Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Before and After

Ono Almanac has played the boards of Blogger for a year and is looking forward to a second season in 2016. We'll be digging around for things to trot out for your enjoyment.
   An almanac is a collection of lore, facts, history, and observations. It was designed as a way to inform and delight readers as to the ways of the earth, the heavens, cultural beliefs (folklore), and the forces that act upon them. The little booklets were in almost every home with their important predictions of the weather for the coming year, remedies for common illnesses and first-aid advice for accidents as doctors were few, recipes for the housewife, and little essays of morality and service.
   The Harris' Farmer's Almanac, with its little hole for hanging on a nail inside the pantry door within easy reach, was first published in 1692, a scant fifty years after the first settlers arrived on the shores of the North American continent.
  A famous compiler of almanacs was Benjamin Franklin who published Poor Richard's Almanak for 1733 to 1758. It was filled with all of the above plus pithy saying that he collected from vast reading and percolated through his agile brain. The weather forecasts, recipes, etc. have passed into oblivion, but the sayings, maxims, and proverbs are with us today such as:

                Time is the herb that cures all diseases.

   When we say someone is "two-faced" we are being disparaging of their character. The new year starting in January is a civil function of counting time and has no religious significance. It was named for the Roman god of beginning, Janus who had always been represent as having two-faces, looking forward and behind.
   Today the old-year in cartoons is an old man staggering on weak limbs away into the past, while the new year's is shown as a baby lusting to grow and make tracks on the world.

                             Pale January lay
                        In its cradle day by day
                              Alfred Auston

   The vignettes for 2015 were compiled by peeking though the cracks of our memories and those of our friends who grew up in rural areas about the same time our country was beginning to recover from the great depression to be plunged into a devastating war. It has been fun to remember, research and write about everyday things of that era. We are looking forward to a brave new year in 2016 bringing you bits and pieces from the roots of home.
   So with Barbara Appleby, who designs our illustrations, Nash Black says:

           Happy New Year, Everyone.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Magic of Christmas

   Christmas is magic. Things happen that can not be explained in any other fashion. This is a true story. I know because it happened to me.
   Sometime during the 1960s, I'm not sure what year. I took my two young nephews to Hillinmeyer's Nursery, outside of Lexington, Kentucky to visit their living nativity scene on Christmas Eve.
   The local landmark was staged in a working stable with farm animals in their pens and the scene was built in a back stall. The human participants were mannequins. As we knelt before the slated door so the boys could see I noticed that a spider was weaving a web between the points of the crown of the wiseman nearest to us. I point it out to them and started telling my version of the following story.


