Wednesday, January 28, 2009

These Dark & Dreary Days

These dark, dreary days of winter,
Press down upon my soul,
And leach the life from me,
Like a succubus in the night.

Once I was like a seed in the ground,
Waiting, germinating, hopeful.
But the cold, lifeless days have surrounded me.
And cloaked me with their siphoning darkness.

The light on my path is extinguished,
I realize now with maudlin clarity,
It was these dark, dreary days of winter,
That incubated my soul.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Jack Tale

Today's post is a cheater for me, so please bear with me, I'm covered up with working on this new book and don't have time to even look up. On top of this, we received some bad news that Shirley's cousin Diane passed away and her funeral is on Thursday so we will be attending her services down in Wyoming County. I thought I'd post a Jack Tale that most of you will enjoy for this latest post.

I currently have several posts in the works but don't have time to get them just bear with me... I promise they will be worth the wait. Some topics I plan on covering include everything from Remembering Grandpaw's Calendar, to My First Fish, to Sled-ridin' on the Mountain, to How Fox Squirrels Cure Asthma! See, I told you they will be worth the wait. Thank you for your patience and your prayers over the next week or so.


Jack and the Robbers

THIS HERE'S another tale about Jack when he was still a small-like boy. He was about twelve, I reckon, and his daddy started tryin' to make him help with the work around the place. But Jack he didn't like workin much. He would piddle around a little and then he'd go back to the house, til one day his daddy whipped him. He just tanned jack good. Jack didn't cry none, but he didn't like it a bit. So early the next mornin' he slipped off without tellin' his mother and struck out down the public road. Thought he'd go and tryhis fortune somewhere off from home.

He got down the road a few miles and there was an old ox standin' in a field by a rail fence, a-bellowin' like it was troubled over somethin'-

"Um-m-muh! Um-m-m - muh-h-h!"

"Hello!" says jack. "What's the matter?"

"I'll just tell you," says the old ox. "I'm getting' too old to plow and I heard the men talkin' about how they'd have to kill me tomorrow and get shet of me."

"Come on down here to the gap," says Jack, "and you can slip off with me."

So the old ox followed the fence to where the gap was at and jack let the bars down and the old ox got out in front of jack, and they went on down the public road.

jakc and the ox traveled on, and pretty soon they cam where there was an old donkey standin' with his head hangin' down over the a-goin' -

"Wahn-n-n-eth! Wahn-n-n-eth! Wahn-n-n-eth!"

"Hello," says jack. "What's troublin' you?"

"Law me!" says the old donkey. "The boys took me out to haul in wood this mornin' and I'm getting' so old and weak I couldn't do no good. I head 'em say they were goin' to kill me tmorrow, get shet of me."

"Come on and go with us," says Jack.

So he let the old donkey out and they pulled on down the public road. The old donkey told jack to get up on his back and ride.

They went on a piece, came to an old hound dog settin' in a man's yard. Hit would bark awhile and then howl awhile -

"A -woo! Woo! Woo! A-oo-oo-oo!"

sounded awful lonesome.

"Hello," says Jack. "What you a-howlin' so for?"

"Oh, law me!" says the old dog. "The boys took me coon-huntin' last night, cut a tree where the coon had got up in it. I got hold on the coon all right, but my teeth are all gone and hit got loose from me. They said they were goin' to kill me today, get shet of me."

"Come on, go with us," says Jack.

So the old dog scrouged under the gate.

The old donkey says to him, "Get up on my back and ride, if you want to."

Jack holp the old dog up behind him, and they went on down the public road.

Came to a old tomcat climbin' along the fence. Hit was a-squallin' and meowin', stop ever' now and then, sit down on the top rail -

"Meow-ow! Meow-ow-ow!"

-- sounded right painful.

"Hello!" says Jack. "What's the matter you squallin' so?"

"Oh, law me!" says the old dog. "I caught a rat out in the barn this mornin', but my teeth are getting' so old and bad I let him go. I head 'em talkin' about killin' me to get shet of me, 'cause I ain't no good to catch rats no more."

"Come one and go with us," says Jack.

So the old cat jumped down off the fence.

The old donkey says, "Hop up there on my back and you can ride."

The old cat jumped up, got behind the dog, and they went on downthe public road.

Came to where they saw an old rooster settin' on a fence post, crowin' like it was midnight, makin' the awfulest lonesome racket -

"Uk rook-a-roo! Ur-r-r rook-a-roo-oo-oo!"

"Hello!" says jack. "What's troublin' you?"

"Law me!" says the old rooster. "Company's comin' today and I head 'em say theywere goin' to kill me, put me in a pie."

"Come on with us," says Jack.

Old rooster flew on down, got behing the cat, says, "All right, boys. Let's go!"

So they went right on down the highway. That was about all could get on the old donkey's back. The old rooster was right on top its tail and a-havin' a sort of hard time stayin' on. They traveled on, traveled on, till hit got plumb dark.

"Well," says Jack, "we got to get off the road an find us a place to stay tonight."

Directly they came to a little path leadin' off in the woods, decided to take that, see could they find 'em a stayin place in there. Went on a right smart piece further, and 'way along up late in the night they cane to a little house, didn't have no clearin' around it. Jack hollered at the fence, but there didn't nobody answer.

"Come on," says the old donkey. "Let's go in-vestigate that place."

Well, there wasn't nobody ever came to the door and there wasn't nobody around back of the house, so directly they went on in. Found a right smart lot of good somethin' to eat in there.

Jack says, "Now, who in the world do you reckon could be a-livin' out here in such a wilder-ness of a place as this?"

"Well," says the old donkey, "hit's my o-pinion that a gang of highway robbers lives out here."

So Jack says, "The hit looks to me we might as well take up and stay here. If they've done stole all these vitles, we got a much right to 'em as they have."

"Yes," says the old dog, "that's exactly what I think, too. But if we stay, I believe we better get fixed for a fight. I expect they'll be comin' back in here about midnight."

"That's just what I was goin' to say," says the old cat. "I bet it's pretty close to midnight right now."

"Hit lacks about an hour,: says the old rooster.

"Come on, then," says Jack. "Let's all of us get set to fight 'em."

The ox said he'd stay out in the yard. The old donkey said he'd take up his stand on the porch just outside the door. The dog said he'd get in behind the door and fight from there. The old tomcat got down in the fireplace, and the old rooster flew up on the comb of the roof, says, "If you boys need any help now, just call on me, call on me-e-e!"

They all waited awhile. Heard somebody comin' directly; hit was seven highway robbers. They came on till they got pretty close to the house, then they told one of 'em to go on in and start up a fire so's they could have a light to see to get in and so they could divide out the money they'd stole that day.

One man went on in the house, the other six waited outside the gate.

That man went to the fireplace, got down on his knees to blow up the fire. The cat had his head right down on the hearth-rock and that man thought its eyes was coals of fire. Time he blowed in that old cat's eyes, it reached out its claws right wuick and scratched him down both cheeks. The robber hollered and headed out for the door. The dog ran out and bit him in the leg. He shook it off and ran on the porch and the old donkey raised up and kicked him on out in the yard. The ox caught him up on its horns and ran to the fence and threw him out in the bresh. About that time the old rooster settin' up there on top of the house started in to crowin' right big.

The other robbers, time they heard all that racket, they put out form there just as fast as they could run. The one they'd sent in the house finally got up and started runnin' like a strea, caught up with 'em in no time. They cais to him, says, "What in the world was that in there?'

"Oh, I'm killed! I'm killed!" says the man. "I won't live over fiteen minutes!"

The others said, "Well, 'fore ye die, tellus what it was caused all that racket back yonder."

