Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Report on Christmas

Hello all. I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas surrounded by those whom you love. I thought I'd devote today's post to catching up since my last post.

On Friday evening, Dec. 19, Shirley and I left Charleston and headed to her homeplace in Matheny, Wyoming County, WV. On the way, we had supper with two of our good friends, Christina and her husband Jeff, at an italian restaurant in Beckley. It was really good. Shirley and I had to do a little last minute Christmas shoplifting (just kidding...shopping). At 10 pm, we were just getting to Walmart in Crab Orchard. As soon as we parked, I heard someone singing southern gospel. I know it isn't unusual to hear someone singing southern gospel in southern West Virginia, but it was after 10 pm in a Walmart parking lot. I found that a little unusual, even for Beckley. After hearing the singing a little bit, it dawned on me that I knew the voice, and I commented, "That sounds like Jack Stewart!". Sure enough, it was Shirley's Uncle Jack, just sitting in his vehicle with the windows rolled down singing at the top of his lungs. I went up and talked a little with him, and he told me that they just got done singing up at the old folks home, and Aunt Diane needed to do some shopping, so he stayed in the car while she went shopping.

We got to Matheny around 11:30 that night.

The next day found us back in Beckley with Mawmaw (Shirley's mother) and her brother Rick. Mawmaw needed to do some shopping, and Rick needed to get out of the house. We had a really nice time out on the town. We made a day of it.

When we got back we received word that Shirley's Aunt Brookie had passed away. She was a month shy of being 93. Shirley and I went an saw her at the hospital in August, and Brookie was a sharp as a tack. They say Brookie was sharp minded right up until the end, her heart gave out. We attended the wake that was held Monday Evening at Brookie's church in Skin Fork, WV. The wake was one of the old timey ones where they sat up with the dead all night. It was cold that night, down in the low teens, but there were several hundred people who showed up to pay their respects and remember Aunt Brookie.

On Sunday, we got together with a few friends, Christina and Jeff stopped by and we exchanged gifts with them. They got me and Shirley a Nintendo Wii!! Wow, we were both shocked and amazed at what good friends we have.

On Christmas Eve, we ate Christmas dinner at Mawmaw's. I made the ham, the rolls, and Mawmaw's favorite, Ambrosia Salad. It all turned out really good. We ate so much it was nigh onto sinful. Then we opened gifts with the family. About 4pm, Shirley and I hit the road for Monkeytown, home of my people. It was 61 degree's when we left Matheny, but it kept getting a little colder as we travelled. By the time we got to Monkeytown, it was down to 50 degree's, still good travelling weather even if it was raining.

Christmas Day we were greeted with many many presents. I got a calendar of Pendleton County Churches, which I had been wanting. I also got a great flag of Germany. Those were probably my two favorite gifts of the year, although I must say everything that I got was appreciated. Oh, and I also got a huge jar of hot sausages!!! More about those later....

All the cousins and Aunts and family stopped by to see us on Christmas Day. My Aunt Aim and my Cousin Ditme visited for about 4 hours. We had a good time talking and joking around. Later that night, another aunt, Big Six, and her children, The Sixlets, stopped by and we played cards. We had a good time way up into the night.

Also, of note, while at home I split some more wood for Dad, I like to split wood. Also, I'm pretty sure that the mice who ran out of the woodpile all congregated in the ceiling over my bed and were having their own Christmas Party that night. They were so loud I ended up beating on the ceiling at 4 am, to no avail. Those mice just wouldn't stop! Oh, and the best part is when they started playing soccer with a hickory nut. I was just a hair shy of cranking some buckshot into the ceiling. Oh, and the best part, Mom's great mouser, Buttercup, lay snoring through the whole ordeal!! Ahhh, the joys of country living.

We returned home on December 28th, but not before I packed my huge jar of hot sausages (half-eaten by this time), which got upset as the car was being packed, so I got a back floor full of hot sausage "juice"! Whew, that is a real treat to smell. I sopped up all of the "juice" that I could get with an old towel, and then sprayed it down with odor neutralizer...still no help...so in Buckhannon on the way home I stopped at got a box of 20 Mule Team Borax and a box of Baking soda, I scattered it about 2 inches deep on the floor board, but the smell is still there. Today I vacuumed the car out, and I've come to the conclusion that the hot sausage smell is gonna be with us for a long time.

Oh, and to top it all off, our digital camera died on the way home (unrelated to the hot sausage incident), so we are in the market for one of those. The photo's that we took will be okay though, we have them on a memory card, we just can't access them without another camera.

All in all, it was an enjoyable Christmas, and one that I will remember (and hopefully not just because of the stench in the car!)

How was your Christmas?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas on the Mountain

This evening Shirley and I are leaving on our annual Christmas excursion. We are heading to Wyoming County to visit until Christmas Eve and then on to Monkeytown until December 29. We are looking forward to spending Christmas with our families, and to relaxing now that the new book is in to the publisher.

I thought I'd share some old Christmas photo's with you in this post, which will be the last one until we get back around the first of the year.

In the above photo, you can see that I pee'd on myself but wouldn't let mom change me until I opened some of my presents, namely that gigantic lollipop!! My brother Jason is in the background in his undies, along with my Aunt Sharon and Uncle Allen, who always was a bawl-baby!

In this photo, you can see that I am all decked out in my pink hand-me-down-mom-said-it-was-a-good-coat-so-I'm-now-justified-to-put-her-in-a-home coat. Not that I'm bitter or hold a grudge or anything! Just kidding Maw!!!Jason, on the other hand, is in a spiffy Pittsburgh Steelers jacket! Also in this photo is the woman who gave birth to my mother, my Uncle Allen, my cousin Emily and in the background, my Aunt Aim.

In the above photo, Dad is trying to put together a simple snap-together bird feeder. As you can see, he is using a hammer and screwdriver!! And biting his tongue as all the Burns' do when they concentrate on something.

My brother Jason, eating as usual. I tell him everytime he eats like this to "Keep eatin' Andrew, and we're gonna have to go back to Quality Farm & Fleet to buy you some more abnormally sized fat farmboy pants!"

Pure excitement and insanity when I got the CD set of the Hammon's Family!

