry branch.  He figured Peanut had a shortcut so he obediently followed.

At the top of the hill was another sign; "See what God had wrought.  It is all in His plan".

Jimmie looked out over the hills and hollers that were home to all his family for nearly 200 years.  He saw his town of Beloved, the Carnegie Library, cars and trucks moving along the roads below.  Some were leaving and some coming into town.

Far up the hill he saw the little church where his family worshiped... Where his Mama and Daddy were buried.  He could see the mounds of bright colored flowers still heaped on the raw earth of their graves.  Tears stung his eyes as he looked over the hills of home to that place where they lay.

Why would Peanut do this to him?  Why?

He read the sign again, "See what God had wrought.  It is all in His plan".

You don't need to know all Jimmie said, the rants, the curse he threw at the hills, at God, at his Daddy for worrying more about a deer than his own family.  He cursed the day he was born, the day that the deer was born, he cursed one and all without prejudice.

Then he sat, he slept finally and woke during the long night.
It was warm there that night, almost like he was meant to be there.  He saw the lights of little cabins snuggled up to the feet of the hills, worn down hard by god years ago.  He felt worn down like the hills.  As he watched, the lights went out in home after home till only a few pole lights lit the little village of Beloved.

Jimmie didn't sleep.  He sat and watched as the world slept.  He searched his heart and wondered about a plan that allowed his folks to die.

The next morning he rose and turned to go, only to find himself facing an overgrown cemetery.  He walked inside the gate and wandered through the stones.  Dozens of pioneer families were buried there, many with only sandstone markers on their graves.  He read the names, the dates, the simple expressions of love.

He came to one stone that was different.  In the midst of all the graves was one small stone that said simply, "Lucinda, Beloved by me"

Peanut had walked quietly up behind him.  "That is why our hometown is named Beloved.  A man named by Felix came here, had that meadow that is our town surveyed for a farm.  He meant for his wife to see it, it was for her.  He got her here, this far and she fell, was hurt and died in his arms.  She saw the place, just never got there.  She said to him, 'what a beloved place.  That is what he called it.  He built other cabins an' when a few folks stopped, he invited them to stay.  He could have just sat up here an' died too.  He didn't though, he went on down the road."

They sat for a while till Peanut spoke again, "I cain't figure it out, Jimmie.  I have studied on it a good bit, I don't have no kind of answers.  I reckon this was sort of silly  I just know you gotta get on down the road now.  I'll take you home, lets go."

Jimmie looked at him for a moment and thanked Peanut for the offer, then told him he needed to walk.

That's what he did.  He just walked on down the road toward his home.

copyright Stephen Hollen  7/15/2007

If you want more info about Stephen Hollen Storyteller, contact him at

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pool of Dreams

Down at one end
Of the creek
One simple leaf
Golden and yellow
Drifts and spins
Caught in an eddy
Neath a fallen limb.
It spins easily
My mind spins with it
Wandering back the years
Spinning through memories
Back to a time
Spun to a place
That makes me pause
And smile to myself.

Blue Eyed Gal

Close my eyes and I see
Brown head gal
Big ol' blue eyes
Sittin' on a cabin porch
Waitin for her man.
Rockin' in his favorite chair
Mad 'cause he is late.
Supper past, food gone cold
Scotch Irish temper heatin' up.
Blue eyes narrow,
Foot quickly taps
Watchin' the narrow road.

Old truck comes over the hill
Brown head gal sits back.
Blue eyes close for just a spell
Plannin' the scoldin'
He's gonna get, what she's gonna say.
Food cold on the table,
Youngin's all in bed
Chores not done
Animals not fed.
Just you wait
Just you wait
He'll get his, certain he will.

Truck gets close, drivin slow.
Raises a tail of dust
Raises suspicions an' ire
In the mind of a blue eyed gal.
Bet he's drunk, spent his pay
Cares nothin' for the kids.
Havin' a time of it
Wastin' our due.
Why'd she ever marry him?

Truck slows, rolls an' stops
Old man gets out with hat in hand
Bad news, oh so bad
Mine has done collapsed.
His tired brown eyes
Rimmed with red
Told all the news she heard.
Brown head dropped
Blue eyes cried
Why God asked the blue eyed gal.
Old man shook his weary head,
No answers could be told.

How a moment changes her
How her anger fades.
She takes a hand
Smooths her brown hair
Wipes tears from her blue eyes.
Invites the man to have a seat
Goes in to put water on.
Folks will be comin'
Sittin' wake, waitin' to hear
Some kind of news.
Neighbors, loved ones
Mama, Daddy
Will sit an' stare up
The road.
Waitin' for an answer,
Waitin' for some news.
Brown heads, red and blonde
Gray heads bowed so deep
Too many wakes, too much pain.
Red rimmed eyes,
Blue, brown, green and gray
Wait an' watch
Stare up the road
In hopes he finds his way.

copyright Stephen Hollen  7/25/2006

There is a Place by Stephen Hollen

There is a place
Where old men still pause
Take off their hat
Shed a tear when
The flag passes by.

There is a place
Where women still stop
Youngin's in hand
To talk and laugh
Outside a little ol' grocery.

There is a place
Where stores are closed
On each and every Sunday
'Cause folks just don't shop
But stay home with families.

There is a place
Where farmers pause
As they plow their fields
To eye the clouds
And hope for rain.

There is a place
Where neighbors wave
As they drive slowly by
Lookin' at your tomatoes
Wonderin' are theirs bigger.

There is a place
Where blue ribbons won
At the County Fair
Hang displayed proudly
In places of honor.

There is a place
Where the modern world
Has not interrupted
Has been held at bay
By mountains old and rugged.

Come, go with me
I'll show you wonderful things
Come, go
I'll hide, you hunt me
Find me hidden in that place.

Come, go with me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fullness of the Heart

The fullness of the heart
Spills out to tongue and pen.

Better the sweetness
Of what shall be
Than bitter
With what has been.

copyright Stephen Hollen  10/18/2005

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons Learned from Little Dogs - The FrankenMutt

This isn't about one of our little dogs.  It is a memory of a little dog from years ago I call the FrankenMutt.