"Law me! That house is plumb full of men, and they've even got one on the roof. I went to blow up the fire and a man in the fireplace raked me all over the face with an awl. Started to run and a man behind the door took me in the leg with a butcher knife. Time I got out the door, a man out there hit me with a knot-maul, knocked me clean off the porch. A man standin' in the yeard caught me on a pitchfork and threw me over the fence. And than that man up on the roff hollered out,

'Chunk him on up here! Chunck him up on here!'

Ain't no use in us goin' back there with all them men in the house. Let's leave here quick 'fore they come after us."

So them highway robbers ran for their life, and kept on runnin' till they were plumb out the country.

Jack and the ox and the old donkey and the dog and the cat and the rooster, they took possession of that house, and just had 'em a big time.

But the last time I was down that way, Jack had gone on back home to his folks. He was out in the yard-a-cuttin his mother a big pile of stovewood.


The Jack Tales, by Richard Chase. Copyright 1971.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Flooding the World

In my last post, I talked about my Grandmaw’s spring that I used to carry water from. Well that reminded me of another story. This story concerns the Bent Family who lived down the road from us. They were related to us in almost every way imaginable since they came to the mountain about the same time as we did, and like my family, they never left either. But for some reason, the Bent brothers didn’t have good common sense, they always done foolish things and were known far and wide as the laughingstock of the area.

Well one time, three of the Bent boys decided they were gonna dig a well close to the house so they wouldn’t have to carry water so far. As it was, they were carrying water from a nearby creek. Since we all lived up on the mountain, a person had to dig a well quite deep to hit water, unless you were lucky enough, as my Grandmaw Mary was, to have a natural spring on your property. Well, the Bent boy’s water witched all around their house and located a powerful stream of water right outside of their yard gate. They say that the Bent boy’s used a peach limb to water witch with, and the force of the water stripped the bark clean off right in their hands, a sure sign that there was water here…a lot of water…and not located very deep either. Everyone figured it’d be less than 30 feet down, which was great for up on the mountain, where most wells were 50-100 feet deep. Well, the Bent boy’s got real excited over this and took to digging their well. They got down about 10 feet the first day, and started on it again early the second morning. Oren Bent was doing the digging that morning, and his brothers Les and Res were shoveling and hauling the dirt up in buckets. About midday, when Oren was down about 15 feet, he felt the ground give a little under his feet and water started filling up the hole. They got real excited at this and quickly dipped the water out, so they could dig another few feet. It is common knowledge that once water starts coming into your well, then you only have to dig another 10 feet or so for storage.

Well they started digging more, but water started filling in the well faster than they could dip it out. This made for slow going but eventually they dug out another couple of feet. About mid-afternoon, the three boys stopped for a break and to eat, and when they started back digging at the well, they hit a big flat rock. Well, Oren said he just knew that the water was under than rock so it had to come out. They pounded on the rock, and pried on the rock with a big iron bar. Eventually it was starting to loosen. Then Oren said the rock started to shake a little and he got scared and come up out of the hole. Soon after he got out of the well, water filled up the hole. Thinking it was a wet weather stream of water that was feeding into the well, the boys didn’t think the water would last in the dry summer months, so they had to dig it deeper. They fashioned a crude water pump and hand pumped all the water out of the well, and by then, word had passed around about the goings on with the well, and several neighbors had gathered around to witness the spectacle, and lend a helping hand if it was needed. As soon as the well was pumped dry enough to dig some more, they once again started prying on that big flat rock. One of the neighbors offered to help by bringing his team of workhorses over to pull out the rock. Everyone agreed to this and Oren got a chain hooked around the rock and to the horses. With sheer horsepower, the rock was pulled up out of the well, and with it a great gush of water that shot several feet into the air. It didn’t let up either, water was going everywhere. Nobody had ever seen anything like it, and one old-timer said that it was what was called an artesian well. Everyone was jubilant that there was plenty of water now at the Bent home, and they all went home and spread the good news.

Mom & Dad's hand-dug well.

After a few hours, the water was still spouting up out of the ground and the Bent brothers were getting worried. They couldn’t get the well walled up or anything, and it looked like a river running down through the front yard. They got to thinking that if they couldn’t get this water stopped it was going to flood the world. The more they studied and reasoned on it, the more they convinced themselves that just that very thing would happen, so they knew they had to do something. They worked each other up into a frenzy of worry. After about an hour of this, they decided the only thing they could do was try and cover the well back up. They grabbed up anything that was heavy enough to sink and frantically tossed it into the newly dug well. They threw in old junk, they threw in rocks, and they threw in metal. Eventually, they had a heaping pile of garbage over the well, and then they covered that up with dirt and made what looked like a small mound over it. They felt pleased that they had saved the whole world from being flooded.

When the neighbors found out what the Bent boys had done, they were flabbergasted. Why, they asked, did the boys fill in one of the finest wells in the county? But the boys couldn’t be convinced that they had done anything less than helpful now that they had succeeded in saving all of humanity from a great flood. They never again tried to dig a well for their house; they were content to haul water from the creek for the rest of their lives.

I remember hearing this story from my Granddaddy Burns. He was a boy when the Bent brothers dug this well, and he said that there was a helluva stream of water down in that well. He showed me the little mound of dirt that covered the junk-filled well, and you can, even to this day, even see the water still seeping up to the surface from it. The ground all around there is wet and marshy, and it flows down onto my Uncle Chub’s property where he captures it into a small pond. His pond, fend from the Bent well, never goes dry and it is a great watering spot for cattle, even in the driest of years.

Do any of you readers out there have a well or spring story? I’d like to hear them if you do.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Grandmaw's Water Bucket

The below poem triggers memories of my Grandmaw Mary. It conjures up visions of the old spring that rested upon the hillside above her house. It was always a great honor to be asked my Grandmaw to fetch her a bucket of water. I know I always took great care to dip the bucket way down into the cool, clear spring to get the freshest and coolest water. I remember there'd always be a chance that you'd pick up a salamander in the spring so you'd have take special care to avoid that. With the greatest of care, I'd heft the full water bucket to my side and inch my way down the hill on the old footpath, worn smooth by the generations of feet who made this very same trek. In the springtime, I'd usually stop and smell the apple blossoms on the Yellow Delicious apple tree that grew by the footpath.

Grandmaw would always meet me at the back porch and take the water bucket from me. I know now that she most likely done this to keep me from slopping water on her kitchen floor, after all, how steady could I have been, I was only a little boy carrying a 2-gallon bucket full of water. After taking the bucket from me, she would heap praise upon me and give me a cookie or a piece of pie that she always managed to make appear as if out of thin air. She'd then sit the water bucket up on the water stand beneath her cabinet near the back door.

Grandmaw Mary in her kitchen.

She usually had two buckets and kept one full of fresh water, and used the other bucket of "dead" water to heat for washing dishes. Grandmaw said that once water set overnight, it became dead and people shouldn't drink it. I do know that fresh water tasted better. Grandmaw always kept cheesecloth over her water buckets to keep flying insects out of it, and she had a little metal dipper that you could dip down into the bucket and get out a drink. Nobody ever thought anything of it then, but nowadays people would think this unsanitary. You'd drink right out of the dipper, and toss the rest out the back door. You were never allowed to put the water you didn't drink back in the bucket, but you could dip a second dipper if you were still thirsty.