Jason quit eating long enough to revel in getting a cow bell! And you all think I'm weird??????

Above: My Dad and two of his sisters, Tam and Aim. As my Granddad used to say, and which angered all of his daughters, "All Rich Burns' girls are hefty bitches!" Is it any wonder they liked to beat him up when he said that? Or wanted to beat him when I reminded them all that he said that?? It's a big joke now to say that when they are all together.

The Christmas Tree on the mountain.
I hope you liked seeing a little of what Christmas on the mountain is like. We have lots of fun, and get to catch up with everyone. I'm looking forward to it again this year.
I hope all of you out there have a Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year to come.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter Memories

Today I'm going to post an old photo from Pendleton County. The photo comes courtesy of my cousin Darlene Wilton (we're cousins several different ways), and this photo is one of my absolute favorites. I think the photo just says so much on so many levels. It says "Welcome Home", it says "Remember", it says "Refuge", it says "Family", it says "Winter".

The two men in the photo are relatives of mine. As I understand it, the man leaning on the fence is Clint Thompson, the other fellow with the squirrel on his chest is Clinton Bennett. Clinton Bennett was Darlene's (who shared the photo with me) grandfather. The photo was taken near Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

What does this photo say to you?

Photo courtesy of Darlene Wilton

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Me & Wilse Lambert

I remember my granddad used to always tell tales about the time him and Wilse Lambert went to Kansas. As far as I ever knew, my granddad never was in Kansas so these were tales that he either came up with by himself or he borrowed them and made them his own. I remember they always used to start, “One time when me and Wilse Lambert was down in Kansas….”!

I recall that one of these stories was about the time him and Wilse were riding their horses through a heavy snowstorm and come about evening, they had to stop and rest. They knew they were near the town they were headed for because they found a hitching post to tie their mounts to. Well, they hitched up their horses and set up camp for the night, thinking they’d go on into town in the morning. Well, it just so happened that night there was a big change in the weather and it warmed up a good bit, so much so that when they awoke, it felt like a heatwave. They also found that they were camping in the middle of a street. They wondered about this but were most concerned because they couldn’t find their horses. Wilse, after thinking for a moment, whistled for his horse and listened for it to whinny in response. Sure enough it did but the whinny was coming from on top of a building, and they looked up to find both horses hitched to the town church steeple. When they came in the night before, the snow was so deep that it made the church steeple look like a hitching post.

My granddad would tell about a story that Wilse used to tell all the time about one time when he was in Kansas. Wilse was riding along and it come to be that he was being chased by Indians. Well, Wilse tried to outrun them and thought he had lost them by running up in a small gully. Well, it turned out that the gully was a dead-end with cliffs that were at least 100 feet straight up. Wilse saw the only way out was the way they had come in, but just as he figured that out, the Indians were starting up the gully blocking any escape. Wilse found himself face to face with a group of wild Indians. At this point in the story, Wilse would stop talking and someone would inevitably ask “What happened then?” My granddad said Wilse would then just lean back in his chair, rub his whiskers and indignantly answer them, “By God, they killed me!”

I remember my granddad told countless, “Me and Wilse Lambert” stories, I wish I could remember more of them. They were always good for a laugh, and the best part is that my granddad never let on that they were anything less than the gospel truth!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Recently Tipper over at The Blind Pig and The Acorn featured a post about Christmas music and she asked readers what is their favorite Christmas song. I thought about it a little bit and then it dawned on me, my favorite Christmas song is "I'll be Home for Christmas". I thought I'd share with y'all how this became my favorite song.

Every Christmas Eve, my wife Shirley and I travel from her family’s home in Wyoming County in southern WV to my family’s home in Pendleton County in the Potomac Highlands of WV. The drive takes about 4 to 5 hours if the weather is good. Since Shirley's family opens gifts on Christmas Eve and my family opens gifts on Christmas Day, we are able to be with both of our families for Christmas...although it means spending most of Christmas Eve on the road.

Pendleton County snowy road (Courtesy of Cousin Darlene Wilton)

I recall watching the weather before we left that day, and it was calling for a bad snowstorm to hit on Christmas Eve, but in southern WV it was just rain so we thought we'd be okay. So we left Wyoming County about 4 p.m. and started up the road. We were making pretty good time but about halfway home just as we got into the mountains, we drove into snow. It looked just like a wall of snow, one minute we were in rain and the next we were in a blizzard. I turned to Shirley and said “Okay Rudolph, full power” quoting one of her favorite Christmas cartoons. We took it easy on the now bad roads and were making progress on our trip, albeit we were really going slow now.

In the back of both of our minds we were dreading the worst part of the trip which lay ahead of us. You see, there are four big mountains after we get off the interstate, and sure enough the further we went into the mountains, the worse the roads got. On the first mountain, which is usually the least treacherous of all of them, there were several accidents and the road was blocked. There were cars in the ditch and big rigs jack-knifed all over the roads. It looked like Hermie and Rudolph weren’t going to get through. The state troopers were there and were telling people to go back to Elkins and spend the night because the road was going to be closed until they got the worst of the wrecks cleared up. They expected it to be several hours if not overnight. Well, I insisted to Shirley that we wait for a little while and see if things changed, I didn't want to miss being with my family on Christmas.

Germany Valley, Pendleton County winter

After what seemed like an eternity there was no change in the road conditions and it all looked very bleak. I was beginning to realize that I was probably going to have to spend my first Christmas away from my family on the mountain. I decided to check the weather one last time to see if there were any updates on the situation, so I turned on the radio. The song that was playing was "I'll be Home for Christmas", and it was especially poignant to me when it got to the part "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams". The radio offered no news that I wanted to hear and I was beginning to face reality and admitted that we were probably going to have to turn back towards Elkins.