When I was finished my Freshman year at college in 1972, I worked the summer for a cousin of mine.  He was a painting contractor and I spent that summer working with him and his crew.  One of the more interesting parts of the job was a contract he had to rehab homes of welfare recipients.  There are stories I could tell...

Only one includes a little dog.

We had a job in North Dayton to do some repair work and paint the interior and exterior of an older fellow's home.  It wasn't a bad neighborhood, nor a bad house.  It was just in disrepair, mostly because the owner was old and unable to do the work.

I don't know why I ended up with the interior painting, but I did.  Usually it wasn't a bad job at all.  Well, sometimes it wasn't bad.  In this case I dreaded it every day after the first day.  The home wasn't dirty, or even cluttered.  No, actually it was quite neat and clean.

The problem was the dog.

It was most likely a Rat Terrier or perhaps a Jack Russell Terrier.  I am not sure of the specific Terrier breed.  It was difficult to tell.  You see, the dog was old.  It was wrinkled and warty.  Yes, it had warts all over its black and white body.  Big warts any Halloween witch would be proud of.

The worst part is yet to come.  It had no teeth either.  AND its tongue hung our to one side and it slobbered.  It slobbered like a Saint Bernard.  I am talking volume here.  Lots and lots of slobber.

It apparently also had had a stroke or something because it walked and ran sideways, dragging one back foot as it ran.  Its face was limp on one side.  I suspect that is why the tongue hung out and it slobbered.  It was an ugly dog.

The owner loved this dog.  He fed it Cheeto corn puffs all day long.  He said it couldn't eat much else.  For that reason the mouth area was constantly stained Cheeto orange.

Here is the reason I remember that dog... It hated me.  It would run at me time after time, gnawing at my legs with those bare gums and lolling tongue.  My white painters pants would have orange slobber on them at the ankle day after day.  I hated that dog.

I would move a step and it would attack.  I would reach for more paint and it would attack.  The owner just laughed.  I would jump as it ran up behind me and attack.  I still shudder when I remember FrankenMutt.  What a mean, nasty dog.

The funny thing is, that dog didn't have a tooth in his head.  It really couldn't hurt me.  It was like the Boogey Man.  It was just my mind, my disgust at its looks that make me crazy.  I would lift my leg up so it wouldn't bite me.  Yet it didn't hurt.  I just responded.

Aren't a lot of our fears like that?  Unfounded, toothless unless we flinch?  Don't we all have a laundry list of toothless dogs that hound us in our dreams, our quiet moments?

I often wonder now what would have happened if i had simply stomped my foot at that dog instead of running from it.  I wonder what would happen if we all faced those toothless fears, stomped our feet and didn't worry that it might mean a little orange slobber on our ankles once in a while?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lessons Learned from Little Dogs 2

This house is run by two small dogs.  That is the reality.  My wife likes to think she runs it.  Occasionally I pretend I am in charge, but it is the dogs that run the place.  Five or six years ago the wife and middle child began a quest for a dog.  Put a bookmark in this place.  I'll talk more about our older dog later.

The middle child is a girl.  She is grown now, but then she was about 17.  Apparently commercials had an impact on her that went way beyond late night snacks.  She had watched the Taco Bell commercials that were popular back then so much that her choices in puppies were influenced by them.  Yes, she wanted a Taco Bell dog!  I am not sure if Chihuahuas really are in the canine family.  I have always suspected they were a cross between Norway Rats and little dogs gone terribly wrong.

My favorite thing about Chihuahuas was remembering the TV show "WKRP in Cincinnati"'s episode when Les Nessman called them "Chi-hooa-hooas".  Not much else recommended the breed to me.

After calling ads in the newspaper we went to the east side (the place where most hillbillies like me settled) of Dayton, Ohio to look at pups.  Thankfully they were not quite ready to go home with anyone.  We arrived and were brought into the room where the pups were.  The mother AND the grandmother were both there for us to see.  Gee whiz!

Sure, the pups were cute.  They were also four weeks old.  Even Iguanas are cute at four weeks, as are armadillos, yaks and polar bears.  The mama and grandmother were not so cute.  They were downright ugly.  Not the tiny, precious well proportioned rat dog of Taco Bell fame.  These dogs were odd shaped and just not what one would call show quality.  They were just dog ugly.  I think they were descended from the Hunchdog of Notre Dame.  Maybe the father was made from spare parts in some lab... named Frankenrover. (I smell a story brewing in this!)  If ever a dog should wear a mask... them were the dogs!

I finally herded the females of my family back to the van and as we drove home I began the lengthy process of convincing them to look elsewhere for a pup.  Again and again I reminded them of the mama... and (shudder) that toothless, flop-eared grandmother dog.  (Memories of my teenage years and another UGLY odd dog came to mind.  that story later.)  Good sense finally won the day and we did not go back for a Chi-hooa-hooa pup.

The reality is the pups were from a bad line.  The owners had not done the breed any justice and had bred indiscriminately.  They really were not a good choice.  Buying one would have been buying the dog for the puppy, not for the dog it would become.  For those of you that are going to say, "a dog isn't about looks or breed, there are plenty of great mutts out there." - I agree, not the issue!

Here is the lesson to be learned.  Don't settle.  Do your homework.  Those are important lessons when buying a dog AND in life.  Because the breeder was indiscriminate, who knows what problems and possible heartaches we might have gone through by now.

Settling is the easy way, the "get it now" way, sometimes the "American" way of life.  There is no real planning, no thought put into what we do.

Remember the TV show "Happy Days"?  The Fonz had a list, a written list of the qualities he wanted in a girl.  I took that to heart years ago.  I eventually had some sense knocked into me and made my list.  It served me well.

Why not govern our big decisions by sitting down and logically making a list of what we want... "must haves", "nice to haves" and "deal breakers"?  Why not pause before we buy that 800 inch plasma 3D TV with the jewel encrusted remote and a bottle opener on the side?

Why not ask the annoying questions like, "can I really afford this?"  or the ever unpopular, "Do I really need this?".  Hey, how about saying once in a while, "Yep, I want it, do need it, but can't afford it right now.  Rather than go into credit card debt with 28% interest, I will SAVE till I can buy it"!!!  Pretty bold concept, I know.

Don't settle... do your homework.  Decide what you really want, make a list of the qualities and look for that.  It might keep all of us from rushing out to buy the latest thing just because it is the latest thing.