I remember a little shelf behind the water buckets. Grandmaw had two little teacups there, no doubt gifts from some of her children on one of their travels. Grandmaw typically didn't go anywhere, her extent of travel was limited to Franklin and the Bartow Flea Market. I was always fascinated by those teacups, one said "Paw, Come git yer coffee" and the other said "Maw, Come git yer coffee". On the Paw cup, it showed a hillbilly man sleeping outside on the door stoop, and on the Maw cup there was a mountain woman plowing a field and the man was standing in the door way hollering out at her in the field. I found a "Maw" cup in an antique shop right before Christmas and bought one for my mother. I need to get her a Paw cup now. They have them on Ebay, where I found the below picture.

It's amazing how a poem can trigger all of these precious memories of Grandmaw Mary, one memory triggers another, and so on. I could sit and talk about my Grandmaw Mary all day long.
The Old Oaken Bucket
by Samuel Wordsworth

How dear to this heart are the scenes of my childhood,
When fond recollections present them to view !
The orchard, the meadow, the deep-tangled wild wood,
And every loved spot which my infancy knew;
The wide-spreading pond, and the mill which stood by it,
The bridge and the rock where the cataract fell;
The cot of my father, the dairy house nigh it,
And e'en the rude bucket which hung in the well;
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-cover'd bucket, which hung in the well.

That moss-cover'd vessel I hail as a treasure;
For often, at noon, when return'd from the field,
I found it the source of an exquisite pleasure,
The purest and sweetest that Nature can yield.
How ardent I seized it, with hands that were glowing !
And quick to the white-pebbled bottom it fell;
Then soon, with the emblem of truth overflowing,
And dripping with coolness, it rose from the well;
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-cover'd bucket arose from the well.

How sweet from the green mossy brim to receive it,
As poised on the curb it inclined to my lips !
Not a full blushing goblet could tempt me to leave it,
Though fill'd with the nectar that Jupiter sips.
And now, far removed from the loved situation,
The tear of regret will intrusively swell,
As fancy reverts to my father's plantation,
And sighs for the bucket which hangs in the well;
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-cover'd bucket, which hangs in the well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Anderson's Lament

For my great-great-great Grandfather Anderson.

Anderson's Lament

A man of privilege born into a good family,
He had all of the makings of greatness.
His loving Dianna and the children all looked to him as a hero
And their expectations took him to stand for the Cause.
Four years he honorably served a nation destined for failure,
And with it his livelihood.

The thinly disguised looks of pity and disgust
Cut his soul to ribbons as childhood friends
Watched him open his land to sharecropping.
Better to starve with dignity, they said,
Than to do work that is beneath you.
They didn’t realize the old society was dead.
He was determined that his children would have better,
In this new world in which he had no place.

He signed it all legal with the attorneys that morning
Knowing full well that he was not strong enough
To stand idly by as the land was sold off, piece by piece.
Land that belonged to his father, and his father before him.
None of that mattered now; it was thoughts of his sweet Dianna
That filled his mind as the rope snapped taut
And the eternal darkness washed over him.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Duck Boxes

It was the coolest job ever! I'm talking about being a wildlife manager on the Pennsylvania Game Commission game lands in Greene County, PA. My main position there was to design and implement a Wood Duck Nesting Box Program. This sounded daunting, especially considering I needed to do this over the entire 7,200 acre game lands, but it was some of the most fun that I have ever had.

Part of the game lands.

With the assistance of Larry, a longtime employee there, we were able to scout out and locate nest box sites for wood ducks. Apparently, about 10 years before, someone had tried to start a wood duck program on the gamelands and they had scattered next boxes all over the game land, many of which were in some awkward places, and their whereabouts recorded only with a vague description (such as "On Whitely Creek"). Well, Whitely Creek runs through about 20 miles of gameland, so you can see my dilemma.

Putting up duck boxes on Whitely Creek. Notice the ladder, which I carried all over, and which was used to cross the creek!

Soon, I realized that it would be much easier if we just put up new boxes rather than locating old ones. This made sense to Larry as well, considering most of the old boxes we found were in bad disrepair, packed full of leaves (courtesy of squirrels), or were filled with field mice. Once field mice have set up residence in a wood duck box, it is pretty much gone because you can never get the pee smell out of them. With a new plan in mind we asked our boss, Dave, if we could enlist the convict work crew to build duck boxes for us. Dave told us sure, so with an armed gunman watching over us, we demostrated to the convicts what we wanted done, and gave them run of the power tools. I was kind of hesistant tp be surrounded by convicts wielding saws, hammers, screwdrivers, etc. but you know, they were a good bunch of guys. Most of them were just happy about getting out of the pokey on work release. I got tickled at them because everytime I'd ask them to do something, they jump right to it and say, "Yes, Sir". Of course, with an armed gunman lording over you, a person will do alot of things they normally wouldn't. After a few days, Dave turned over the convict work crew over to me, and I supervised them. I got to know many of them and they were genuinely a good bunch of guys, they had just been dealt a bad hand.

A wood duck box. The convict work crew made over 500 of these for my project.

After we got the duck boxes, I done some research on wood duck habitat and scouted out prime habitat all over the gamelands. Larry and I cruised all over on our trusty gamelands steed, and soon placed and recorded all of our wood duck boxes. I found that wood duck boxes facing water and in the general direction of East, had the greatest success rate. I also found that wood shavings from a local woodworker worked better as bedding in the boxes than did sawdust. The woodworker was only too happy to give us the sawdust, it kept him from having to dispose of them.

My trusty steed!

One of the drawbacks of placing my duck boxes was having to climb trees that stretched out over a creek. I'd hang on with one hand, and pound up the box with the other. I learned to be an acrobat, but sometimes I'd take along the convict work crew to do this. Was that wrong of me?lol. This type of box placement was beneficial for the success of the project though since this was wood duck habitat, and this also reduced the predator rate for the ducklings.

A wood duck box along Whitely Creek.

Also during my tenure at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, I waded through the wetlands and constructed mallard nest structures, I built and placed huge bat colony boxes (again with the help of convict labor), and I assisted with a controlled burn of the warm-season grass fields on the game lands. Being a fire-bug at heart, it done my soul good to see the 50-foot high flames racing across a field of dry grass. Burning is necessary for warm-season grasses to thrive, and when the grass is on the fields, it provides habitat for numerous wildlife species. The warm-season grass was also a major money maker for the gamelands since switchgrass seed was harvested annually and sold to grass seed wholesalers all over the region.

Part of the game lands.

My time at the game lands was short-lived. Budget cuts made my position non-existent, so I didn't get to witness the results of my wood duck program. I kept in contact with Dave though, and he told me that my wood duck program was a complete and total success. The following fall, there were wood ducks everywhere, and hunter success was around 95%! Before my plan was enacted, hunter success was around 20%, so it was a considerable improvement. Dave told me that my plan was being implemented on other gameland sites all over the state of Pennsylvania. I am very proud of that fact, even though I couldn't be the one doing it, but I still consider myself very lucky to have had this experience. It was truly the best job ever. Perhaps the future will take me back to the game lands, or somewhere like it. Who knows? I remain ever hopeful as we watch a new President take the reigns of power.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cold Weather Stories

It’s Cold. Since all the talk seems to be of the weather, I thought I’d tell a few stories about the chilly times on the mountain.

Old steamshovel wreck on North Mountain. Granddaddy Don is in the back row, 3rd from the right (wearing a toboggan).

I remember my granddaddy Don used to tell of how cold it got out on the mountain when he worked in the timber camps back in the early 1900’s. He said that it was a real danger for the timber men when it got down real cold. Frostbite and hypothermia were regular occurrences in the camps. He even told of it being so cold one time that a tree exploded when they started chopping it down. He said the tree split apart into several pieces and piece shot in every direction for several yards around and that the base log cracked up the tree about 15 feet. Granddaddy Don also told of how deep the snow would get in the mountains around lumber camps. He said many’s the time they’d cut timber in the winter while standing on the packed snow, and come spring when the snow would melt, they’d go back over the same area and get another 8 to 10 foot log off the stumps which were previously buried under the snow.