   Once in the long ago when people went out to the back lot and cut their own cedar tree a strange thing happened that is true magic.
   When you bring a tree in from the wild buried deep in its branches are all the insects and critters who use the tree for their home during the winter. Where the temperature is warm they begin to hatch, much like the praying mantas nest brought home and put in a jar in your room.
   The tree was placed in a bucket of water to keep it fresh and green during the season. Every member of the family had been busy making strings of popcorn and cranberries, gingerbread men, balls of bright colored yarn, crochet snowflakes were starched and ironed, tubes to hold the candles were fitted with ruffled coasters to catch drips. The candles would be lighted on Christmas Day after the family returned from church. Gifts were wrapped in gay papers that had been ironed and carefully saved from holidays past.
   When all the decorations had been attached to the tree and the gifts laid around the trunk on a clean white sheet everyone was banished from the room and the housewife began to clean. The cat and dogs who'd watched from the hearth of the great fireplace were sent to the kitchen. The mother cat was reluctant to leave because she had spotted the pink nose of a brown mouse peaking out through the knot hole in the baseboard.
   The lady of the house took her broom to every nook and corner, polished the furniture, then rested from her labors. The family was ready to celebrate the Savior's birthday when family and friends would be stopping by to share their joy.
   The one place she never thought to sweep clean was deep in the boughs of the tree. A nest began to swell and cracks appeared, tiny grey bodies tumbled out each searching for food and a dark place to hide, like the corners under the eaves in the attic or in the cellar. They staggered out to the ends of the branches.
   Horrified, they confronted a little brown mouse with bright dark eyes staring up at them.
  "Hide, hide, she'll beat you with her broom."
   "The lady of the house. She doesn't want critters near when the baby comes, tomorrow is his birthday. Come down here and look. The gift tree is a sight to see."
   The spiders glided down on fine thin filaments from high in the tree to see why the mouse was so exited. It was hard for them to see until they'd scurried back against the wall.
   What a tree!
   It pointed to the heavens. At the very tip-top was a beautiful lady dressed in white with golden hair and she had wings. Wings like the birds that darkened the sky and ate little spiders. The spiders shook with fear. Where could they hide? Where would they go away from the danger of being devoured before they's had a chance to live? They were trapped in a closed room.
   "Don't be afraid," said the mouse. "Follow me and explore this wonderful tree while it is still dark. I will show you a place above my hole in the wall where it is safe.
   "Hurry. Don't waste my time. The child is almost here and I want a few nibbles of those tasty gingerbread men before I go."
   The spiders crept across the floor back to the tree where they were born, but it wasn't like the tree where their mother placed her nest. This was a brave new tree the likes of which they'd never seen.
   They climbed up the faint silver strands to begin creeping, creeping, and crawling along each branch. The bolder and braver ones took to swinging from branch to branch, delighting with all the exuberance of being alive. Few spiders had ever experienced the thrill of freedom away from fear of the swat of a broom or a heave from a gust of wind that would blow them from their home in the wild.
   "Hurry, follow me. Dawn is coming, we must hide." He gave a big belch and lumbered across the floor with his sides bulging.
   The spiders swiftly followed, dropping from loop to loop of the thin fine filaments. Leaving behind them the stark evidence of their explorations.
    The smallest grey spider turned back for one last look at the glorious tree. His cry of despair was heard by all and they hastened to look.
   Sharp rays of the rising sun struck the gift tree, but it wasn't even pretty. It was dull, bedraggled, and woebegone with branches drooping in shame covered with ugly cobwebs like something lost and forgotten.
   The little spiders shivered in fear and desperation. They never intended to spoil the tree, they only wanted to see what the mouse had proclaimed as so grand. They beseeched the heavens to save the tree for they had meant no harm to come to the child's birthday tree.
   Before their very eyes the beautiful lady began to glow and float from the tree on her pure white wings. She sailed toward them and they cowered against the wall.
   "Be not afraid. All creatures are important to me and have a treasure to give. I accept you gift with joy for this is a day to be shared through the ages."
   Each place she touched shimmered and glowed as the cobwebs turned to gold. She returned to her perch high in the tree and smiled down while the spiders curried to safety under the baseboard.

  As I finished telling the story and got up from the ground I looked up to face a large crowd. Everyone who'd come to visit the nativity were gathered around us watching the spider build its web and were listening to me tell the story.
   No one said a word, a path opened and we walked toward the entrance. There was an exhausted blatt from a pen inside the door. A ewe was giving birth to a black lamb.
   The bells were ringing midnight and it was snowing.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mistletoe: Symbol of Peace

"Mistletoe and Ivy will be the death of me," sighed the old oak-tree.

   The use of mistletoe has faded in popularity as a yule time decoration, yet it may be the oldest of the holiday symbols. It held status of the sacred from the ancient Greeks, Norse, Druids, and Celtic peoples of Europe. The veneration of the plant moved from Europe to America.
   The custom of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe is the one we most remember; it was fun to catch someone unaware under a bunch hanging in a doorway. The kissing ball originated in England, where when someone was kissed a white berry was plucked for the stem until all the berries were gone. Then the bundle was burned to wait another year.
   A very disparaging truth is the word itself. It comes from the Anglo-Saxon as a compound word. "Mistel" means dung and "toe or tan" is a term for a twig or a branch. Putting the two words together they roughly translate as "poop on a stick." Remember they didn't have an old Sears catalogue in the garderobes, which served as indoor outhouses in the castles. So lost and hidden in time there may exist a grain of fact about an unheralded use for mistletoe. Somehow that fails to excite dreams of romance in our hearts.
   The under-the-mistletoe custom is much older than 17th Century England and goes back to the Scandinavian countries, whose Norse gods deemed mistletoe with powerful mystical qualities including protection. Armies would meet under an oak tree sporting the plant and lay down their arms in a truce. Hence it became associated with peace and goodwill. Later it was hung in doorways to tell visitors when they entered a dwelling or tavern there would be no fighting on the premises.
  A bundle of mistletoe hanging in the doorway of a home was protection against evil. Witches and ghosts were held at bay and not allowed to enter the home, much like the use of the herb, henbane.
   It is a rare oak tree where one will find mistletoe. I suspect because oaks contain tannin which acts as a poison to the roots of the interlooping parasitic plant. In Europe the apple tree is a frequent host tree, while in the United States you will find it growing on a number of different species. Here in Ono County the most abundant host trees are walnuts. There are numberous examples along the road from town to our home, some so lush with growth that against the winter sky they seem not to have lost their summer leaves.
   Birds eat the berries and excreet the seeds on branches where they roost. American mistletoe originally grew along the easter coast close to large bodies of water from New Jersey to Flordia. Gradually, the birds have distributed the seeds inland, again frequesntly growing in trees near an extensive body of water such as our inland man-made lakes.
   Romance, fertility, or peace, the use of mistletoe as a decoration for the holidays is a custom we should not let die as it connects us with our ancient past. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Greeting Cards