Who knows, making a list and checking it twice works for Santa Claus.  It might even save some heartache and keep a few folks out of divorce court!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lessons Learned from Little Dogs

Folks who can observe life as it happens and deduce from those observations are blessed.  Too many of us go through life without seeing things around us.  The reality is there are lessons being taught to us daily.  We only have to stop and watch.

Just as an example, yesterday I took each of our little dogs around the block for a short walk.  Short for me, dogs with legs that are eight inches long might disagree.  The routine is the same for each of them... out to the garage (away from the other dog who waits their turn, impatiently) to have their leash attached.  Then out the side door and down the driveway.

They always stop before they get to the end of the driveway and wait.

You see, when we moved in, I installed an "Invisible Fence".  They learned the "safe" area they were confined to very quickly.  It was, apparently, ingrained in their minds.  The interesting thing is that about a month ago a lightening strike took the fence out completely.  The in ground wire needs to be reinstalled and I just haven't had time to do that.

I even took off the collars that give the "gentle correction".  (Neither had been corrected in years)

Those two little dogs still are convinced the fence is there, working and that their collars are on.  They sit and wait to be picked up and carried about ten feet to cross over the fence.  It is sort of silly, picking them up, carrying them ten feet across the area where the fried fence wire is buried.  I suspect they would pull away if I tried to lead them toward it.  In their minds they are captivated by a fence that no longer works.  The collars that presently sit in a closet still hang around their minds.

I began to ponder that as I walked with Trulla May, my Shitz Tzu.  How like them we are.  We allow ourselves to be bound by invisible, mostly nonexistent limits in our lives.  We establish boundaries to our creativity, our dreams, our hopes and goals every day.  We go just so close to the edge of "safe" and stop, waiting but going no further for fear of some "gentle correction" from fate or life or the response of others.

I wonder why we don't just run through those boundaries?  What is stopping us?  What is stopping you?

Is it bravery, genius or disregard that allows those few, passionate folks to cross the invisible fences in their lives and become great?  An even better question... when you do cross that line, why do you run back into the yard?  Why do you go back into the box, back to the defined area that is vanilla safety?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

His Day

Morning is red on the horizon
As if God has not yet
Opened the other tubes
Holding the colors of dawn
Nor yet filled out his palette.

It is as if He pauses
Peers at paints and brushes.
Even now and ponders:
"What sort of day
Shall I create today?"

Soon and very soon
He will reach of glorious yellows
Whites beyond my vision
Oranges and dozens of shades
Of blues, reds and royal purples.

Then He will look with satisfaction
At the day He has made
And I will know then
That is is, was and will be...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Misty Morn

The morning is overcast
The air aburden with thick dew.
The birds fly slowly
Feathers laden with dampness.
Even the sounds of morning
Are quieted by the wet air.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hungry for the Hills by Stephen Hollen

Hills song

I run to the hills as they sing my name
Calling to me, whispering day after day
There is a comfortable old rockin' chair
Windblown and rockin' even now
As if warmin' up, ready for me.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Cowboy Retirement Home

Worn out old cowboy and broken down dog
Rest on a porch of a cabin of logs
Eyes closed and dreamin', they still have a few
Dreams of cattle, and horses and when life was new.
Ropin' and ridin', workin' hard the day long
Dog barks, nips at cattle and howls out a song
Young man sits tall in his saddle so new
He winked at the ladies and kissed him a few.
Roped a few calves and herded the strays
Knew he'd be ridin' till the end of his days
Cashed all his paychecks, bought beer and grub
When he was achin', he'd soak in a tub.
Never complained, he never wanted to
Seldom thought about it, there was too much to do
Cared little about low pay or retirement plans
He was a cowboy, hard worker, a man.
Then old age it caught him, with aches, hurt and pain
They gave him a watch, but forgot his name
They tore down the bunkhouse, he had no place to go
He had to move on, the rancher said so.
So he bought an old roan mare and rode slow away
He rode into the mountains, rode most of the day
Headed for that cabin he knew as a child
Though the path was all hidden, overgrown and wild.
Old dog, he followed, feet hurtin', head low
Old cowboy was weary, not much further to go.
They found the old cabin, not bad for its age
Grown up with brambles, wild roses and sage
He swept out the few rooms, mended the chairs

Unrolled his bedroll, opened windows to air.
He found a few apples hangin' on a tree
Since his pockets were empty, was glad they were free
With a chair he had mended and his old pocket knife
He carved on an apple and examined his life.
Eatin' a slice, he threw the peel to his dog
Leaned his chair back, head resting on a log.
Sleep soon caught up, and captured those two
They weren't needed or wanted, had nothing to do.
Worn out old cowboy and broken down dog
Rest on a porch of a cabin of logs
Eyes closed and dreamin', they still have a few
Dreams of cattle, and horses and when life was new.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Watching dog

Little dog sits quiet
On the back of the couch
Watching the world
Through a window
I wonder what thought
What dreams and what wonder
Work through her head...
She barks, saw a bird.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lazy Day

Lazy old day
Pajama till noon day
Weary bones creaking
Warm bed is speaking
Calling your number
Scoot now down under
Big piles of covers
Wrap you like lovers.
Soon you'll be snoozing
Daylight is losing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fifties Serendipity

Serendip dip dip dip
Serendipity, dipity do
Dip dip dip danga dang dang
Fifties serendipity
Be-bopping all over

Monday, April 26, 2010

Waiting for Morning

Misty spring morning
Lays heavy and cold
Threats of frost
Murmur round the weeds
Spring peepers are quiet
Waiting for warmth.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Night wrapper

Darkness wraps round
Pulls deeper
Sucks the light
Wraps in night.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Perfect Day

The pond calls to the dogs
As the day nears perfection
Sunshine and heat mix for
A chance at a perfect day.

Kids float summertime lazy
On a glassy pond
Dogs swim and retrieve
Swim and retrieve
Sticks, apples and hard green pears.

Shade is a pleasure
But not a necessity
As I sit and watch
And remember other perfect days.

Frogs caught, laughs of joy and pleasure
Splashes of eager dogs
A cold glass of sweet tea
Dew drops trailing down
Yep, it has my vote
A perfect day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Run Away

Run away with me for a while
Wait till eyes are turned
Sneak off right quick
And run...
Run so very fast
Your hair flies back
Your eyes water
Your mouth turns up
In a knowing grin.