Granddaddy Don & Grandmaw Mary

This reminds me of another story that occurred about the same time as when Granddaddy Don was working in the timber camps. This one involves Grandmaw Mary and the kids who were left at home while Granddaddy Don was off at work, sometimes for months at a time. He’d send money to them in the mail, but not on a regular basis. Grandmaw always fended for herself, so she canned and put up food all summer long so they usually had enough food, but they’d sometimes run short on firewood, especially when Granddaddy was gone for long periods of time. One time, it got down real cold and Grandmaw Mary saw they were running out of wood. She told the older children that they would have to go cut down the old Chestnut tree near the fence line in order for them to have enough wood to get through the cold spell. The oldest of the boys was only about 12 at the time, so it was a major undertaking. Well, the kids took to chopping at the huge chestnut tree with axes, and since the tree was dead (courtesy of the chestnut blight), it made a great racket as they hammered away at its base. Well this noise alerted the cantankerous neighbor man who lived up the holler from Grandmaw. Well, the man came down to where they were chopping down the tree and cut a fit on them. He said that the tree belonged to him, and that it was on his property, when it was clearly on the Burns side of the fence. The boys went and got Grandmaw Mary and told her about what the man was saying, and she went out to talk some sense into her neighbor. She told him that the tree was on Burns property, but the man argued that the fence line was in the wrong place. Grandmaw then saw that it was futile to argue about whose tree it was, so she tried a different tact with him. She explained to him that since Don had been gone for the past few months, that they were running low on firewood and were in great need of it. She said that the tree was dead and needed to be cut down anyway, lest it fall over on his fence. Besides she added, Chestnut wood wasn’t the best for burning, it cracked and popped a lot and created a lot of sparks, so really it wasn’t her first choice either, but when you need wood, you get what is readily available. The man seemed to understand that Grandmaw meant to have that tree, and he appeared to acquiesce but just as the boys finally felled the giant Chestnut, the man took to cussing and carrying on and saying how he was going to have them all arrested for stealing his tree and damaging his property. Grandmaw once again told him that the tree was on Burns property and that it belonged to her, and she instructed to boys to keep cutting. The man then started cussing the boys and threatening them with his gun which he said he was going to go get and he’d show them whose tree it was. Well, Grandmaw, fed up with the cantankerous old man, said to the boys, “Come on boys and let’s go back in the house, and let the old bastard have the tree. Maybe he can use the lumber to make himself a coffin so he can go through Hell a-cracking”.

Grandmaw Mary

Well that old man was so stunned by Grandmaw’s words, that he immediately took to apologizing to her and the boys, and he said, “Now Mary, if you need that wood, why you just go ahead and take it.” Grandmaw, now with her dander up responded, “I aim to.” The old man then told her, “I’ll go get my boys to come and help you all split that wood up, and get it stacked in the woodshed. Now Mary, are you all okay with food? We have some hams in our smokehouse that we’d gladly share with you all.” Grandmaw told him they had plenty of food, they were just out of firewood. She always got amused at how fast the threat of a crackin’ coffin in Hell will turn people around!

Mom & Dad, Summer 2005

Another story about the cold weather was when my Dad was a young man. After Granddad Thompson died when Dad was 10 years old, Dad moved up to Monkeytown to live with his parents. You see, in my family, it was custom that the oldest grandson live with his grandparents. Well, once Dad moved in with his parents, it became abundantly clear that there wasn’t enough room. My granddad worked in Baltimore at the time and came home just long enough to get Grandmaw pregnant, and then he’d leave again. He’d sometimes send money, but often he did not. So the next summer, when Dad was 11 years old, he went to work in the hayfields in order to get money to help out with the family expenses and in order to build himself a room onto the house. Dad was big for his age so the farmers all thought he was about 15 so they hired him on for a dollar a day. Dad worked all summer and come the fall, he had saved enough money to buy the lumber to build him on a room. With the help of a few people, they built a very crude room onto the front of the house. There were cracks in the walls that you could through a cat through, and it had one little window that resembled the one in the storybook of Noah’s Ark. But it didn’t matter to Dad, he finally had a bedroom all his own. Well, for a few days anyway. His little brother Tom decided that he would sleep there too, so Dad soon had a roommate. Since Tom was still little, he often wetted the bed, and Dad would have to get up and change the covers out, and give them to Grandmaw to wash the next day. Well, winter soon set in, and Dad said that many mornings he’d wake up with a dusting of snow on the bed covers. He said they left the door open which was next to the kitchen where the wood stove was, and that on the side facing the door, you’d be real warm, and on the side facing the window, you’d freeze. He said you learned to turn a lot throughout the course of the night. As the weather got colder, someone gave Dad and Tom a big old feather tick to sleep under. Well, one night when the weather was down around zero, Tom pee’d the bed and Dad didn’t realize it, and when they woke up the next morning, the feather tick was frozen to Dad’s bed clothes! Dad then told Tom that he couldn’t sleep with him any more until the spring! Dad’s room is still on the house, only now it has been remodeled, and is now the kitchen area. It doesn’t, however, resemble the rough little room of necessity that Dad built so many years ago.

Me & Shirley, Fall 2007

My final story about cold weather concerns one of the first times that I took Shirley home to the mountain to meet my family. Shirley, although a child of the coalfields, always led a pretty pampered life. She grew up with all the amenities, including central heating. Well, Mom and Dad still have a wood stove so the heat comes from only one area of the house. Shirley insisted on closing the bedroom door that one night, which I advised her was a bad idea. I told her to sleep in my bed…a heated waterbed…but her modesty and upbringing wouldn’t allow her to sleep in the same bed with someone she wasn’t married to, so Mom set her up the old cast iron bed to sleep in. Well, it was down around zero that night, with the wind whistling around the corner of the house. Shirley kept waking me up with her question, “What is that? It sounds like a banshee.” I’d always reply, “It’s the wind. Haven’t you ever heard the wind before?” She’d say, “Not like that!” and would soon go back to sleep. Well this went on nearly every hour, until finally about daylight, I was awakened by a nudging on my shoulder. It was Shirley. I asked her what was wrong and I turned on the lamp by my bed. There stood Shirley, pitifully asking, “I’m s-s-s-s-oooo c-c-c-c-old. C-c-can I g-get in b-e-e-e-e-ed with you?” I swear to you that her lips were blue! I reminded her that I told her it would get cold if she shut the bedroom door, and that of course she could get in my nice, warm, heated waterbed. She then decided that she needed a drink of water and walked over to get her glass of water on her nightstand. She gasped and I asked her what was the matter now. She said, “my water is frozen!” I told her to open the bedroom door and to get in bed with me. As soon as she opened the bedroom door, the warm air flooded into the room and she soon warmed up. She slept like a baby the rest of the night. Shirley still claims that is the coldest that she has ever been in her life. Poor girl, she sure has led a sheltered life!