Just when we were discussing where to stay in Elkins, we heard something coming up the mountain. There was a sound of “jing…jing…jing…jing”, it was either sleigh bells or road chains, and I told Shirley it was either Santy Claus or a snowplow. The sound kept getting louder and it was getting closer. A few moments later, we say the lights of a snowplow and it was scraping the road and throwing down cinders. It cleaned the road around the wrecks just enough for our little car to get through. I went up to assess the newly plowed road and told the State Troopers that I thought I could get through and that I was going to try it. The State police tried to talk me out of it, and tried to warned me of the danger and they told me that if I wrecked I'd probably have to wait until morning to get assistance. I was concerned but I grew up driving in snow so I was confident in my driving, it was just everyone else that I was worried about. So, I got in the car and drove right through those wrecks in the newly plowed road. Behind me, several other cars decided to follow me, but the very next car behind me couldn’t get through the road and got stuck and once again blocked the road. So we were alone and for the next 15 miles or so, we never so much as saw the first vehicle. We were driving on roads that were covered with snow, and we were making our own road as we went.

Germany Valley in Winter

After crossing the 3rd mountain, the snow immediately stopped and once again we drove into rain once again, which was odd because usually the last two mountains are the worst. I’ve never seen a storm like that since, it was like someone shut off the “snow switch”. From there to where we started up the last mountain where home is, we didn’t have snow. It was once again snowing on the mountain at home, but it wasn’t all that bad, probably only 2 or 3 inches on the road. We made it home just as everyone was going to bed…the trip took us nearly nine hours. I remember blowing the car horn as we pulled up the driveway, and hollering out the window, "Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas Clark!", quoting Cousin Eddie from the Christmas Vacation movie. I was just ecstatic!

My parents were shocked that I had made it across the mountains, they had been listening to the police scanner all night, and it was reporting that the mountains were blocked and no traffic was getting through. Mom said that Dad commented to her when they heard the report on the police scanner, “I’ll bet that it is killing Babe not being able to get home.” (Yes, my nickname is Babe!) My one little cousin was the only one of them that hadn’t given up hope, and she wasn't at all shocked when Shirley and I pulled up the driveway. I remember she kept saying, "I told you all that Matthew would be here for Christmas. I told you he wouldn't miss it."

I know the Lord was travelling with us that night, and He answered my prayers in getting us home that snowy Christmas Eve. Ever since then, my favorite Christmas song has been "I'll be Home for Christmas" because it reminds me of my very own Christmas miracle that occurred along a snowy roadside in the mountains of West Virginia.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmastime in the Land of the Belsnickel

Here is a story that I wrote about the Belsnickel. Please don't refer to him as Santa Claus, or else I'll have to go Belsnickel on you! This was originally written as a children's story, but as the story progressed I think it became apparent that it is a little much for most children. The Belsnickel story here is an amalgamation of Belsnickel tales that I have heard all of my life. My Grandmaw Mary always said that the Belsnickel lived up on North Mountain rocks, up the mountain from where we lived. I find this incredible since there are so many other creatures that inhabit these cliffs (i.e. Old Fon, The Snollygaster, Old Saul). Many of the tidbits that you will read in my story come from different tales told by my Grandmaw Mary.

People where I am from in Germany Valley, WV, still talk about the Belsnickel and belsnickling, which occured every year around Christmastime. People dressed up in costumes and went door to door, scaring people and it was all great fun. People tried to guess who you were in the costume, and if they didn't, they had to give you a cup of hot cider or some other form of treat. While this belsnickling still occurs in some parts of Pendleton County, it doesn't in my old neighborhood, the last time anyone can remember it was in the early 1980's. My Dad talks about going belsnickling when he was a kid and remembers it fondly, he said that if people expected belsnicklers to come by, they'd make up cakes, cookies and other goodies and pass them out. Dad also recalls that some homes they visited gave them fruit (Apples & Oranges), which to him were a real treat. You have to remember, this is the dead of winter in a very harsh area, so I'm sure these belsnicklers were a sight to see, carrying lanterns and singing and hollering at the top of their lungs, celebrating a centuries old tradition from a far-off land. Keeping with the traditions of my ancestors, I proudly display my belsnickel every Christmas, and even have a huge belsnickel that tops our Christmas tree.

The following is an old photo of belsnicklers in the Bland Hills of Pendleton County. The 3rd man from the left is Boss Bland, a friend of my grandpaw Alfred Kile (whom I talked about in the post "The Ballad of Alfred and Attie"). Notice the masks at the belsnicklers feet!


Christmastime in the Land of the Belsnickel
by Matthew Burns, December 2008.

There is a land
Of wilderness glades, and craggy cliffs,
Of hidden coves and ancient forests.
Home of the Belsnickel.

Among this dark forest
Under the roots of a great oak tree
There is a limestone cavern
That is completely hidden from view.

In this dank cavern, Belsnickel makes his home,
He is hairy and covered in animal pelts,
With moss in his hair and lichens on his skin.
He lives in the cave, with his loyal servant Rupert.

Rupert is donned in the same manner as Belsnickel,
Only he is even dirtier,
Blackened from the soot of many fires
And smudged with the grease of many meals.

Every year, when it gets to be about this time of year.
When the leaves have been shed, the winter winds start to howl,
And the forest creatures prepare for winter in their own way.
Belsnickel and Rupert start plotting….

Plotting mischief and mayhem, of wreaking havoc
On the intruders who live in their valley.
They regale in events of seasons past, when they scared cattle,
Carried away children, and spread fear throughout the countryside.

A favorite pastime of Belsnickel and Rupert is tossing dried leaves and moss.
Down the chimneys of the valley homesteads,
Causing flue fires that sometimes engulf the home.
And laugh as the intruders frantically try to save their belongings.

Belsnickel has also been known to feed wild onions to the dairy cows,
So their milk will taste of onions and will be unfit for use by the intruders.
But most of all, Belsnickel and Rupert await Christmas Eve.
When everyone is indoors, reveling in the merriment of the season.

That is when Belsnickel becomes most embittered for being disturbed.
He loves the Winter Solstice, but can’t even bay at the moon,

Without the intruders hunting him with their ferocious hounds.
Belsnickel reckons that if he can’t celebrate, neither will they.

Late in the night, he and Rupert go from house to house,

Prying open the windows and breaking down doors.
Seeking vengeance they will yank children from their slumber,
And beat them with switches. Rupert hopes to toss a few in his sack, as well.

At these thoughts, pure joy shows on the face of Belsnickel and Rupert,
Primitive chuckles erupt from Ruperts snaggled mouth.
They are both anxious for night to fall,
And to begin their night of havoc.