Run away with us
Come on now, come
Chase through the woods
Catch me if you can
Come on now,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Old Dog

Old dog sits and waits
Not allowed inside
Weary and lost
Looking for his master
Not knowing he has gone
To that undiscovered country
But waiting and willing
To follow when he's called.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unspoken Love

Ancient eyes open slowly
Blinking carefully
Old man awakes reluctantly
Remembering his dream
Regretting his life.
Not wanting the last wisps to fade
He clings to dreams and memories
Holding her one more time
Looking deep into her eyes,
Hearing her laugh
Kissing her smile.
Tears wash away sleep
As he shakes his head slow.
Oh, the sadness of love unspoken
The loneliness of unrequited love.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Mountain rising
Holler broad and low
Pushin' the hills apart
Away from one another
As if a referee
In an ancient feud.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chicken Scratchings

Chickens scratch, feet in the dirt
Scratch, hunt and peck
Writing avian petroglyphs
In the dust of a barnyard.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Slow Life

Old man sits in the shadows
Covered by a hot tin roof.
Thick heat sits round him
Makin' life slow and heavy.
Carpenter bee moves slowly
Almost see wings beat.
Diggin' tunnels and workin'
Into the cabin' mud chinking.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Night Flight

Last night I dreamed as I lay asleep
I stood on the edge of a chasm deep
And I leapt into the sky as on a dare
Into the invisible arms of elemental air
And I flew, graceful and free
Unfettered by the chains and bonds of gravity
I laughed and flew higher still,
Called on by joy and force of will
Flying higher than I knew I could,
Higher than a flier should
Barrel rolls and loop-de-loops
I flew.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Spring peeper
Lilly pad leaper
Tongue tangler
Fly wrangler
Eye popper
Belly flopper.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tobaccer Field

That tobaccer field
Cursed and hateful
Stooped from labor
Pullin', plantin', cuttin'
Broken by hard work
Hangin', sortin', gradin'.

That tobaccer field
Evil, wicked tempter
Hidden lies, addiction
Nicotine robber, killer
Leavin' old men breathless
Eatin' out their insides.

That tobaccer field
Laid food on the table
Good money for the mortgage
Sent nine youngin's to college
Built this house an' home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Snow Blossoms

White flakes curl and swirl
Gathered up by willow wispy winds
Blowing, whirling, scattering
Dancing in the dusk
By the light of a street lamp
Crab-apple snow storm
Fallen blossom blizzard

Monday, April 12, 2010

First flight

Near empty nest
Winds blow hard
Wings spread - open
Feathers rigid
Shoulders hunched
Feet push off
Into the empty sky
Wings catch hold
Pushing air
Miraculous first flight

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easter Basket

As I ponder this Easter basket, still filled with crinkled cellophane
The satin bow now hangs lopsided, lovely purple with saliva stains
Smudged with chocolate, muddy pawprints from a wound up child
Hyped up offspring with doubtful lineage scaring Grandpa, sugar wild.
Rummage through the chocolate wasteland, searching for a jelly bean
Carefully feel the bottom, search for treasure left by kiddies wicked, mean.
Yet still unbroken in all its glory, swirled with purple one single Easter egg
Single survivor of the ravage, stuck to a fuzzy, questionable chocolate bunny leg.
Should I, dare I, it mocks and tempts me, room temperature - week old treasure
Run, hide, crack the shell, then salt and pepper for this stolen pleasure.
Yet calmer thoughts and woeful memories come unbeckoned almost too late
Reminding me of other Easters, other spoiled eggs that I should not, but ate!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Abandoned Icon

At the edge of swamp, marsh and bog
Nested amid rambunctious honeysuckle vines
Tipped onto its broken side
Locked door pried open
Racks empty of bottles and desolate
Moneybox forlorn and bankrupt
Machine once bright and slick
Red and white and shining chrome
Not the commercial declaration dull
Broken, abandoned and rusted through
Still proclaiming the message
Drink Coca Cola.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Glorious Morning

Morning has come
Wrapping Himself with dawn
Shifting and lifting His glory
From the distant horizon.

He looks up
Smiles and winks
Sharing a secret
With His Father, Creator
Common mortals cannot know.

He gathers round Him
Robes of verdant green
Tree and flower, hill and heather
Aqua blue of ocean
River, stream, creek and ocean.

The rocks and hills sound out
The whole earth shouts and sings

Hallelujah, Morning, Glory
Hallelujah, Glory, Morning Glory
Morning, Glory, Morning has come.

Marsh Marigolds

Marsh Marigolds


Incongruous 'midst 
the dead and fallen cattails.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Nothing better than hot biscuits,
Warm from an ancient wood stove
Earthy, ashy smell of good eats
Slow baked country ham
Scrubbed and boiled
Laid in a cast iron pot
Simmering in thick apple cider
Sweetens the salty flavor
Boil and mash taters, cook beans
Cool that bucket of cream topped
Frothy Jersey milk in the springhouse.
Then ring the bell, sing their names
And call the family in...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


The steady beat of hammer on nail
Hollow sound of well cured planks
Zithery sawing of timbers
A promise of hearth and home
A dream of warmth and protection
A roof to shelter
A floor to cover with braided rugs
And laughing youngin's.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dragon wings

I wish that I could fly
Reach out with dragon wings
Sweep air under my body
Soar, not like bird or bat
But like a leviathon of the sky
Creature of fantasy.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Forgotten Harvest

Dusty shelves filled and bowing
Dank and dark, hidden away
Waiting, patient, for the need
Loaded with harvests past
Overflowing with preserved plenty
Left alone, unattended
Abandoned fruit jars
Mason jars full
String beans, corn, tomatoes
Juices, fruits, sweet and plenty
Yet forgotten from another generation
A splendor of color
Sweet and savory melody of taste
Badges of hard labor and caring.
Untended and alone.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Lone Robin

In the distance
On a wire
A lone robin sings
Glorious morning
Glad song

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Call

Come go with me today,
Leave your shell, your home
Walk away from the world
Step away from all we call
Life and walk into the woods.
Have you forgotten what life
What the world, what reality
Actually is?
It is not sitting in blue light
Staring at a screen.
It is not couching or loafing.
It is breathing deep
Seeing the world
Listening, feeling, touching

Friday, April 02, 2010


Here there be dragons
Hidden from mortal men
Who will not believe
Who will not, no cannot see.
Yet to him brave enough
With vision enough
The courage to believe
They wait and watch
Dragons can be seen
They can be found
Hiding in plain view
Look closely...
See their eyes

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Beautiful bogs

There are wild things
In the wetlands
Beauty in the bogs.
Tiny enchantments
Waiting to be found
Pushing blooms skyward
Lilliputian glories
Fragile jewels hidden
In the mud.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring has sprung

The skunk cabbage is the first visible sign of spring
Nearby little peepers cry their love songs
Their rough voices sounding like the creak of a cork
Twisted in the neck of a whiskey bottle.