So just keep in mind over the duration of this current cold spell, that it won’t be long before we see the first green sprouts of spring, and soon thereafter, the warm breezes of summer will return to these hills. The nightbirds will once again croon their songs of passion, and nature will once again caress us into slumber with the softness of the season.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thinking Outside of Box

Below is the news from back home, only it is from 1918. The community where I am from has went through several different names. The first name of the area was Buffalo Bottom, due to the abundance of woods bison in the area. Now the name would only apply to some of my Aunts (That was bad, I know). After the buffalo were extirpated it ddin't seem like Buffalo Bottom was such a good name so the area became known as North Fork Hills. Since that name was confusing because there were hills all over the North Fork Valley, the name progressed into the community of Box. People didn't like living in a Box so the area started being referred to as Bland Hills, but as Bland Hills became more populated, our end of Bland Hills became the community of Hopewell. A few years later, Hopewell was given the name of Monkeytown by my great-grandfather, Don Burns due to all of the children hanging out of the windows of the houses. It seems that the name Monkeytown stuck, at least for the past 80 years or so, and most people still know and refer it by that name. However, to add to the confusion we do get our mail in Riverton (7 miles away), vote in Circleville (8 miles away), and are listed in the county newspaper as Hopewell (though nobody calls our area Hopewell anymore). So, who knows exactly where I'm from, the only thing I am sure of is I didn't come here and I ain't leaving. My granddaddy used to say that.

The Pendleton Times
Friday, December 20, 1918

Box News

The health of this section is very good now.

The Hopewell school has begun with an enrollment of about thirty-five scholars. Mr. Biby is the teacher.

A.C. Thompson has moved to Osceola, a cold country.

C.J. Landis, the photo man, has quit farming and gone into the picture business again.

Miss. Mucie Burns has gone to the wild western country to teach school. We wish her a successful term.

Charlie Burns was hauling hay from W.D. Simmons’ one day last week.

Don Burns has purchased a horse of Erving Hinkle & Bros. He says he can go see his girl now.

News reached us that Virgil Hinkle while in Franklin Thursday was arrested because of failing to register on Sept. 12, and will be court-martialed at Parkersburg.

Don Bland has gone to the lumber camp to work for awhile.

Fred Lambert was a recent visitor at the home of Harness Teter at Osceola.

God hath made of one blood all nations of men, and we are his children, brothers and sisters all. We are citizens of the United States and we believe our flag stands for self-sacrifice for the good of all the people. We want therefore to be true citizens of our great country and will show our love for her by our works. Our country does not ask us to die for her welfare, she asks us to live for her, and so to live and so to act that her government may be pure her officers of her territory shall be a place fit to grow the best men and women who shall rule over her.—A Bland Hills wife

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More than a Fossil

“Come on, Jason, hurry up”, I said, “It’s just over this hill.”

“You didn’t say that it was all the way down in here,” he grumbled, “when you said it was down in the holler I thought you meant it was just along the road where we let the dogs play in the waterhole last week.”

I was taking him to a giant fossil that I had saw the evening before when me and granddad drove down in this holler to cut up a giant tree that had blew over in the storm a few nights before.

I knew Jason would be excited over getting his hands on this fossil, it was bigger than the others that we had dug out of the hillside over the course of the summer. It looked to me like a big worm, it was round and you could clearly see that it was more than a rock. It was brought to light by the downing of that big tree, the roots of the tree had wound their way around the fossil and it was still hanging in the tree roots.

When I told Jason about the fossil, I seen his eyes light up so I knew he wanted to go get it. Mom heard us talking and said, “If you two do go to get that tomorrow, be careful of Kieboo’s old red bull down there, he’s mean." She reminded us of getting chased by the bull a few weeks before when we were down in the flats picking raspberries.

“I’ll take my hatchet with me”, I told Mom, “If he comes at us this time, it’ll be his last time of chasing me ‘cause I’ll sink it right betwixt his ears.” After a summer of misuse, my hatchet was duller than a froe and people laughed and told me how they could ride to Franklin and back on my hatchet and it’d never break their skin. But I still thought that I wielded a dangerous weapon. Usually in response to someone's remarks about my hatchet, I'd just heft the hatchet from hand to hand, and then all of a sudden lunge at them while doing my best imitation of a wild Indian about to tomahawk them. While this did scare a few people, I'd done it so much to those close to me that they didn’t even flinch anymore, although I think deep down they really didn’t know what to think of me, and I liked it that way…I liked keeping people on edge when I was around. I still command respect when I have my hatchet, it's part of my charm.

Despite my plans on self-preservation should the bull chase me, Mom told me that I better not try hatcheting the bull, that the bull was mean and big and that he'd hurt us if he got the chance. She also tried to get us to wait until Dad got home from work, an idea that was quickly shot down by Jason who said we'd be down there and back before Dad ever got home. Mom finally relented after seeing that a block sled would be more responsive to her concerns that we were. She told us to just be careful.

So about 10 O’clock this morning, just as we were starting to venture outside to see where the day took us, Jason suggested that we go get that fossil.

I told him to let me get my shoes on first. I usually went barefooted all summer long, but since we were going down in the flats, I thought it best to put on shoes since there were all kinds of thistles and stickers down there, and those we the only things that my feet had no immunity to. It was a badge of honor for me to be able to spin my bare feet in the gravels, the soles of my feet were as thick as leather, but for some reason, thistles and briers would gouge me something fierce.

So a few minutes later, after telling Mom where we were heading and grabbing the hatchet, we started down the road.

For the first few minutes of our adventure, I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the pain in my feet. It felt like the first day of school. My feet were killing me. My shoes were making my feet swell and contorting them in awkward angles. After taking this all that I could, I told Jason, “Hold up for a minute, my feet is killing me. I’m gonna take off these damn shoes.” As I took the shoes off, I noticed that the top of my foot was rubbed raw, and that the sweat was burning the raw place and that is what was causing the pain. I left the shoes laying along the road since we were going to return back home this way and I could pick them up on the way back.

After abandoning my shoes, we made pretty good time getting down in the flats, we were almost there, all we had to do was cross a small hill and we’d be at the old tree. After taking a short break at the creek at the foot of the hill, where I soaked my aching feet in a pool that Jason made by stacking rocks into a crude dam, we started up a cattle path that would lead us over the hill. There was a road but it was a much longer route so we decided not to fool with it.

As we neared the crest of the hill, which was also the steeped part of the ridge, Jason started commenting on how far away this fossil was, and how maybe we should have waited for Dad to take us. I told him it was just a little further, even though I’m the little brother I seemed to always be having to reassure Jason about stuff.

I was a few steps ahead of Jason as I crested the hill, and just as I topped it, I came face to face with Kieboo’s old red bull. I was as startled as he was, and I jumped backwards and hollered “Bull, Run!”. Jason, who thought I was playing a game that we always played where one of us would holler out names of Civil War battles and the other was supposed to say where the battle took place, hollered back “Manasses”. By this time I was back down the hill and passing him, and hastily said, “He’s a-comin’. Run!”. By this time, Jason knew I was serious, and he felt the earth shaking as the bull started down the hill toward us. Before Jason joined me in our great flight from danger, he picked up a rock, and in an effort to protect his little brother from the bull, threw it at the charging bull. Jason was as surprised as I was when the rock landed right between the eyes of the great bull. Thinking for sure that he had really pissed the bull off now, he took off running towards me. As we were casting glances over our shoulders to see if the bull was gaining, we noticed that we weren’t being chased at all. We looked up on the hill to where the bull was, and we saw him sitting there, wringing his head from side to side. The funniest thing was seeing the bull sitting on his haunches. Evidently that rock hit him just enough to stun him a good one. It all happened so fast, I didn’t even think to use my hatchet on him, though I was certainly close enough to have done a number on him.