We got our first Christmas cards this week, a sure sign that the holiday season is upon us and the festivities are right around the corner.
   Sending cards and greetings to family and friends has been a holiday tradition my entire life. It is a holiday tradition our parents shared as we grew up.
   I love getting the colorful cards in the mail as so many contain notes and letters from people who have been a part of our lives in many places. Even the letter carrier looks for the one from Dolly Kalerak, a real Eskimo, who lives in Alaska but winters in Hawaii. We save the cards from year to year and enjoy the letters a second time, trying to answer any questions that were posed last year.
   I also breathe a sigh of relief when none of ours come back marked "addressee unknown" or "decreased" by the post office. At our age, I know, it is to be expected, but still it blights the season.
   A long time ago the jottings of what's been happening were called "bread and butter" notes and were an important part of a Southern education. These past years I've gone back to writing the notes by hand hoping all the recipients will be able to read my handwriting, as over the years it has gotten rather frail.
   The custom of sending cards is very young in terms of holiday traditions, a bit over 100 years  old. The first cards were printed in London, England in 1843. Thirty-one years later (1874) Louis Prang began producing cards in America. These simple cards featured owls, birds, and animals and carried brief messages like, "It's a poor heart that never rejoices." Later the famous Currier & Ives company began issuing their classic scenes of New England winters with horses and sleighs.
  This card illustration is Barbara Appleby's take on one of the delightful owls in a snowstorm card from the Wirths Bros. & Owen company. We thank her for the rush production as she managed to get the essence of the card from my description.
   We invite you to join us by sending cards and notes to friends and family. A card in the mailbox is a signal to let the celebrations begin, just like a Christmas parade. They only come once a year.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Shine the Light

     "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens."
              Line 1, Chapter 3, Ecclesiastes, King James Version

   This is our favorite line from the Bible and it best describers this festive time of the year. We're old fashioned to the extent that we believe the holiday season begins on the first of December and ignore all the commercial hype until that day.
   The first things we notice are the lights. Candles in windows, a tree in a lobby, garlands strung from eaves, fairy lights in trees, and ropes with evergreens twisted around bannisters. Light is the essence of the season and time that provides the cornerstone of observance.
   It is the strong foundation that we think of during the holidays, which have existed in one form or another for centuries in the northern hemisphere. Winter begins for us on December 21st at 11:48 pm when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky.
   A time of a new beginning of the winter equinox when the sun rises, by slow degrees, higher in the heavens each day and the darkness recedes into the past.
   Countless people rejoiced over the eons of time with the reappearance of the sun. They built great monuments to mark the sun's passage of which the Stonehenge in England is only one of many scattered across the globe. The holiday season can be remembered as a Druid rebirth, the birthday of a Roman God, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Christian Christmas, but the flowering motif of all the festivals is light and it emergence from the darkness on earth.
   Be grateful that we live in a country whose founders provided for all beliefs and observe the coming of light in your fashion. If you are greedy like us, try to work a bit from each belief with their different customs into your celebration or create your own. This is what the early church fathers did to make Christianity acceptable to the peoples of Europe as they spread their word of deliverance from what they considered paganism.
   Remember most of all to light a candle and keep it burning throughout the season.