 There are few other signs of Spring
The tall grasses still brown and brittle
Pushed down flat here and there
Beds for weary deer.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sweet Reflections

It is the quiet moments
The moments alone
With no distractions
That are treats to savor.
Like morsels of manna
Sweet on the tongue
Of my memory.
Roll them around
Let the flavors pop
Taste savory recollections
Slice into huge slabs
Of retrospection.
Oh taste and see
Taste and be
There... one more time.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Patriotic Programs for Summer

There are two new programs for summer of 2010.  Both are as a result of frequent requests for programs that are patriotic in nature.  Both are available year round, but are being featured for booking in June and July. 

Francis Scott Key stood as prisoner on a British vessel and watched as the British bombarded Fort McKinley in Baltimore.  As he sought a glimpse of the garrison's flag he began to pen the verses that were later put to music and finally became our National Anthem.  This program, presented by Stephen Hollen shows us as we stand today and look back, a glimpse of the lives, courage, struggles and stories of our Founding Fathers.

Courage, honor, patriotism are descriptions we often assign to those brave men and women that helped found our great country.  They are attributes that continue to be display even today by amazing individuals who proudly stand to be counted as they serve, show acts of selflessness, courage and prove the American Spirit is still alive and flourishing.  "WE THE PEOPLE" is a program that will share warm, encouraging and often bittersweet stories from all the generations of Americans who make our country great.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Snow Flakes Fall

Oh,but can you just imagine stepping out of a cabin,
Warm from a wood stove to grab more wood
Cut from downed trees in your woods?
You pause for a moment to watch the snow falling
Listen to the whisper of flakes falling
Gently landing on the tin roof.
Only in the woods is it quiet enough
To hear snowflakes flakes land.
Back inside you throw wood into the stove
Then stand with back to stove
To warm yourself once again
And watch the snow gather at your window.

Stephen Hollen

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Big Boy

When I was in grade school (7th grade) I was smaller than most boys my age.  I was extremely thin and had not started growing yet.  I really didn't have a growth spurt till my freshman year of high school.

For some reason that is lost in my past, one of the "big boys" had it in for me.  I don't remember why.  I was quiet, wore glasses and it was my first year at E.J. Brown Elementary School. I don't remember why he didn't like me or why he came after me. I was terrible at sports, couldn't make a basket in gym at all! I was the nearsighted kid that brought a stack of books home from the library every time I went. I was the little nearsighted boy who read Jules Verne, Andre Norton, L Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs and JRR Tolkein.

Maybe it was because his team lost some dumb game in gym class, maybe because I was the kid on his team that couldn't climb that stupid rope all the way to the ceiling. I just don't remember why he wanted to "pound me".

One day in the spring of my 7th grade year this "big boy" told me he was going to beat me up at the end of the school day.  Every time he saw me he looked at me and told me, over and over.  Can you imagine the fear and dread?  Imagine the stress I felt the whole day. He really didn't have to beat me up. I was already beat up inside just hearing him tell me over and over "I am gonna pound you, beat you up, hurt you real good".

Being smarter than him, I planned my escape from the building that afternoon. All the books I had read, all the narrow escapes of Frodo, John Carter of Mars, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. even made me wise and crafty at the escape game. I'd done it before. Donnie and I had escaped the big boys before.

Donnie was my best friend. Another skinny little guy with glasses like me. I told Donnie that I needed an escape plan and together we determined to go through the kindergarten area, sneak across the big back playground, across the street, past the small family run market and up another street before the big boy was even out of the building.  If we could get to that street we were safe.  I was safe. 

I knew the big boy went out the side door after school and onto the side playground. That was the way I usually left the building also. I hoped to leave just as the bell rang, go down another hall and get out onto that big back playground. If I was lucky, I might be lost in the crowd of kids rushing home (no bus service back then).

The bell rang and Donnie and I walked quickly through the kindergarten area ("no running boys, no running").  We blended into the crowd and I felt better.

I don't know how he caught up with us or how he found us, but as we were walking past the gym building the big boy ran up, grabbed me by my right arm and swung me as hard as he could into the brick wall of that building.  My books flew everywhere.  My glasses flew off and I hit - BAM-forehead first into that brick wall.  I fell like a calf at a stockyard hit with a sledge hammer. I went down stunned and unable to move.

If my friend Donnie (who was no bigger than I was) hadn't started slugging the big boy, I am sure the big boy would have continued his rage filled attack against me... the little boy.

I sat up and heard Donnie cussin' the big boy, heard the splats of meaty fists hitting Donnie, giving him my licks.  I felt for my glasses and put them on.

I then realized I could not see.  There was just darkness. Nothing, no light, no blurry figures, just darkness. No blood, no swollen eyes.  I just could not see.  I cried out several times; "I can't see, I can't see!" 

Donnie got away from the big boy and came over to where I was. My skinny little friend had stood in the gap for me when I was helpless and then came to help me up. 

"Don, I can't see. I'm blind. I really can't see anything." The words didn't sink in for him at first. I said it again, "I'm not foolin', Donnie. I can't see."

The big boy was heading toward us, Donnie told me later a group of kids including the "big boy's gang" had gathered to see the "fight" and the big boy was trying to give his gang a show.

When I said I couldn't see he stopped and just stood there.

I wouldn't let Donnie take me inside for help.  Both my folks were working and I knew my Mama (who had a beauty shop in the back of our home) would freak out.  I just wanted to go home.  I had Donnie lead me.  The "big boy" and his friends ran away and went home.