Hours later, the forest is again quiet and Belsnickel and Rupert,
Having returned to their lair, await morning.
Fulfilled with their accomplishments, they celebrate.
They are the protectors of the forest, and without them, all would be lost.

In the valley, the bewildered & fearful intruders tell their children,
“Der Belsnickel punishes you for being bad. Next year you must be better.”
Through the giant roots of the oak tree, Belsnickel glances at the moon,
And breaks into a sorrowful and celebratory howl.

Monday, December 8, 2008


My very favorite toy when I was little was a little brown teddy bear named Timothy. I don’t recall how I ever came up with that name, but Timothy came into my life when I was about 2 years old, and I remember that I got him from a $2 sack of second-hand toys at the Rio Mall. All through my early childhood years, Timothy and I were inseparable. We’d eat together, sleep together, and play together, and it was on one of these adventures a couple of years later that Timothy got lost.

My friend Timothy.

You see, me, Jason and Timothy all went out to play with the dog in the doghouse one morning before breakfast. We lived at the old farmhouse up Johnson Holler then, and the doghouse was out on the hill from the back porch. Mom would never let us play out there alone because of the huge rattlesnakes that sometimes lay out there. But that morning while Mom was making breakfast, we all sneaked out the back door and went out the play with the dog. Well, we had a good old time rolling around with the dog and getting all dirty. Looking back, we were usually so filthy when we came back inside was probably the reason Mom didn’t want us to go out to the doghouse more often because at that time, she had to haul buckets of water up from the creek and then heat the water just to give us a bath. But that morning, we managed to get out to the doghouse without Mom seeing us. Well, when Mom hollered for us to come in, that breakfast was ready, all three of us were so filthy, and covered with flea’s, that Mom wouldn’t even let us in the back door. She said we needed a bath (and this included Timothy).

Well, we all pitched in and helped Mom carry the water up the hill from the creek (I’m sure we were more of a hindrance) and waited impatiently for the water to heat on the stove. Mom then filled the old galvanized tub that sat on the back porch and gave us a bath. She even gave Timothy a bath and hung him up by his ears on the clothesline to dry. While Timothy dried, me and Jason went in and ate our breakfast.

The back porch where we ate breakfast, and where we were given our bath in this story.

Well, in the meantime the dog got loose, probably from where we had been out playing with him and accidentally assisted in his escape, and when we came back outside after eating, Timothy was missing. Oh, I moaned and carried on something fierce, you’d have thought someone was taking a razor strop to me. We searched high and low for Timothy but couldn’t find him anywhere. I remember Jason and I walking all around the house calling out Timothy’s name like he could answer us. At that time, we didn’t realize that the dog was loose, so that thought didn’t even enter our minds. I was just sure that old Roscoe Johnson who lived up the holler had carried off Timothy and I wanted Mom to take me to his house so I could confront him. Well, of course Mom wouldn’t take me to confront Roscoe and told me that Timothy had to be there somewhere, and told me and Jason to look for him some more.

In the meantime, Mom cleaned up breakfast and put the scraps in a bowl to take out to the dog. It was then that she noticed that the dog was loose, and she ascertained that is where Timothy was too. Sure enough, Mom looked around for the dog and saw him up at the end of the garden chewing on something. It was Timothy. Poor little Timothy had been disemboweled, and was missing an eye. I saw Mom walking up in the garden towards the dog so I followed her and saw the gruesome scene firsthand. Once again there was a great weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth coming out of Johnson Holler. Timothy was dead. I had lost my best friend. What I didn’t count on was that before becoming a parent, Mom was employed as a miracle worker. She told me that she would give Timothy some surgery and that she thought he’d pull through the ordeal, but that me and Jason would have to be really quiet while she done it, like we were when she’d take us to the doctor.

Well, Mom sat down that the kitchen table and sewed and stitched and stuffed and studied, and after what seemed to be a lifetime, she announced that Timothy was going to live, but that he had lost an eye. Mom told me that she could take an eye off of another of our stuffed animals or buy one at the store, or even make Timothy an eye patch. But nope, I wanted Timothy just the way that he was. Mom told me that Timothy had to have another bath, since he had just been through surgery, but that he could play after he dried. Well after that bath, Timothy was once again hung out to dry on the clothesline, and this time I got a chair and sat up residence under the clothesline. I wasn’t going to take any chances that Timothy would get kidnapped again.

After Timothy’s recovery, we once again became inseparable in our escapades, and Timothy remained close to me for the rest of my childhood. I’d like to add that after all of these years, Timothy is still in my bedroom at Mom and Dad’s house, and we had a nice long visit over Thanksgiving. I asked Timothy if he wanted to come back to Charleston with me, but he declined saying he was really looking forward to Christmas on the mountain. That Timothy, he always was one that liked to be where the action takes place.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy Birthday Jason

Today, December 6, is my big brother Jason's birthday. He turns 33 today. So I thought I'd devote this post to him.

Jason and me.

For all of you who know me, you know that I like to pick on people, especially if I like them, so I thought this would be the perfect time to jab at Jason a little bit. Growing up, we were best friends and we were about as close as two burrs in a mules tail.

Jason was always tall and skinny when we were kids, and I was short and fat. I remember he used to bounce me on his lap and call me his "little fat buddy". He was pretty much the only person who could get away with that. I remember when I was his little fat buddy, he'd squeeze my fat belly and contort it from side to side. He even had a little song that went:

"Little Fat Buddy, Little Fat Buddy, Little Fat Buddy, too"

All the while keep rhythm with jiggling my fat!!! I'm sure Mom and Dad wondered if the polio hadn't affected our brains, but hey, when you grow up in the middle of nowhere, you make your own fun.