Images are from Google

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Give Thanks

Country Fall
Giving begins at home.
   There are those around you that are in dire straights who can use a helping hand with something extra for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.
   Few in Ono County need be reminded of the art of giving and helping as is noted by the sums of money raised each year for various charities, organizations, and church funds. For most it is a matter of habit as we appreciate what we have. We know how difficult it is to earn and keep our resources, family, and friends. We've all faced times of trepidation when things were rough, but we managed to work our way over the hard times, and want to share with those at home and around the world who are finding living a rough road to hoe.
   The food barrels around the county are one of the best methods to use when you want to give something to help others during this special season without becoming known for your acts of consideration and kindness.
   Giving anonymously is the finest act of helping others because it frees you from being hounded by unwanted solicitations once your name goes on a fund raising list. It allows you the satisfaction of knowing you've given what you can afford to give. To know that your bequests have helped someone you may pass on the street who can keep their dignity as human beings without being obligated to be beholden to you.
   This is the essence of freedom and observance: to be able to walk down the street and smile in greeting to your fellow citizens without knowing their circumstances, nor they yours. It is the importance of have the privilege of living in the freest country in the world. The freedom to give as you choose and not be bound by laws that demand the efforts of your endeavors be distributed to others by the directions of still others. This is now true to some extent, but in danger of becoming a greater burden unless we stand up and defend ourselves and right to make our own choices of giving.
   You can never buy friendship or respect, those qualities must be earned. We've often wondered why our politicians have never learned this simple fact, which our ancestors granted to us with their lives.
   Americans are the most generous group of people who have ever lived on earth. They are also the most maligned and hated for the same quality. So at this season of Thanksgiving remember those close to home, though we've wonder how they cope when presented with a turkey dinner in the raw when all one has ever known of culinary procedures is pushing the buttons on a microwave.
    Maybe before we start delivering food baskets of old to the indigent we might consider supplying the bird precooked in can with an opener.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


"Don't take my picture until I untie my apron."
   That is a sentence I heard more than once from grandmothers, aunts and other relatives. Most women wore aprons when they cooked or worked in the yard, though it was never worn at the table. It was the one garment that was dawned fresh each morning and dropped in the laundry basket at night. Other clothing was often worn for several days especially if one had to pack heavy buckets of water any distance to be heated on the stove before washing could begin. To not change your apron was considered slovenly.
   The cleanliness of an apron is testified by the fact that its was used as the first bandaged when a slipped knife sliced a hand or a finger. Later it was carefully soaked in cold water to get the blood out before it could set and leave a stain.
   The first item a girl made when learning to sew was an apron. I still have one I made in 4-H, it is yellow with a red print and had a matching pot holder that was lost over the years.
   Aprons were used to protect clothing from spills and stains, but they had many other uses. This utilitarian item of apparel dried many a tear and dabbed a skinned knee before an antiseptic was applied to prevent infection.
   Aprons served as a pan or basket for a few beans gathered from an early morning garden or a visit to the hen house. They were useful for drying your hands when a towel wasn't handy. They served as a pot holder or oven mitt to prevent burns.
   A quick shake of your apron would turn it into a fan on a hot day or in the kitchen when standing over the range stirring a pot to prevent food from scorching and sticking. Another fanning motion of an apron was used to herd barnyard animals or clear chickens off the porch.
   Deep pocket could hold clothes pins, a bit of balled string, a knife, keys, scissors, a handkerchief, seed packets, gardening gloves, or other small tools.
  One could always tell when company was expected as the woman of the house would change her apron. Clean and fresh if it was just neighbors, a bit fancier if it was a Sunday and the preacher was expected to drop by for dinner, and if tea was being served for a club or group the aprons would be of the finest lawn and embroidered with pretty flowers. The apron was then carefully folded and left in the kitchen before she greeted her guests.
   Men also often wore aprons as a matter of their trade. A chef's apron is a wrap around affair the length of which is adjusted by folding it over before being tied. A cobbler's apron was usually of heavy leather. The butcher's apron was of heavy cotton duck. The blacksmith apron was of oiled rawhide. An electrician's apron was of thick rubber. A shop apron was sturdy denim.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Honor Those Who Serve