As we walked home, a huge goose egg - a hematoma swelled up on my forehead.  It was huge, bigger than a duck egg (which is bigger than a hen egg).  My vision began to come back a little as we walked.  By the time I was in my yard most of my vision returned. I went in the house with Donnie and to my room to lay down.

The "big boys gang" had gone home as soon as I said I couldn't see. One of the kids in the gang must have been a little worried because he told his mom.  That mom called the big boy's mom... who called my Mom and insisted I be taken to the hospital.  Remember, I had not seen my Mama yet.  She flew into my room all wound up.  I was taken to the hospital where the big boy and his mom met us.

Apologies, assurances of punishment and x-rays, which confirmed I would live.  I had a mild concussion. Mama had to check my eyes every hour overnight to make sure I was OK.

I don't remember a lot about the days following that incident. It was a pretty normal year after that. I do remember I didn't get beat up by the big boy again.

I still have a donut shaped knot in the middle of my forehead still.  It isn't big, but you can definitely see it, especially when I frown.  It is scar tissue from that injury and the hematoma.

At 6'2" and weighing 220 or so, I am not afraid of too many folks today.  I haven't been picked on or beat up for the last 40+ years, but that day left a mark, on my forehead and my psyche. 

I don't suffer fools or let bullies get their way.  I have walked between "big boys" and their victims more than once.

When you are my size you don't have to lay a finger on a "big boy"  A time or two I had to grab a boy by the scruff of the neck and pull him off his victim.  Usually I just stepped between the boys.

Each time I just stepped in, looked quietly deep into the eyes of the "big boy" and waited. ( giving my best evil eye look at the time)

Funny how "big boys" shrink when they aren't the biggest dinosaur on the playground.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Imagine with me
A day that calls to you
"Wake up, come on, awake".
A day that sings
A love song in your ears
Sweetly, softly singin'
Come play come
Play with me
I am just today"

Imagine sun so bright
All colors just scream
Dancin' an' jumpin'
Right at your face.
Makin' your eyes
Crinkle up an' grin.

Imagine a place
Makes the heart ache
Rugged in beauty.
Stole the heart
Long ago, stolen.
Beaten down hills
Dusty ol' road.
Tobaccer crop high
Green in the sun.
Big ol' magnolia
Flowers like washtubs
Everlast growin'
Promise of life.

Don't just imagine.
Go on home.
You know where I mean, child.
Go now, just go.

copyright 5/10/05


          and the fire burns

        like newly born fireflies

       wraps around clothes

copyright 3/12/05

Mist on the Water

The mist rests uneasily
On the water.
It moves lightly
Stirred and twirled
As if by unseen hands.

Copyright 3/5/05 Stephen Hollen

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Heart of the Mountain

Heart of the mountain
Soul of the hills
Ripped from the deepest places
Sacred, precious... valuable.
The Company doesn't care
About the heart or soul.
Heart of the Mountain
Only the black coal
Bought and sold.
Hauled away in truckloads
Hauled away with no care
Hauling precious souls
Draggin' the dead behind
Long trains to the north.

Heart of the mountains
Hauled away in carloads
Draggin' the dead behind
Burned in the smelters
Furnaces, engines, converters
To give light, steel, transportation
To those who mock
The mountains.

Weep, Weep, heart of the Mountains.

And I Shall Sing

And I shall sing
I will stand on the mountaintop
Watch the sun rise over the hollers
With tears I will watch
The first rays of light touch
Cabin and smokehouse, barn and field.
I will hear the sounds of the mountains
Simple songs of daily life
Of hope and dreams
Of the grind of each day
Struggling to make a way.
Proud voices harmonizing
Midst the smell of coffee
And bacon, biscuits and eggs
Cooked early in the dawn
Making ready for a full day.
Maybe I'll spy an old man
Rising early to milk his cows.
Just buttoning his bibs
As he walks to the barn.
I will hear the rooster crow,
As if to say to God
The conductor,
Time for the show.

And God will step
Out on the the clouds,
Look over the hills of home
Start creation's melody
He'll look down on me
As I stand on the mountaintop
As if to give me a cue...
And I shall sing.

copyright 4/16/2006 Stephen Hollen

Friday, January 15, 2010

Invited back for Sheep Dip Days!

I am just all a flutter this morning.  I just opened an invite to come back home to Beloved - my hometown in the hills of eastern Kentucky for Sheep Dip Days in June.  More important, they have asked that I be the official "Glutton For Mutton"! 

For those folks who don't know, that is the Grand Marshall of the Sheep Dip Days Parade.  It includes other duties such as being the Head Judge for the Sheep Dip Recipe Contest, startin' the official Sheep Dip Wrassle and crownin' Miss Sheep Dip.

I have to confess, the Sheep Dip Recipe Contest is my least favorite.  The judges must taste every item submitted.  After twenty or thirty recipes containin' sheep dip, my belly gets a little uneven.  I am fond of Birdy Sue Poovy's Dark Chocolate and Sheep Dip Cake.

The Sheep Dip Wrassle is a good time for all.  A huge mud puddle is made and 2,000 gallons of sheep dip are added.  One hundred and seven real silver dollars are tossed in (by me as the "Glutton For Mutton") and a shotgun is fired. (side note; We now fire the shotgun into the air since my Cousin Peanut fired it into the puddle and peppered all 87 contestants with birdshot!)  Oh Lordy, what a sight!  Folks reachin' down, grabbin' for silver, wrasslin' each other for what is found.  Of course, there is no bitin' allowed.

The winner is hosed down for free and gets their winnin's matched with more silver dollars!  Now that is good clean fun.

Orvina Snoddy was crowned Miss Sheep Dip last year.  Now Orvina is 78 years old, but she won since it was the "Sheep Dip Year of the Environment".  The Judges had determined the gal that recycled the most in one month would be declared the winner.  Orvina won because Henry Kay had all the old cars that were up on blocks back behind his barn hauled in and weighed.  Fourteen cars, imagine that!

Well now, Cousins, I reckon I better get on the phone and order my official "Glutton For Mutton" fleece kilt and matching vest.  If I don't order now the hide won't have time to cure an' the smell of uncured fleece kilts in summer can be what folks call "off puttin".