I remember how me and Jason used to love sticker books. We'd each get one every payday when we'd go to the Moorefield Foodland for groceries. Foodland had alot of good sticker books and we usually got them there, but sometimes we'd get them next door at the old Heck's store. Speaking of Heck's, I remember one time how Jason, always a bookworm, got left at Heck's. It was on one of those occassions where all of us kids were loaded up in the back of the truck and we were all supposed to keep an eye out for each other. There must have been 15 or so of us. Well, we'd all been to the Heck's store and after shopping, we all went out to the truck. As usual, Mom asked us, "Is everyone in here?", and we all hollered, "Yeah!", most likely because we were on our way to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream. Well, with that many kids, it was nigh on to impossible to keep track of all of them, which is why we were all supposed to watch out for each other. Well, I must confess, I was supposed to be keeping an eye on Jason that day, but "little fat buddy" here was wanting that ice cream, so I forgot all about him. So we pulled out of the Heck's parking lot and started up the road and my Aunt Tam hollered, "Where's Jason"? She had missed him because he usually rode on her lap. Mom stopped the truck and we all got to thinking who had seen him last, and someone remembered seeing him in the book aisle in Heck's. Well, Mom about freaked, she wheeled the truck around and tore back down the road to Heck's, scared to death. She ran in the store and searched frantically for Jason. She alerted the manager and they were gonna put the store on lockdown, that is until Mom found Jason...right there in the book aisle...reading a book! He was oblivious that we had even left him there. Mom was so upset, she took us straight home that day, and I didn't get my ice cream. So Jason, you still owe me an ice cream cone...plus interest!

I know dirt on Jason that not even he remembers, and I just may use it to blackmail him one of these days. Sure, he may know some juicy dirt on me too, but the difference here is I never was one to care what people think about me, but "Mr. Wile E. Coyote" does.

When we were growing up, when either of us would have a birthday, the other would get what Mom called a "brother present". This brother present was not as nice as the present for the birthday boy, but it was usually something that we'd been wanting. Jason and I shared everything pretty good so whatever either of us got, both of us claimed.

Jason (left), me & Dad. Jason hates this picture, so of course I have to put in on here. See, if I cared what people thought of me, I wouldn't have put this picture on here. And to think, we were the cool kids at school!!!!

Jason is only 18 months older than me, and because we are so close in age, we were meaner than striped-eyed snakes. People always said what one of us didn't think up, the other one did. I remember how we used to get away with stuff at school. He was one year ahead of me, but it was a small school so we saw each other several times a day. Whenever something happened at school, I usually got the blame because the teachers all thought that I was trouble with a capitol "T". Jason, on the other hand, was a goody two-shoes and was never suspected by anyone when something was done. But what the teachers didn't know was, Jason was just a bad, only he was more sneaking than me. If I was gonna do something, I'd just up and do it, and be damned with the consequences, but not Jason. He'd scheme and plot and finagle. Now, sometimes we did join forces and go into cohoots together to achieve many of our mischievous plans. Many's the time, he'd watch out for me while I done an ornery deed that we'd both cooked up, and then lie to protect me when the heat came a-callin'. Since he was perceived to be a "good" kid at school, the teachers would always take his word when they questioned him about me doing stuff. He got me out of a lot of trouble that way, even though we were both in it together. He'd tell the teachers, "No, it couldn't have been Matthew that done that, he was with me the whole time". They never did catch on.

I'm sure Jason's wanting to do this again right about now!

So, we had some good times growing up, and I just want to let Jason know, I'll keep my lips sealed about all the dirt as long as you keep the hush money flowing my way. Of course, the only problem with this is that Jason know's my only weakness...hot sausages. But as long as he doesn't remember that, I still have a chance at conning him. Now that I think about it, just last week Jason bought me a half-gallon jar of hot sausages, so maybe I'd better come up with a better plan. Drat, foiled again!!

Me (left) & Jason (right). Summer 2008.

So, Happy 33rd Birthday Jason, from your Millenium Twin!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


All photos are of the old farmhouse I grew up in.

"This Old House" by Loretta Lynn

Oh, if this old house could talk
What a story it would tell
It would tell about the good times
And the bad times as well
It would tell about the love that lived
And died inside these walls
And the sound of little footsteps
Runnin' up and down the hall.

Oh, if this old house could talk
It would break my heart in two
I couldn't stand to be reminded
Of all the things we used to do
There's no love in this old house no more
So I got it up for sale
Why, if this old house could talk
What a story it could tell.

Oh, if this old house could talk
I know what it would say,
I'm as lonesome as you are
And I feel more empty every day
Well, I even miss the babies
Who built me up to feel this way
Why, if this old house could talk
Lord, I know what it would say.

If this old house could talk
What a story it would tell
We built this home together
And with love we drove each nail
Take me in your arms and hold me
'Cause we've been apart too long
Why if this old house could talk
All it would say is welcome home.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Change in the Wind

This is my first attempt at a children's poem. I was inspired to write this when I was walking through the woods last week and saw this huge downed tree, nearly rotted away to where it was once again completely returned to the Earth. I was drawn back to this spot on two separate days last week, there was just something about it. Let me know what you all think of the poem which I titled, "A Change in the Wind".

A Change in the Wind
December 2, 2008

The forest was filled with excitement,
One hot, stormy night in July,
None could have known what would happen,
No way to know what would transpire.

The squirrels all scurried for safety,
With fear raging in their eyes,
When the storm rolled up the valley,
And lighting flashed bright in the sky.

The wind whipped its way through the forest,
And a thunderbolts burst from the clouds,
Suddenly there was a great crash,
That drowned out all other sounds.

The foxes stopped running for shelter,
As the Earth shook for quite a long spell,
And for a moment the world stopped turning,
That night the forest giant fell.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Week On The Mountain

I’m back from the mountain. I had a pretty good time visiting my family, and traipsing around my old haunts. I even had time to get in a couple of days deer hunting. I saw lots of deer but refused to shoot one where I’d have to drag it for a mile or so, so I reckon you could say I am a little too picky to be a good hunter!
The old farm.

On Monday and Tuesday, Dad and I went out hunting. Monday we walked all over the old farm and seen how the old place is faring now that it sits vacant, and on Tuesday it snowed and snowed and snowed. It really was blizzard like conditions so we just holed up by a cedar stand and tried to wait out the storm, and hoped that some unwary deer would walk out to us. Well, the storm didn’t pass so I decided to just walked around and take some photos. I figured that even deer wouldn’t be out in that kind of weather.

Above: Scenes from walking around the farm just as it began to snow.