Bugler blows Taps
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month peace was declared to end World War I. Our ancestors believed that this was the war to end all wars. This was not to be and by the time I was born Americans were already engaged in the beginning of another great war.
   Somewhere in the world our military has been engaged in a war or "police action" where the bullets are just as hot my entire life. For the last eighty years our military has put their lives on the line for us defending our freedom and way of life.
November 11th was first designated as Armistice Day in 1919 by then President Woodrow Wilson and continued to do so until shortly before I graduated from high school The name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all members of the military, both living and dead.
   This moment from our history was observed by a minute of complete silence followed by a bugler blowing "Taps." This simple ritual is no longer observed with the passage of time and customs, except by those who do remember the shadows of World War II. That is until Nine-eleven forcibly reminded us that we too are vulnerable.
   Recently I attended a formal military funeral for a veteran from World War II. The keynote of the ceremony was respect for the man and the service he gave to his country.
   These men and women of our military put their personal lives and families on hold for us. They come from all walks of life by many different paths. They represent every race of human beings who have chosen the United States for their home, plus those who descend from who originally inhabited the continent. They adhere to different political creeds and every religious affiliation imaginable because they are Americans who are free to follow their own road.
   Give them the respect they have earned by their own devotion to duty and country as they are willing to give their lives for us.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Spooks, Goblins, and Fun

Cleaning Away Soap
   Th's the season of cats and bats, witches & cauldrons, spiders, snakes, and haints. It's Halloween and Trick or Treat is the theme.
   Going back to my generation that grew up during WWII much of the fun of the season was digging around in the rag bag to create a costume. Ghosts were, of course, a worn out sheet that could be thrown over one's head to cover leggings and sweaters. The fairy queens and princesses were little more exposed to the winds, but they left their coats at a font gate to exhibit their splendor and hold out an old pillowcase for a treat.
   You were allowed to work both sides of the street in your neighborhood. Your mode of transportation were your own two feet because gasoline was limited for emergencies and no parent would have even considered taking their children around to other sites in the car.
   Treats were the home variety: popcorn balls, apples from the back orchard, a slice of molasses cake, or a piece of peanut butter fudge wrapped in wax paper. Sugar was a rationed item and used sparingly on only special occasions for candy. So if one was careful to hide it away where no one could find it, and took a little nibble each day you could make it last for an entire week after Beggar's Night.
   Moving forward a generation in my life was a period when I taught sixth grade. It was a widely observed secret that if a student (mostly boys) were bad actors for strange reason they all ended up in my room. The principal once observed that we had the same mental level.
   I owned a small house with high windows so each season I'd get some of the boys to help me change from screens to storm windows. A couple of the boys stopped by my room after school one day and asked if I minded if they soaped my windows. I reminded then who has cleaned them in the first place. No, I didn't mind the soap, but they had to clean them again for free.
   Before the rounds started they showed up at my house and asked if they could help me pass out treats. Every kid that came to the door was frisked for soap before they were presented with a treat. The boys consumed a couple of quarts of hot chocolate and cookies as they worked the crowd. My windows stayed bright and clean.
   The next day the guidance councilor from the junior high stopped me in the hall to tell me "my boys" had spent the night in jail for harassing the little kids and stealing their candy, except for two who were no where to be found. I laughed and told him about their previous evening of passing out candy.
   Halloween brings special memories and I always think of "Black's Bad Boys." I know not what happen to some of them, three died from drugs or auto accidents before they reached adulthood. Five were killed serving their country in Vietnam and Desert Storm. Others grew up to become professionals, parents, and grand-parents facing the same problems their own parents faced and doing a fine job.
   Tody, "Trunk or Treating" is highly organized and run by adults that leaves little space for life's lessons learned without being institutionalized. It is for the children's safety, but is it in the child's best interest to have everything provided for them?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dinning on a Legend