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crazy Quilt

It is like a quilt
Sewn carefully
From patches and
Scraps left
Yet lovingly
Made and
Well used.
Warm and inviting
Wrapped around me.

copyright 4/1/06 Stephen Hollen

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Tattooed man sits
Skin crawls
Little devils dance.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Hillside Memories

In the heart of Clay County
Down by the Red Bird River
Not too far from Peabody
Is a hillside lush
With mountain laurel.

Walk up the hill slowly
Go quietly an' take off your hat.
Be silent, look around you
There sleeps pilgrims an' pioneers
Waitin' for the trumpet call.

Under the shade of a sycamore
Facin' the eastern sky
Lie grandparents, aunts an' uncles.
Restin' in silent slumber
Waitin' for their reward.

Ain't no famous folks there
No president or king.
Just plain ol' kin an' cousins
More cotton than sateen
Listenin' for the call.

Some stones are timeworn
No name or date to read.
Yet someone lays in slumber
Loved and mourned for once
Nameless, yet named on that day.

Stand there in revered silence
Look around in awe.
These gentle folks came before you
Made straight the paths
Await their reward.

copyright 1/8/05 Stephen Hollen

Pot Belly

Pot belly stove burns cherry bright
Gut full of embers - coal an' wood.
Stirred up now after burnin' all night,
Now puts out the heat it should.

Splits of wood wait their turns
Stacked close - hickory, ash and oak.
Pot belly stove whistles, spits and burns
Happy that its stoked.

copyright 1/2/05 Stephen Hollen

Bottlecap Bobby D. Clark

Christmas Eve morning in Beloved is glorious, as you most likely expect.  There was a good bit of snow on the ground like folks had ordered a white Christmas.  The decorations an’ lights just glowed in the soft mornin’ light.  Annie Pankey was up an’ directin’ traffic on Main Street.  Somewhere she had gotten an orange “safety patrol belt that went around the waist and over the shoulder.  Never mind it was for youngin’s to wear…never mind that it had the badge from Dayton, Ohio City Schools on it.  It looked right official an’ folks was followin’ Annie’s directions all mornin’ long.  Most of the directin’ involved keepin’ folks from parkin’ in front of “Pankey’s Hankies” – Annie’s antique store.

The Henny Penney was full, as usual on any given mornin’. Men folk gathered each mornin’ to discuss weather, crops an’ politics.   Christmas Eve mornin’ was no different.  There was good-natured kidding’ about what one man or another bought his wife.  Beanie Collins had slipped a Sears and Roebuck ad for women’s underwear into Buck Smith’s coat pocket an’ had Uncle Billy Gilbert just happen to find it.  Everyone roared when Uncle Billy innocently grabbed it an’ pulled it into view an asked, “why, Buck, what in the world is this?  You getting’ Lucinda somethin’ frilly an’ unmentionable from Santy?”

Buck Smith turned four or five shades of red an’ Roscoe Goins suggested that one particular shade of red would be a great color for some silk drawers for Lucinda.  ‘Course, Buck got him back when he beaned Roscoe with a snowball as they was leavin’.

As folks were laughin’ an’ enjoyin’ the company of friends, the door to the Henny Penny opened an’ in comes Bottlecap Bobby D. Clark.  Everyone cheered when Bottlecap Bobby walked in.  He was sort of a local celebrity these days an’ was from over to Peabody, close to Double Creek.  His family had lived for many years just on the other side of the low water bridge just across the Red Bird River.  Uncle Billy made room for Bottlecap Bobby in the booth where he was sittin’ with Hap Collins.

Bottlecap Bobby D. Clark was Bobby’s stage name.  Bobby had played bluegrass music for many years an’ he went with the tide as it became popular across the country.  Now there was a big ol’ bus parked out in the back of the Henny Penney parkin’ lot with his name – “Bottlecap Bobby D. Clark and The Glass Bottle Band” on the side of the bus.  Bobby traveled all over the country an’ had even been to Europe playin’ ol’ bluegrass tunes on his banjo, guitar an’ dobro.

No matter where Bottlecap Bobby was durin’ the year, he always took a Christmas break an’ ended up in Beloved.  After he visited for a while he would head over an’ across that low water bridge over the Red Bird River to where his Mama an’ Daddy still lived.  ‘Course, their standard of livin’ was a lot better these days.  When Bottlecap Bobby’s career had first taken off, he had bought them the biggest doublewide that he could get up Route 66 an’ over that bridge.  Three years ago he had moved the doublewide out an’ built them a big ol’ house with a full basement AN’ attached garage.

Hap Collins didn’t know Bobby as well as some of the fellers sittin’ ‘round the Henny Penny an’ was right taken by this star sittin’ with plain folks.  He said how honored he was an’ Bobby laughed.  Told Hap he was just an ol’ drunk the good Lord saw fit to straighten up an’ bless a little bit.

Hap didn’t know the story an’ apologized for bein’ nosey.  Bobby laughed an’ told him not to worry.  He even asked if Hap would like to hear the story of his life.  Hap an’ all the rest of the men said yes an’ Bobby went out to the bus to get his banjo.  By this time a couple of the boys in the band had roused an’ came in.  They headed out to the bus to get instruments an’ Bessie Bowling grinned as she opened the back meetin’ room.

“Y’all need to move it back here for this.  I need to make some Christmas tips an’ y’all are keepin’ them seats way too long.”

Everyone grinned sheepishly as they got up an’ moved to the meetin' room.  Bessie noticed that several of them men shelled out way bigger tips than they usually left.  She didn’t know if it was a Christmas tip or if she had shamed them into leavin’ it.  Bessie didn’t much mind, though.  Them tips would help pay for more college up to Berea College where she went to school.

Bottlecap Bobby D. Clark an’ his band settled in an’ started to tune up.  They played a few riffs as folks got settled in’ an’ then took off with some of the best bluegrass a man will ever hear this side of Ralph Stanley.  The upright bass player did one of the longest bass fiddle solos ever heard in bluegrass music an’ the fellers listenin’ clapped and carried on for a long time.

Then things got quiet an’ the band played real slow an’ low as Bobby began to talk.  His story started out with his birth to good folks over at the Red Bird Mission Hospital.  He came from good stock an’ his folks were some good people.  Bobby was another story.  He told of a youth wasted early on with drinkin’, gamblin’ an’ runnin’ with the wrong bunch of boys.