After freezing my butt on Tuesday, I decided not to go hunting on Wednesday and figured I’d spend it with my family. My dad got off work at noon on Wednesday so we all loaded up in the car and went to the Rio Mall in Hampshire County. Rio Mall is really a roadside junk store that we’ve been going to for as long as I can remember. They used to have really cool bags of toys in garbage bags. We called the bags “Rio Junk”, and we’d always buy several bags on every trip. The bags cost $2 each, and I remember many toys of my childhood came from bags of Rio Junk. Sadly, Rio Mall doesn’t sell bags of toys anymore, but they do have a pretty neat operation going on there. The port-a-potty alone is worth the trip!!! Whew, that is a story in and of itself!!!!

The farm on Thanksgiving Day. It was a clear, crisp day.

On Thanksgiving Day my Mom done what she does best…try to fatten us up! She started cooking at the break of day, and Dad and I went hunting for a few hours. When we got home in the mid-afternoon, Mom was just finishing up her annual feast. We had roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, stuffing, homemade rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce, and sauerkraut, which is a tradition carried over from my German ancestors. For dessert we had pumpkin pies, cherry pies, chocolate cakes, chocolate pies, and veritable gallons of homemade whipped cream. As Dad says, “You can never have too much whipped cream.” We ate until we were as full as ticks, and then ate some more. We just laid around the house for most of the day but around dark, Dad and I went out and split some wood. The exercise was really good to help settle all of that food…and to build up an appetite for round #2!

My brother had to go home on Friday so we decided to do a little Black Friday shopping, Burns style. We shopped at every Goodwill store between Pendleton County and Morgantown, which was I believe 7 stores. It was an all day event, and I was quite done with the whole escapade after the first stop! We got to Morgantown about 7pm, and then I toured the house that my brother just bought. Mom, Dad and I got home at about midnight!

I sat here and watched several deer walk past.

On Saturday I just laid around the house and talked to Mom. When Dad got home from work, we once again hit the wood pile and split some wood. I actually like splitting wood, there’s just something about looking at the color and grain of the wood that is so soothing. Plus, it gave Dad and I some time to catch up on times past, like how when I was a teenager Dad gave me the nickname of “Lightning”. This was because when splitting wood, I never hit in the same place twice!!! Well, in case anyone is wondering, “Lightning” was back in on the mountain last week, but I still managed to split a cord of wood, catch up with the happenings of the family, and to visit that land that I still call home.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Off to the Mountain

Just a quick post to let you all know that there will be no posts for the next week or so. I am off to the mountain tomorrow. I'll be traipsing over the hills of home, tracking down new stories and hunting my muse.

I'll let you all know about my trip when I get back. I wish you all have a great Thanksgiving surrounded by family and friends.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Time to Give Thanks

The cool crisp days of November invariably flood me with memories of childhood on the mountain. Especially clear is the annual event of the first butchering, an occasion that was a family affair.

The Burns Brood, how would you like to butcher with this underfoot?

We always butchered for the first time on Thanksgiving Day, it was always that day for as long as anyone could remember. We chose Thanksgiving Day because we butchered by the signs, and Thanksgiving Day was the first time it was cold enough to butcher that also fell in the right sign. We would butcher several more times throughout the winter, but none of the butcherings were as exciting as the day of the first butchering. On butchering day we would all rise at the break of day and build a huge fire under makeshift cauldrons, which were really just 55-gallon steel drums with one end cut out. When the water in the barrels was boiling, it was time go get started. The cold air made your fingers so cold that you were always huddled around the fire to warm your hands.

We usually reserved the animals that had something wrong with them for butchering. We didn’t want to breed down our stock with inferior animals, nor did we want to butcher our good brood sows. For example, one year we butchered a hog that we kids had named “Junior,” he was a prime candidate for butchering because he was born with a rupture. Junior was a friendly hog and would let us kids ride on his back. We knew that he was going to be butchered, but couldn’t help ourselves from playing with him.

The night before Thanksgiving Day, we always put the hogs to be butchered in the front stall of the hog house so it would be easy to pull out once the animal was shot. My granddad was usually the person to shoot the hog, and that in itself was a time-honored tradition. It is widely believed in my family that if the hog senses that you mean to do it harm, it will get mad and the meat will be strong. So my granddad would always walk into the hog house like we was getting ready to feed. Our hogs were always so tame that they would come right up to him. He would then shoot the hog between the eyes, which nearly always immediately killed the hog. My uncles would drag the hog out of the pen and cut its throat to let it bleed out.

My dad was never allowed to help with shooting the hog. It is said that the hog wouldn’t die as long as someone pitied it. One time when he was young, he pitied the hog. They figured out that it was my dad and sent him in the house. And that is where he was banished every year during the hog shooting. They would holler for him to come and help as soon as the hog died, and he usually was the one that “gutted” the hog. This process hooked the back legs of the hog onto a chain and used a tripod of metal poles with a come-a-long attached in the middle. The hog was gradually hoisted up in the air. The gutting took place then, and the head was cut off.

Gutting the hog was an adventure for all of us kids. We would all gather around to look at the shiny coils of intestine spilling out on the ground, and we waited impatiently for our reward. We were allowed to watch because “you learn from watching,” and one day it would be our duty to butcher the hogs. Our reward for watching was getting the hog bladder. It would be removed from the hog and someone would blow it up and tie off the end of it. It made a really neat, and durable balloon. All the kids would run around and play with the hog bladder. We’d kick it and inevitably play a crude game of baseball with it, using an old board for a bat and the hog bladder for the ball. After about a half hour or so the bladder would start to dry out and would lose air, and then the fun was mostly over.

Yes, that's me in the pink coat! It was a hand-me-down from a girl cousin, but as my mother put's it, "It was a good coat!"

Of course, by that time, the hog carcass had been dipped several times down into the barrel of boiling water so the hair would be loosened. We kids were expected to help in scraping the hair off the hog. We’d use anything that had an edge on it, but usually we used an old butcher knife. Nobody was ever concerned that we’d cut ourselves since we grew up using knives and knew how to handle them. So we’d scrape the hog and scrape the hog some more, and then the adults would again dip the carcass down into the boiling water to further loosen the hair. Slowly but surely the hair was scraped off the carcass.