Did your grandmother have a plate or platter with a blue picture covering the entire surface? An oriental design with a temple, a willow tree leaning over a stream, a man in a boat, a bridge, two birds, bushes, and a fence. If so she had an example of the china pattern that holds the record for the longest unbroken line of production -- Blue Willow.
   Somewhere in the world manufacturers are still making the pattern that began in the early 1700s, which over the years has changed very little, if at all.
Blue Plate Special
   The famous Blue Plate Special was so named because it was originally served on divided blue willow plates in railroad dinning cars. The example shows a standard menu of meatloaf, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, and a corn muffin. The plate was manufactured by the Moriyama company of Japan with the special circle to hold the bread when the dinning car swayed. The cup and saucer are from the American manufacture Homer Laughlin of Newell, WVA restaurant line.
   The unique pattern has come to symbolize hearth, home, family, prosperity, and security. While watching television or a movie it is easy to spot when any of the players sit down to a mean or a snack. Most of the Western films made by John Wayne have blue willow on the table, Miss Ellie's kitchen on the original Dallas used this famous pattern as the film musical Gypsy. It was also in Jessica Fletcher's kitchen on Murder She Wrote. It is fun to watch a meal being eaten and see willow patterned china on the table. It is not always blue, Jimmy Stewart (Cheyenne Cattle Company) and the Cartwrights of Bonanza used red willow to drink their coffee.
   The willow pattern on china is found not only in blue, but a full rainbow of colors (red, green, pink, yellow, brown, black, burgundy, lavender, multi-colored, and fine gold inlay.) It has been manufactured in nearly every country in the world where the clay for fine china is obtained.
   The distinctive pattern is used on book covers, record album covers, napkins, flatware, etched on crystal, imprinted on bathroom sinks, engraved on brass bed warmers, clothing and upholstery, soap, wallpaper, thimbles, hairbrushes, shaving mugs, etc. and the list goes on and on.
   The pattern tells a story of a young man, the girl he loves, her father, their escape from her home, and their deaths. It is a tale that is associated with China, but it has original literary roots in the annals of the King Arthur legends of Tristan and Isolda. The willow story is told in song in Shakespeare as an old folksong. It is one of the major loves stories of the ages.
   Few pieces show up at garage sales or in antique malls today and those that do are invariably over priced on the extremely high side for perfectly ordinary ware that was produced by the tons in the Untied States, England, Japan, and China during the 19th and 20th centuries. In some cases it is easy to tell the country of origin by the birds, Japan's have fat birds where most of the US and others have skinny birds.
   Nash Black spent a week last summer in Dallas, TX visiting with other international willow collectors and have enjoyed their fellowship for twenty-five years. Somewhere in all their mysteries and ghost stories you will find willow mentioned.
   Jim Young was introduced as a character in Sandprints of Death when he finds a shard of the willow birds in the sand on a winter beach. Edisto Island, off the coast of South Carolina was struck by a hurricane and a hotel was swept into the ocean in 1893. Pieces of the broken china from the dinning room still wash  up on the beach after over 100 years.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cricket on the Hearth

Have you ever awaken to repeated sounds of "chirp, chrip?" Somewhere is your home a cricket has sought refuge from the dropping temperatures of oncoming winter. Their lair is difficult to locate, but the constant sound will keep you awake for many hours.
It's difficult to tell the shiny black House (Acheta domestica) from a Field cricket. The house cricket is an immigrant, introduced to the Americas from Europe. The field cricket is native born. Most crickets are nocturnal, but the house cricket will sing at any time the mood strikes them. They both live outdoors in warm weather and can frequently be found in garbage dumps. They lay their eggs in the ground during the summer to hatch the following spring.
Their addiction to warm temperatures begins their fall migration indoors where they announce their presence with a cheerful sound. The incessant chirping, which is produced by rubbing their wings together like grasshoppers may at first be greeted with pleasure, but after a day or so becomes a nuisance. The sound of the house cricket is faster than that of a field cricket and will increase or decrease in volume depending on the temperature.
What to do when your patience wears thin listening to the repetitive sound is a major dilemma and depends on where your superstition level lies.
Throughout history the cricket has been revered or disdained according to popular culture. In China and the Far East they are a sign of intelligence and good fortune. They are caught or raised and then sold in small bamboo cages for children to admire and keep as pets. They herald the coming of money and to kill one is misfortune.
The American Indians are divided, Eastern tribes consider them good fortune while some Western tribes consider them an ill omen.
Crickets are a source of food in some cultures and many a fisherman has used them as bait with good success. Money coming is a persistent belief when a cricket sings in your home.
Appalachian lore holds that if you kill a cricket its relatives will invade your house and eat your socks. We don't need crickets for that, the washer and dryer do a fine job of making socks disappear.
Take you pick, but for sure the chirp of a cricket in your home is another harbinger that winter is on its way.
Nash Black adopted and designed a logo for a roadside diner where their characters meet for meals and to tell stories, though they spell it The Kricket. See Haints http://amzn.com/1432727672 for their award nominated collection of ghost stories.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Long May She Wave

We normally don't post two items the same day, but this morning we went over to the state park for breakfast and saw some items which hit a sore spot.

Today, Sunday, June 14th is Flag Day. A special day when we honor our country's flag. It is important that we remember this day so we are writing almost after-the-fact because since 9/11 many sightings of our American flag have not been in honor, but desecration.
Myth holds that George Washington asked Betsy Ross, a seamstress, in Philadelphia to construct our first stars and bars after the resolution of the Second Continental Congress was passed on June 14, 1777. It read:
"Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."
There may have been a rough sketch involved or a copy of the resolution that was published on September 2, 1777.
An interesting point is that Washington, himself, used six pointed stars, which was the British style. The stars on our coins at the time had six points, yet our flag uses the French style of five points and may have originally been a gesture to salute that nation for their aid during the Revolution.