We then decided to leave well enough alone, and walk out around on the road and give the recovering bull a wide berth. We were almost to the fossil, but during our great chase, I unknowingly ran through a brier patch and my feet were full of stickers, and they were really hurting. For some reason Jason, thought up a game for us to play that would get my mind off of the pain. It was really simple, you just completed this sentence, “Happiness is…”. I soon came up with happiness is a pair of shoes. Happiness is a piece of leather to tie over my feet. Happiness is a piece of wood to walk on. Every step I took made my heartbeat originate in my feet.

Soon though, we were finally at the fossil site. Taking my hatchet to chop away the tree roots and knock off the dirt and rocks, Jason recovered the fossil. It was quite large, probably a foot long and about 5 inches around. Jason said it was a trilobite, and he said that ones this big were rare. It seemed to weigh a ton so we took turns carrying it on the way home.

Since the fossil was so heavy, we decided to walk the road and not cut back up through the woods, we could get my shoes later. Besides from where we were now, it was closer to go home on the road than to backtrack, especially now home was mostly a downhill, or at least level, walk. That my feet were killing me and considering the weight of the trilobite probably helped make up our minds more than anything, I know I certainly didn’t relish walking through any more brier patches. So we started home on the road.

After a few hundred yards something happened that made us rethink our best laid plans. The road had recently been hardcapped with gravel and tar. While this made the road much smoother, it also made it hot…very hot…especially on my injured feet. I started saying, Happiness is a cool tub of water to soak my feet in. Well, it just so happened that around the bend there was an old stock tank that was used by the cattle to drink out of. It was so clear and inviting, I couldn’t resist just sticking my feet into the cool, clear water of the tank. Soon after sticking my feet in the water, though, I found myself standing waste deep in the stock tank. This was made an even more memorable experience because the walls of the stock tank was plum covered with frog eggs. The big round kind that squish between your toes when you step on them. Well, I soon had the stock tank a whirling, gurgling mess of frog eggs and water, and the hellfire that burned in my feet was beginning to be extinguished. After a few minutes, Jason said let’s get going, so after drying my legs off (and scraping my legs free of the crushed frog eggs) with huge burdock leaves, and we started up the road.

Well, I don’t know how many of you have ever experienced walking on hot tar roads in your bare feet in the dead heat of a July day, but let me just say, it is an experience best obtained through osmosis than by actually doing it. The cool water of the stock tank might have soothed my brier-filled, scraped and nearly cooked appendages, but that water had also softened up the leathery soles of my feet. It made a bad thing even worse. Oh woe is me, I can still remember that pain. The Happiness is... game didn’t help anymore, walking in the tall grass alongside of the road didn’t help, taking the shoestrings out of Jason’s shoes and trying to make me a crude pair of sandals out of shoestring and wood didn’t help. Jason offered to give me his shoes but the tops of my feet were raw and I didn’t relish the idea of having something on top of them, so I declined his generous offer.

I remembered that Grandmaw Mary always said that milkweed was good for skin ailments, so I squeezed and rubbed some milkweed on my feet. Well, it might have helped some but I really couldn’t tell because the stickiness of the milkweed made the grass stick to my feet, along with dirt and small pebbles.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we were nearing home. I practically ran those last few steps, and ran to the washtub where I cleaned my feet of all the accumulated debris. I hollered for mom, and relayed all of the events that happened, and she rubbed my feet down with horse salve. She laughed the whole time she was doing it, and said that would teach me for always wanting to go around barefooted. Say what you may, but horse salve is some good stuff. I recovered within a few hours, and the next day Jason and I were off on another adventure.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thinking of the Past

Today has me thinking about my grandfather, Garvin Wallace. He was my mother’s father, and according to her, my brother and I were his pride and joy, but I don’t remember him. He died when I was around 2 years old. I do however, know stories of him, and it is these treasured stories that I’m going to share with you today.

My Grandfather Garvin Wallace.

My Wallace family story begins in Scotland, where they came from. There are tales that we are direct descendants of Scotland’s most famous son, William Wallace, the man who was popularized in the movie, “Braveheart”. While I have never been able to make a connection to “Braveheart” Wallace, William is a very popular name in the family, and was the name of my great-great-grandfather, but William is a very popular name, especially for true sons of Scotland, so I don’t know if this is really any kind of clue. Still, it is a matter of pride for my family. My first known Wallace ancestor was Professor Alexander Wallace who was a professor of Latin at Oxford University. It was Alexander who came to America around the time of the American Revolution, and his son Charles was born in Ohio in the early 1800’s. Many of the Wallace relatives had long been established in the South Branch Valley in what is now West Virginia, and it was these family ties that brought my Ohio Wallace’s to West Virginia.

Back to Charles Wallace, who was born in Ohio. Charles married a woman who is only remembered by the family as Grandmaw Susan. They lived in Fayette County, Ohio. Charles & Susan had a son, which they named William Wallace. It was this William Wallace who sometime in his early years, moved to present-day Hardy County, WV, to be near family, and it was in Hardy County that William married Catharine Miller and lived out their lives on their farm near Moorefield. William & Catherine had a son, which they named Charles, who once reaching adulthood he, like many young men of his day, was lured to the American West to seek his fortune.

Grandpaw Charles wound up in western Louisiana, near the Texas border, where he built a trading post and traded with the Indians. By this time, the Comanche Nation was in decline and they were taken advantage of by many traders and especially at Army outposts. Grandpaw Charles always treated the Comanche honorably and fairly and he gained their trust. It was because of this trust that the Yamparika band of Comanche’s traded almost exclusively at his trading post, and made him a very prosperous man. It was at this trading post that a young Indian maiden named Lily Hightree, caught his eye. They fell in love, and he married Grandmaw Lily in both a Methodist and a Comanche marriage ceremony. A few years later, the Yamparika Comanche were removed to a reservation in Oklahoma, and the army bought the trading post off of Grandpaw Charles and Grandmaw Lily. Rather than go to Oklahoma with the Yamparika’s, they decided to return to West Virginia. Soon after they departed Louisiana, they received word that smallpox laid waste to the Yamparika’s and all of Grandmaw Lily’s family perished in the onslaught. Charles and Lily bought a big farm in Hardy County in the Old Fields area, and lived out their days there. For the rest of her life, Grandmaw Lily talked about her people and made sure her children knew about them.

Charles and Lily had three children, Uncle Brooke, Aunt Lola and my Grandfather Garvin. Aunt Lola and Uncle Brooke never had any children, and my Grandfather Garvin was nearly 50 years old before he fathered my mother. They said that Grandmaw Lily was so ecstatic over finally having a grandchild and would sit and rock my mother in a rocking chair and pet on her and say over and over, “My baby, my baby”. Sadly, Grandmaw Lily died when my mother was only 3 years old.

Grandpaw Garvin was a character. He became a wealthy man, undoubtedly because he was an avid moonshiner. In his younger days, Grandpaw Garvin and Uncle Brooke bought an old hearse and hauled their moonshine all over, selling it to people. One of their biggest clients was a grocery store in Keyser. People still talk about Garvin and Brooke having the old hearse loaded down with ‘shine’ and driving all the way into Keyser. They didn’t fear the local law because the judge, the sheriff and other influential men in Hardy & Mineral Counties bought moonshine off of them. One time, a federal revenuer got wind of Garvin & Brooke’s operation, and made it his duty to catch them. Grandpaw Garvin said that he got really close to finding the ‘still’ one time, so they moved the operation into the basement of Garvin’s house. They hid the ‘still’ by building a secret wall between the ‘still’ room and the rest of the basement, and it was undetectable to the unknowning eye. Mom said that she remembers when she was a young girl, Garvin would take her with him on his “Shine” trips, and he’d drop her off at a store with a friend and then make his deals. She knew what he was doing, but he said that it wasn’t something that a girl ought to be involved in.