After the hair was removed, the carcass was cut up. We usually had a large table that the men folk laid the carcass on. They then cut the hog into sections of chops, bacon, ham, sausage meat. Huge mounds of fat were set aside. While the men butchered the hog, the women were in charge of using the fat to make lard and cracklins. Once the fat melted, this oil was used to make cracklins, which are known today as pork rinds. There’s nothing better than a fresh cracklin’. There was usually a passel of kids around the kettle waiting for more to get done. When everyone ate their fill, Mom and the older girls rendered the lard and put it up in canning jars.

As the hog meat was cut up, it was washed in icy cold spring water that we’d carried up the hill that morning and the washed meat was then wrapped in freezer paper. When a pile of it was wrapped, it was carried to the icebox. Some of the fresh pork chops were set-aside for dinner.

Maw's Chickens

About the time the hog was getting cut up and as the job neared completion, someone would eventually holler “grab me a chicken”. Our chickens were allowed to free-range and with all of the commotion in the hog house (which was also the chicken house), all of the chickens were outside. So, we kids and some of the adults would have a grand chase on our hands trying to catch a chicken. We’d eventually catch a few and someone would throw them across the chopping block and after a whack with the axe, they’d let the chicken down. The funny thing about a chicken, it doesn’t die immediately. It will run around for upwards to a minute, so this was a big game for us kids. We’d be yelling and chasing a wild, darting decapitated chicken through the yard, until the chicken would bleed out and just fall over. We’d then retrieve it to my mother who would dip it down in the hot scalding water and start plucking feathers. I still recall the smell of singed feathers, and the acrid stench of the steaming hog guts. It really is a wonder I’m not a vegetarian. When the chicken was completely plucked and cleaned, mom would cut off the chicken feet and give them to us kids. Again, this was great fun for us. If you pull the “leaders” in a chicken foots, it will open and close just like it were alive. We’d continually harass each other with a chicken foot.

Maw's Chicken Coop

In the old days, the older folks said they used the hog intestines to put sausage in. They said there were three layers to the guts -- an outer, a middle and an inner layer. You discarded the outer and inner layers because they were filthy, and you used the middle layer for sausage casing. While the old folks may have used it that way, we didn’t. We made our sausage into patties.

I don't know who these women are, but this photo was in my Grandmaw's papers. I'm guessing this was taken before Women's Lib!

All of these activities took several hours and by the end of it all, we were all plenty tired and hungry, Mom and the older girls would fry up pork chops, and we’d always have roasted turkey because Dad got one from where he worked. Since Thanksgiving Day fell during the first week of deer season, we always had fried deer meat as well. We also had huge mounds of mashed potatoes, pans of stuffing, bowls of green beans, homemade bread, pies, cakes and cookies. Mom tells of how she would peel 10 lbs of potatoes for each meal, that’s how many of us there were. Usually the freshly slaughtered chickens were stuck in the icebox. After everyone had eaten their fill, and then ate some more, most of the men would go hunting, and the girls would clean up. Mom usually said, “I cooked it, so I ain’t cleaning it up”. We kids would head outside to play some more with the chicken feet, and dried hog bladders, and we’d usually end up poking around in the smoldering embers of the dying fires and allow our thoughts to drift toward retrospection…like never name the animals that you are going to eat…and think of all the leftover cakes and pies that sat waiting for us in the warm kitchen.

My Aunt Six and cousin Bub gathering hickory nuts.

Such were the Thanksgiving days of my childhood, and they truly were days and times to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take 5

Recently I was tagged by Granny Sue to tell six completely random things about me. If I was following the rules (which I never do), I would then tag six other people to complete this. However, most of the blogs I read have already done this so I thought I would complete a similar “quiz” that is making its rounds on email but would work here as well. It is called “Take 5” so here goes…

List 5 Places That You Have Lived:
1. Monkeytown, WV
2. Riverton, WV
3. Keyser, WV
4. Morgantown, WV
5. Charleston, WV

List 5 Places You Would Like To Live:
1. In a Earth House
2. Blowing Rock, NC
3. Lewisburg, WV
4. Granny Sue & Larry’s Farm
5. The Texas Hill Country

List 5 Everyday Things That You Do For Fun:
1. Check Email/Read Blogs
2. Write on my Blog
3. Call my Mother
4. Cook
5. Work on my Family Tree

List 5 Random Things About You:
1. My middle name, Henry, has been in my family for 4 generations.
2. I am a direct descendant of Martin Luther, the Great Protestant Reformer.
3. I like reading and writing poetry.
4. I grew up on a 575 acre farm.
5. I believe in goblins, trolls, wood nymphs, fairies, leprechauns, little people, etc.

List Your 5 Favorite Holidays (In order of preference)
1. The 4th of July
2. Christmas
3. Thanksgiving
4. National Pig Day
5. Halloween

List 5 Things You Want To Do Before You Die:
1. Own a Farm
2. Have Kids
3. Travel the American West
4. Visit Germany
5. Learn to make really good sourdough bread.

List Your 5 Most Favorite Books Of All Time:
1. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
2. Roadkill by Kinky Friedman
3. That Dark and Bloody River by Allan Eckert
4. Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice & Martin Provensen
5. The Berrybender Narratives (4 books) by Larry McMurtry
6. Bringing Down the Mountains by Shirley Stewart Burns

List 5 People (dead or alive) That You’d Like To Meet:
1. My great-great-grandparents Alfred & Attie Kile
2. Willie Nelson
3. Chief Cornstalk
4. My 3-great grandfather, George Burns
5. Andrew Jackson

List Your 5 Favorite Foods:
1. Chicken Tikki Masala
2. Shahi Paneer Masala
3. Lasagna
4. Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup w/ sourdough bread
5. Fried Beef Chimichanga’s

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grandmaw Bithey

My Grandmaw “Bithey” was quite a character. Her real name was Tabitha (pronounced Ta-bie-tha), and you would have a fight on your hands if you incorrectly pronounced her name like the little girl on the TV show “Bewitched”. Grandmaw Bithey raised my mother, even though she was my mother’s grandmother. I can’t say anything nice about the woman that gave birth to my mother, so I won’t say anything other than when my mother was born, she took my mother to Grandmaw Bithey, who was doing laundry that day, and threw my mother on a pile of dirty clothes and said “If you want the little bitch to live, you’ll feed her” and then she left. So, for all intents and purposes, Grandmaw Bithey was my mother’s mother-figure. I wrote a poem about this, called “Grandmother’s Quilt”, that you can read on this blog.