These are ten brief guidelines on how to fly the flag of the United States of America.
1. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
2. Then it is never allowed to touch the ground or the floor.
3. When hung over a sidewalk on a rope extending from a building to a pole, the union stars are always away from the building.
4.When vertically hung over the center of the street, the flag always had the union stars to the north in an east/west street, and to the east in a north/south street.
5. The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
6. The flag should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
7. The flag should be displayed at half-staff on Memorial Day until noon, then raised to the top of the staff.
8. Never fly the flag upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
9. The flag is never flown during inclement weather except when using an all-weather flag.
10. The flag can be flown every day from sunrise to sunset and at night if properly illuminated.

Nash Black's Twitter post for Flag Day was: Wave it. Don't wear it.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sunday Nature Study

Lonnie E. Brown
When I was growing up near Ono, there weren't any computer games or cell phones to entertain us. We had to create our own diversions. I went to school weekdays and helped my dad on Saturdays, so Sunday after church was the only time I was truly on my own.
The activity I enjoyed most was to conduct nature studies. I usually did not tell my mom because, if I did, I was sure to get a scolding about being an aggravating little thing that should not bother innocent little creatures.
One of my encounters that I classified under the heading of nature studies was with a mud dauber wasp. Mud daubers are solitary wasps that construct small nests of mud in or around sheds, barns, or under structures or similar sites.

Mud Dauber nest by Barbara Appleby
My dad said mud daubers should be considered beneficial. They rarely sting people and they catch disagreeable spiders and insects, which they do sting to paralyze them for placement in their nests in a series of cells. They lay a single egg on the prey and seal the cell with mud. Then the female leaves and does not return. The larva hatch from the eggs feeding on the prey until it is time to emerge and start the process all over again.
One of my afternoon walks had not turned up anything of interest, until I noticed a mud dauber fly under the storage shed my Dad had built near the house. I crawled under the shed and saw the wasp was in the process of constructing a nest. I knew the females collected mud, rolled it into a ball, carried it to the nest, and molded it into place with its mandibles. This nest was well under way and she was adding ringed layers of mud at this point. Without noticing me, she flew away for another mud ball.
I carefully reached up and removed the mud ring she had just attached to the nest. Then I waited. In a few minutes the dauber returned with another mud ball. It seemed puzzled, but it went to work, applied another ring of mud, and then flew off. Again I reached up and removed the last mud layer. Then I moved out of sight and waited.
Shortly, the dauber returned with another load. Now it was really frustrated. It sensed something was wrong as it wasn't making any progress. It checked the entire nest, going up, over, and all around. Finally, it added the last load and flew off again.
I moved in fast and removed the mud. I was curious about what it would do when it came back. I didn't have long to wait. The poor dauber returned again and saw the mud was gone. It dropped the ball of mud it carried and flew away. Although I waited a long time, she never came back.
I crawled out from under the shed feeling a little guilty about what I had done to the hard working dauber and went to the house. I learned a valuable lesson that Sunday from the little dauber. When you see you aren't getting anywhere in spite of your best efforts, cut your losses and move on.

Lonnie Brown is a fine teller of tales as his, Stories You Won't Believe exemplifies. He also collaborates with his wife, Roberta Simpson Brown, for some hair raising ghost stories.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