My mother.

Mom recalls that there were many old things in Garvin’s house, including several old items brought over from Scotland when the Wallace’s first came to this country. Mom remembers that the kitchen table was several hundred years old. She said that she remembers a kitchen cupboard that had several deerhides in them, undoubtedly inherited from Charles and Lily, and that she would take them out of the cupboard and, using a knife, would cut them up in little pieces so she could make purses and other playthings out of them. The woman that gave birth to my mother, a gold digger of the worst kind, would yell and her and tell Garvin, “She’s ruining those things”. Garvin would simply say, “Leave her alone. She’s learning.”


My mother also remembers there always being several jugs of moonshine always being in the kitchen, kept high up on a shelf. Mom said she’d sometimes climb up to the shelf, and using a tablespoon, would sample the goods. She said that Garvin would have gotten angry if she drank a lot out of each jug, so she was careful to only get a little out of each jug. She also adds that since it wasn’t a big deal to drink moonshine in the house that the mystery was taken away from it so she didn’t really want to drink when she got older.

Garvin, Mom, Aunt Wanda, and the woman who gave birth to my mother.

Sadly, Mom didn’t get to live with Garvin for very long, the woman that gave birth to my mother soon grew bored with Garvin and as usual, moved on to the next man. She threw my mother off at her mother’s house yet again, and Garvin would only get to see my mother on the weekends. Once my mother and father were married, the lived with Garvin for a year or so to take care of Garvin when he was dying, and it was during this time that Garvin got to know me and Jason. We are told that Garvin always said he regretted that he would not being able to see us grow up, and that he hoped that we would know how much he loved us. Thanks to the stories, we did grow up knowing Garvin and the whole Wallace family. That, to me, makes us truly fortunate.

Me & Jason

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas Memories on the Mountain

Thanks to my brother Jason, some Christmas photo's are finally starting to come my way. I was able to view the photo's that I took but I can't load them to my computer. I did go and look at new digital camera's this past weekend, but the one I wanted wasn't in stock anywhere that we went. I know I want a Kodak Easyshare C913, and since I've already made up my mind on that, I won't even look at anything else even though there are camera's out there that are probably better and less expensive, but my mind is set so they aint no use in trying to get me to buy anything else (as Shirley can exasperatingly attest). Anyway, you can see a glimpse of how Christmas on the Mountain went this year.

The Burns family Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Shirley had already made her rounds, shook every present that she had under the tree and hypothesized what she may be getting the next morning after she took her annual beating from Der Belsnickel! Probably the best (and most surprising) gift Shirley received was a CD containing over 700 episodes of Fibber McGee and Molly, the old-time radio show. Shirley loves Fibber McGee and Molly.

After everyone opens their gifts, it has become tradition for everyone to pile all the gift wrap and (much to the chagrin of Shirley) boxes on top of her. We then take Christmas Shirl photos of her. Why do we do this? Besides it being great fun, well...we are bigger than her!!

Knowing how I am and how easily I get wound up in things, why someone would get me chinese finger traps is beyond me. They were a big hit though. After the finger traps got me excitable, I opened...

a huge jar of hot sausages and a box of saltine crackers. What you see here is me hissing at Jason. I thought he was going to try to get some hot sausages out of me. I told you the finger traps made me excited!!! I got even worse though, after a few moments of salivating over the pickled goodness in the half-gallon jar, Christmas morning took a dive to a new low...Matthew pretending to be Carmen Miranda....

Okay, a demented Carmen Miranda, but Carmen Miranda never-the-less. I'd have got up and done a little dance, but we all know I'm far too lazy to do that.

Later, after the gifts were opened, we settled down for a snack before we ate dinner. Here Jason set his biscuit and jelly in the kitchen windowsill. It made a pretty sight.

Fast forwarding a bit, evening found its way to the mountain. The sky was beautiful and cast a warm feeling over Spruce Knob in the distance.

The purple sky appeared just as the mountain evening gave way to darkness.

Another Christmas had come and gone on the mountain.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Year in Review--2008

I know these types of “Year in Review” write-ups are often overdone, but bear with me as I’m going to remember the events that shaped My 2008.

January was a cold month for us, the gas bill doubled from the previous month which caused frugal me to go into conservation mode, and use blankets and run the little electric heater to keep the furnace from kicking on. Also, lots of soup made its way into our suppertime along with the obligatory homemade bread. It was during this cold spell that I wrote the poem, “The Lonesome Wind”. After eating lots of good food, and losing part of our fingers to frostbite, we realized that the gas company screwed up our bill and estimated our gas usage to be more than double of any month of actual usage, so we turned the heat back on and set the thermostat to a balmy 54 degrees. Hey, I’m still frugal!!!

February Snow in front of our place.

February found us depressed due to the bleak times of winter. I never have been one to like the winter months, I like it hot enough to melt the tar on the road. In February, we found out that Shirley’s book, “Bringing Down The Mountains”, released the previous November, had sold out of its first printing and was going into a second. Also, Shirley was approached by Mari-Lynn Evans who done the book & documentary, The Appalachians, about the possibility of editing a new book that she was working on about mountaintop removal. It was also in February that we made a trip to Morgantown, where we visited my brother Jason, and where we realized that we really miss Morgantown. We ate at Kassars restaurant, and admitted that the food alone was worth the trip.

March was a pleasant enough month, the weather started warming up, I still haven’t got used to how early spring comes here in Charleston. Many times I’ll be talking to my mother on the telephone and she will comment about how hard it is snowing and I’ll say, “No, it’s in the 50’s here”. I guess to me winter will always be like the ones I experienced growing up on the mountain. Also, in late March, Shirley facilitated the plenary session on mountaintop removal at The Appalachian Studies Association conference (an academic conference), at the end of which in the questions portion of the session, she was shocked to be asked to sing one of her original songs. She did, and luckily it was captured on video and put on YouTube. Listen to Shirley by clicking here. After the session, she was asked by many people where they could buy her CD. She responded that she didn’t have one, and was then approached by Michael & Carrie Kline, renowned Appalachian Folklorists ( who offered to record Shirley in the summer.

April was a good month, I relished in the greenery that was returning to the mountains. Too bad gas was $4.39 a gallon or else we would have travelled a bit to soak it all up. Instead, we watch spring arrive by looking out our front door and by going to Coonskin Park, which is just under the hill from where we live.

April in Pendleton County.

May was a might hectic. Shirley agreed to compile & edit the new book from Mari-Lynn Evans, and we hammered out a contract. It is a long story, and thankfully Mari-Lynn is a good person or else our publisher, Sierra Club Books, would have driven us all crazy. In late May, my brother Jason came for a visit. He wanted to go on a ghost tour of this part of the state, he came with a list of places to visit in hand, and of course it was hot by now, in the upper 90’s. We took him around to most of them. On the last day of his visit, he wanted to visit Granny Sue at her farmstead. I had only briefly met Granny Sue once before in Morgantown, and was a might hesitant to impose on someone for an afternoon, but all my reservations were erased when we met her husband Larry at the exit by the interstate. Larry was to lead us to their farm, which is located on a backroad of a backroad. On the way, Larry pulled into a little stop-and-rob gas station, and I turned to my brother and said, “This ain’t no farm. I thought you said they lived on a farm!” Larry then gave us that grin that he is known for, and said, “Gotta get some milk.” There was just something about Larry that makes you instantly like him. Well, after that, I just knew that these were good people and people I wanted to get to know. We then continued to follow Larry up a long and winding road through some beautiful land. I really can’t explain my first impression of Granny Sue & Larry’s homestead, it was everything that I have ever wanted in a house and more. It truly is my dream home. And they are so nice, we just sat around and talked all afternoon and into the evening. Unfortunately, we had to leave earlier than I would have liked because Jason had to return to Morgantown that night and he had quite a trip ahead of him.