He learned to play about anything a feller could play.  His Daddy taught Bobby the dobro, mandolin, bass fiddle an’ banjo.  His Uncle Delmer taught his the guitar an’ even the trumpet.  For a while Bobby traveled around playin’ for honky-tonks an’ bars.  Folks said he might amount to somethin’ if he straightened up.

One branch of the Clark family got involved in a feud years back with some Delvins an’ it had gone on for years.  Bobby got right in the middle of it an’ shot a boy in the back.  He was egged on by his cousins who was too scairt to shoot.  Bobby stood there when that boy fell an’ rolled over.  That boy laid there an’ looked at Bobby for a long time.  Bobby’s cousins told him to shoot the boy an’ get on with the feudin’.

Bobby looked into the eyes of that boy an’ his heart broke.  He asked the boy’s name an’ the boy said it was Charlie Delvin.  Bobby picked Charlie Delvin up an’ carried him in his arms for miles to his Daddy’s home across that low water bridge.  He cried out to his Daddy an’ they loaded that Delvin boy into a truck an’ drove him to the Red Bird Mission Hospital.  The Doctor was able to remove the bullet an’ Charlie’s folks came as quick as someone could get up to their home.

When asked who shot him, Charlie Delvin told his folks he didn’t know, but that if it weren’t for Bobby D. Clark comin’ along, he reckoned he would have laid on the side of that hill where he was shot an’ died.  That single lie effectively ended the feud between the Clarks an’ the Devlins.

Bobby didn’t get over the shootin’ as easy as Charlie did.  It haunted him an’ drove him with demons that he could not shake.  Charlie’s gift had changed his life an’ kept him from goin’ to the pen…but it couldn’t get rid of the guilt that haunted Bobby.

Bobby tried to drown his demon with good corn likker.  He tried to drown it with homebrew, muscadine wine an’ even pure grain alcohol.  Bobby tried to kill it with hard livin’ an’ takin’ risks, but the demon an’ Bobby D. Clark lived through all of it.

Eventually, Bobby D. Clark ended up with the soiled reputation and wasted life of the town drunk.  He was the man folks walked over when he laid passed out behind a bar.  Bobby would try to play his banjo for a couple of drinks, but eventually his talent left his shaky hands an’ Bobby sold all his instruments.

Bobby paused for a while as he got to this part of the story.  He played quietly on his banjo an’ the boys in the band followed along.  Tears ran down his face an’ his short pause became a long round of playin’ as the boys took out an’ played some sad songs.  The boy on the fiddle had come in an’ ended the playin’ with “Blue Christmas”.

Bobby cleared his throat an’ continued.  He told of wakin’ up behind the ol’ barn that Peanut Chappell had turned into an illegal bar.  Peanut called it “Peanut’s Palace”.  Bobby woke up feelin’ more like the fool than a king.

Bobby saw Charlie Delvin goin’ into the barn an’ called to him.  Charlie came over an’ Bobby asked if he would go in an’ get him a little somethin’ to drink.  Charlie stood for a while lookin' at him an’ then went in.  A moment later he returned an’ handed him a bottle.  Bobby thanked him an’ sat there holdin’ the bottle in shame.

When Charlie left, Bobby looked an’ realized Charlie Delvin had brought him a Coke.  After he cussed Charlie for a while he found a bottle opener an’ opened the Coke.  He held the bottle cap in his hand for a long while as he drank the Coke down in one long swallow.

Then he looked at the bottle cap.  He stared at it a long time.  Bobby turned it over in his hands again an’ again. More than once he read the bottle cap.

At this point Bobby stopped an’ all the band stopped too.  “That bottle cap changed my life.  I stopped drinkin’ that day.  I worked in the tobaccer till I had money to buy back my banjo.  For weeks an’ months I sat on the porch of my Daddy an’ Mama’s ol’ house an; relearned all that likker had taken away.  Daddy retaught me all I had forgotten an’ all I did was work in the tobaccer, sweat the alcohol poisons out of me an’ practice.  Daddy bought me a dobro an’ I kept playin.”

Bobby grinned, “After a while I got me a hat to keep the sun off my head an’ I put that bottle cap on my hat.  I never from that first day drank anything stronger than Coke.  About six months later I saw Charlie Delvin an’ stopped him as he was goin’ into the Dobson’s General Store.  I asked him if I could buy him a Coke an’ he grinned an’ said “Yessir”.  I did an’ when he took the cap off the bottle he looked at it an’ handed it to me.”

“I think this here cap is yours.” Charlie Delvin said.

“Bobby continued, “I took the cap an’ looked it over.  I shook his hand right there, asked him to forgive me for that day long ago an’ Charlie Delvin hugged me right there in front of the Dobson’s Store.”

“I took that bottle cap home an added it to my hat.  I have worn it to this day with them two bottle caps.  That’s why they call me ‘Bottlecap Bobby D. Clark, Hap…’cause of them two bottle caps.”

Everyone grinned as they listened to a tale of rags to riches.  They grinned because all it took to drown them demons was a good bottle of Coke.  Bobby went on to play all over the country – even on WSN an’ the Grand Ol’ Opry.

Hap asked what it was about that first bottle cap that turned Bobby around.  Bobby took his hat off an’ handed it to Hap.  The first bottle cap had two short sentences on it…”Drink Coke.  Play Again”

Bobby explained that even though he knew that cork lining was a game piece for a contest Coke was havin’, it was his wake-up call.  He took them words to heart, never drinkin’ again.  He did exactly what the bottle cap told him to do.  He drank Coke AN’ he played again.

The second bottle cap?  The one Charlie Delvin handed him outside of the Dobson’s General Store?  It said, “You’re a winner!”

The band played for a long time with Bobblecap Bobby D. Clark playin’ one song after another.  After a while he stopped an’ the men gathered ‘round clapped an’ slapped Bobby on the back.

Bobby put that hat back on his head, called to Bessie Bowling for some breakfast an’ the men of Beloved settled in for good natured talk about the weather, crops an’ politics.  Later that mornin’ the big bus left the Henny Penney Restaurant an’ headed up Route 66 toward that low water bridge that crosses the Red Bird River over close to Peabody, Kentucky.