Mom (front) and her cousins in Grandmaw Bithey's front yard.

I remember visiting Grandmaw Bithey when I was a kid. She had this huge basement in her house, and I was just fascinated by the shelves and shelves of canned food. The cob webs in the corners just made the whole place seem spooky. I used to love going down in the basement at Grandmaw Bithey’s, she was the only person that I knew who had a basement. Grandmaw also had a huge back porch that was closed in with screen and little windows that would open to allow access to her clothesline which was on pulleys so she wouldn’t have to leave the porch to hang out her laundry. It was a pretty neat set-up. Grandmaw also had a huge back yard that was bordered at the far end by a creek which was full of turtles, and we spent many hours down there trying to catch them.

A recent photo Grandmaw Bithey's house. It has been changed quite a bit.

Grandmaw also had cable TV. Coming from the mountain, where we only had an antenna that pulled in one channel (two when it was raining), we thought we were in heaven. I thought Grandmaw’s house was just like a vacation resort. There was just no place like it to me.

Grandmaw loved potted plants, and they were her pride and joy. She would cut a fit on you if you messed with her plants, but one time when I was little I was playing near the plants and for some reason I pulled up one of her big tree-like plants and carried it out into the kitchen. Mom and Grandmaw were sitting at the kitchen table talking when I came walking in with the plants, complete with dirt dropping off the roots. From the gasps of Mom, I could tell that I was probably in for a good lecture, but instead Grandmaw just said “Well, thank you honey, I’ve been meaning to re-pot that”, and she took it from me and put it in a pot out on her back porch. Mom told me not to bother in the plants anymore. When Grandmaw came back inside, she gave me a handful of little Oyster Crackers, a real treat for me, and told me what a good boy I was. I thought there was just nothing like those little crackers that only Grandmaw had. She always made sure that she had oyster crackers on hand when we were coming for a visit. I didn’t know until years later that you could buy oyster crackers anywhere, I just thought they were something that only Grandmaw had.

Grandmaw Bithey at Christmas, sometime in the 1960's.

Grandmaw loved to cook too, and what a cook she was. Every morning she’d make a big breakfast for us…bacon, sausage links, pancakes and King Syrup. She always had dark King syrup. If you’ve never had it, it is quite different than maple syrup. More like sorghum than maple syrup, but still really good and unique. I remember Grandmaw Bithey made the best pies in the world. Of course, she was able to get money to pay for her house by selling blackberries that she and Granddaddy Bill planted on their bottomland. Grandmaw would bake blackberry pies and sell to people, and by doing this she made enough money to pay the mortgage. People would come from all around to buy Grandmaw’s homemade pies, and she would even barter at the local store by trading her pies for whatever she needed.

Granddad Bill, Grandmaw Bithey and their granddaughter, Katie.

I remember hearing stories about how Grandmaw Bithey came to be married with Granddaddy Bill. Grandmaw Bithey’s daddy, whose name was Hugh, thought she was too young (she was 14) to get married when Granddad Bill first asked for her hand, so Grandmaw and Granddaddy decided to sneak off in the dark of night and get married. So one night, Granddaddy Bill climbed up the trellis into Grandmaw’s bedroom to carry out her suitcase and to help her climb down, and they made it out of the house but it was a dark night and as Granddaddy Bill was loading the wagon, Grandmaw Bithey tripped over the wagon tongue and broke her leg. Well, Granddad Bill had no other choice but to take Grandmaw Bithey back into the house, so he picked her up in his arms and carried her to the front door where he knocked and woke everyone up. Grandpaw Hugh called out to ask who it was, and Grandpaw Bill said, "It's Bill Iman" so Grandpaw Hugh came out of the house swearing vengeance. But finding Grandpaw Bill standing there holding Grandmaw Bithey in his arms and finding out that she had a broken leg, Grandpaw Hugh had a change of heart and told them that if they wanted to get married that bad, then they could go ahead and get married with his blessing.

Granddad Bill, Grandmaw Bithey and two of their grandchildren.

Grandmaw Bithey was also a unique person. She was very traditional in her lifestyle, she was a devout Presbyterian lady and she raised my mother that way. Grandmaw wrote only in black ink because everything else was just “silliness”. She was very prim and proper, and didn’t take to change very well. She valued education and urged her children to get all they could get, and she knew that education was the key to a better life. Her favorite song was “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams, she was a strong supporter of Equal Rights, and she raised her daughters (and my mother) to be independent women, and to think for themselves. And this was in a time and place when that just wasn’t in vogue.

Grandmaw Bithey was older than her official age. When Grandmaw Bithey passed away in 1989, the age in her obituary said 93. But she was really 106 years old (this isn’t too hard to believe either considering her mother lived to be 114). You can find Grandmaw Bithey on the 1890 census when she was the age of 7. This would have made her born in 1883, which is the year she told her family that she was born. She would have had to have been born in 1896 to only have been 93 when she passed away, and this would have made her younger than her youngest sister, and Grandmaw was the oldest child!! You may wonder how did Grandmaw manage this feat? Well, when the government people came around in the 1930’s getting information for the newly formed Social Security Administration, Grandmaw figured she’d shave a few years off of her age, after all, everyone knows that a real lady never reveals her true age. So she told them what age she wanted to be, and since she looked younger than her years, they took her at her word.

I remember sitting at Grandmaw’s kitchen table one night, and hearing her talk about all of the wonderous things that she has witnessed in her lifetime, such as the first automobile, the first airplane, women getting the right to vote, man walking on the moon, she lived through both World Wars, and watched America transition into the Industrial Revolution. I recall her saying that if she could pick a time in history that she would want to live in, it would be the time that she had lived. She said she loved seeing all of the new things happening, and if you think about it, I suppose she did see her fair share.