Above: Granny Sue's Kitchen.

Above: Jason, Granny Sue and Larry telling stories.

Above: Me spinning a yarn.

June started with me discovering Granny Sue’s blog. I had never really read blogs before, I just didn’t get the whole concept. But it all made sense when I read through the hundreds of posts, and I saw just how much we had in common. It also dawned on me that I had stories to tell, and perhaps people would want to hear them. So I thought and though about started my own blog, I knew it’d be a lot of work, but could also be very rewarding. I put it on my to-do list. Late June found us at the Stewart Family Reunion in Wyoming County. We always try to attend the family reunion and to catch up with folks, we’d missed the year before due to a deadline on Shirley’s first book that had to be met, so we made a point to go. We’re glad we did.

Above: The Stewart Reunion

July found us on the mountain. I hadn’t been there since March when Shirley was at the Appalachian Studies Association Conference so it was great to be home. We took the scenic route home, and drove to Covington, Virginia, and then up US 220 through Bath & Highland Counties, and then into Pendleton. It was a nice drive. I still remember how sleek and shiny the cattle were in Bath County. I don’t think I’ve ever seen cattle that looked that good before in my life. While at home, I met an old genealogy friend, Glenn Huffman, and we went looking at a few old cemeteries. We found the tombstone of my great-great-great grandfather, George Sponaugle Cunningham. It was quite a find, and thanks to Glenn’s eye, a stone that I had previously overlooked was identified. Later in July, I started this blog. I was inspired by my trip home, and given the impetus by Granny Sue and encouraged by Shirley. Shirley thinks, as they say on the mountain, that “I can drive hen shit to gunpowder”, so I was pleasantly surprised with the response that I have gotten with the blog. Also in July, we attended the annual McKinney Family Reunion at Twin Falls State Park in Wyoming County. In addition, in the middle of the month, Shirley recorded her CD of original songs in Elkins, WV. In the last part of July, Shirley and I celebrated our 5th anniversary by going on a day trip to Lewisburg to eat at our favorite restaurant, Food & Friends. We also toured the town, visited antique shops and later decided to visit Grandview State Park. It was a good day. We returned home late that night, and the next morning received the sad news that Shirley’s uncle Ray had passed away. I am reminded of the first conversation I ever had with Uncle Ray, he told me a fool-proof way to keep tomatoes from blighting!!!

Above: Shirley talking to Uncle Ray at the Stewart Reunion.

Above: The Humpback Bridge, Covington, VA.

My great-great-great grandfathers tombstone.

Above: July 4th in Germany Valley.

Above: The McKinney Family Reunion.

August arrived with a heatwave. I found myself slipping outdoors a little more to enjoy the sweltering heat, and I also noticed that I seldom went anywhere without the digital camera so I could take photo’s for the blog. August also found us both working on the new book, now titled “Coal Country”. I was a research assistant for Shirley, we work well together, I have no desire to be in the forefront of things and fortunately for both of us Shirley has the ambition to make things happen. Besides, I couldn’t buy a job in Charleston so what better job could I ask for than to work for my wife from home.

September found us neck deep in essays from various people wanting to contribute to the book. It was progressing nicely but was getting quite hectic. I found that my continuing posts to this blog really helped me relax and keep sane (or as sane as I get). I also found that the more I wrote on the blog, the more stories I remembered. It was about this time that I really discovered poetry. I found that I like it a great deal. Whoda thunkit? Also in September, we toured the Arthurdale, a New Deal community in Preston County, WV, and later we attended a political rally in support of Coal River Wind Farm, which offers an alternative to blasting away the last mountain in the Coal River Mountain that hasn't been disturbed by mountaintop removal.

Above: Coal River Wind Project Rally in Charleston, WV.

October was the month from Hell for us. It is usually one of our favorite months and we typically spend it traversing the backroads of the mountains, soaking in the changing seasons and admiring God’s Creation. Instead of this, we had some event scheduled for nearly every weekend. The first weekend Shirley gave a presentation on mountaintop removal to a group of 200+ students at Virginia Tech. The 2nd weekend we had a book signing here in Charleston, and we had to prepare another presentation for the following weekend which was in Roanoke, Virginia, at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference. She spoke at the breakfast plenary session on Environmental Justice in the Coalfields. It was very well attended (300+) journalists from around the world. I must also say that the Roanoke Mall is awesome, and I rediscovered the goodness of frozen cheesecake on a stick at The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. But on a sour note, our hotel (which was not cheap by any means) was horrible. It was at the Quality Inn in Roanoke. Avoid this rat palace at all costs. The ceiling of the room was falling in and water stained, you couldn’t close the bathroom door without lifting the toilet seat, and the bed pillows were really couch cushions!! No kidding! We even complained at checkout and they dismissed us by just saying, “Okay”. Talk about customer service, they could really use some! On the way home, we swung around by Lewisburg and had lunch at Food & Friends, and then went leaf peeping at what was left of the autumn leaves. We did stop at Beartown State Park and experienced a spiritual moment with nature. In between of all this, we also found time to stand in as witnesses at our best friend Christina's wedding.

Above: At Beartown.

Above: Jeff & Christina, newlyweds

November was looked forward to as a time to relax, the presentations were all over and the book was coming together. Shirley had some health issue’s to arise and needed her mommy to soothe her with some homemade potato soup, so I went to Wyoming County and picked up Mawmaw who stayed with us for a few weeks. Also, no Year in Review of 2008 would be complete without some mention of the defining event of the year, the November Election. Let me say that we watched with bated breath the goings on of the wheels of democracy. Shirley and I have both been longtime critics of King George the Unwise, and you might recognize Shirley from footage of the first inauguration of King George where she was protesting by holding a sign that said, “No Count Election, No ‘Count President”. We actually didn’t have a clear choice in the 2008 election, we weren’t really eat up with the message of either candidate. We liked McCain’s stand on mountaintop removal better than Obama’s, but like Obama’s views on education better than McCain, and mountaintop removal and education were our key issues. I guess for us the deciding factor were the VP picks, one of them we disliked, but the other we despised. In the end we recognized that either of them would be better than what we currently have in Office, so we voted our conscience and waited to see who won. We hope the winner has the wisdom to lead this republic in an honorable and respectable manner. I guess I am jaded because for the life of me, I don’t see why anyone would want the job. Late November found me on the mountain for deer season. I had a great time with my family, and hunting…or what passed for it…I shot more photographs than bullets, as a matter of fact, I didn’t even shoot my gun.

Above & Below: Germany Valley, WV. November 2008

December came with a flurry of excitement. Shirley and I are real big Christmas junkies. I decided to wait in anticipation for Der Belsnickel. He showed up just in time. In other news, Shirley and I met the first deadline for the book, Dec. 15, and on the 19th we began our annual migration through West Virginia in celebration of the Christmas season. We had a great time visiting, and got a lot of great gifts. On the way home, hot sausages were spilled, a great stench arose from the back seat of our car that has yet to dissipate, and New Years Eve found us at home playing Nintendo Wii (a Christmas gift from our friends Krystyl & Jeffrey), watching movies and contemplating a prosperous New Year.

Der Belsnickel

I want to thank everyone who brightened my 2008, and to all of those who read and comment on this blog. I hope you will continue to stop by for a visit often, and let me know what you think about things. I hope to get to know you all better in the coming year and I pray that good things await for us all.

Matthew, 2 January 2009