County Fair

Smells. Odor. Aroma. The instant you enter the gate of a county fair your olfactory sense is bombarded by machine gun bullets of images that have lain dormant in the memory cells of your brain. Scientists maintain that our sense of smell is the last one we lose as we age and that it triggers more forgotten memories than any of the other four.
Go out to the fair that has endured for over a century and breathe in the enticing aroma of your yesterday when a ticket bought the excitement of the gaudy midway and a night of thrills. Take you grandchildren, banning all tablets & cell phones and let them explore the world of smell. Cover their eyes and encourage them to identify the odor of horse droppings, the sweetness of honey, the burnt sugar of cotton candy, the fumes of gasoline, and the buttery crispness of popcorn all coming at them in a calliope of sensation. Today they may believe the Grands are a bit on the balmy side, but in future years they will be introducing their own grandchildren to the different odors collected witnin the fenced grounds of a fair.
Summer time is fair time. To be a perfect county fair it must be hot enough to bake potatoes on the roof of the grandstand or rainy enough that rivulets of sweat dripping from you nose match the drops splashing in the puddles on the road. There is never anything fair-to-meddling about county fair weather. Mother Nature provides her own perfume to match the whim of her outstanding productions.
Fairs are first and far most about individual competition and the judge's decisions are final, at least until next year. The idea of individual competition has almost disappeared from our consciousness and been replaced by teams or groups, both in industry and education. Though for the life me I've never discovered a group brain. The county fair revises the importance of individual achievement.
Who bakes the best pie? Who preserves the crispest pickles? Who trains and rides the most skilled horse? Who raises the most outstanding pig? Who drives the strongest team of horses? Who creates the most intricate quilt design? These questions and many more are answered each year at the county fair. Who is crowned Grand Champion and takes home the purple ribbon of royalty? It is a glorious week of achievements and recognition for the individual and speaks to the very foundation of American principles.
It is also dirty, muddy, grubby, and loads of fun to dance along on the winds of smells , no matter what your age.

Nash Black thanks the contributors to Google Images for the photos on this blog, they are not their own.

Faded Photographs

While browsing in a flea market, antique store, or cleaning out the attic of a family home have you opened a photo album with black paper or an old shoe box and found a stack of old black and white photographs? Maybe you stopped and wondered who these people where that graced the glossy surfaces.
You know they are from an era way before your time, the quality of the image may be poor being either over or underexposed. They may be blurred because of a slow shutter speed and a shaking hand, fingers may extend down over the lens, heads may be cut off as the view finder and the lens did not see the same part of the image.
Selfies are not new, one of the first was taken by Charles Eastman using his new development, the hand held box camera. His box camera opened the world of photography to the public for personal (amateur) photos. Its size may have become smaller over the years, but the same basic design lasted well into the 1960s. Today you will see examples gracing the shelves of antique stores.
A roll of film would allow 12 images, double images were a hazard when you forgot to wind the film, and flash bulbs provided light for indoor shots. You used your roll of film and then, either took it to the drug store or mailed it in a yellow envelope to be developed and the pictures printed. This generally took about a week or a little more before you could enjoy the product of the little box of immorality.
A careful exploration of the faded photographs revels four basic subject: stills, children, animals, and people. None of the are labeled so the futre viewer does not know where they where taken or who posed for the camera.

Still lifes are bowls of fruit, plants, holiday decorations, vehicles, homes, barns, etc. They are flat and lifeless with one shape blending into another without definition. Shadows, if they exist at all, are muddy and indistinct.

Children's faces are ugly squints as they face the sun. The instructions that came with the camera told the photographer to let the rays of the sun fall over his left shoulder to properly illuminate the subject. Children being who they are adore making funny faces for the camera.

Animals that were prized for their qualities or family pets are beloved subjects for the roving lens and were often used to finish a roll. Dogs and cats have enlarged heads and small bodies as the photographer was bending over bending over to snap the picture while the pets stretched to investigate this strange thing that was being that was being poked their way. Blurs were common where paws and tails moved while the shutter was open.

People are stilted and posed in groups, dressed in their Sunday best standing on steps, sitting on porches, or perched on the family car, but wearing phony smiles or grimaces of endurance while waiting for the photographer to study the image through the view finder.
The romanticize portrait of an individual, usually a girl posed against a tree was a common favorite. The setting was used by amateur and professional alike. The worst one of this genre I ever saw was the engagement photo of a former student. The trunk of the tree was covered with poison ivy, It required hospitalization and two weeks for her to recover from the photo session.

On rare occasions you will discover a jewel where luck played a greater factor than skill. Treaure these old photographs as they are a glimpse into everyone's past.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fox in the Hay

A tiny sprinkle of rain and an overcast sky did not put a damper on our anticipation of a Memorial Day holiday ride across my parents old farm on the 4-wheeler. Unbeknownst to me at the time it was to be one of the last carefree mornings I spent with my husband of many years, Dennis Hardin.
We lolled and lulled along, enjoying the rolling landscape, the little pond surrounded by cattails, the crocking of frogs, the bales of new mowed hay marching across the fields, the smell of wild honeysuckle (yellow and gold) that hugged the fencerows. We were coming back up the east side of the field when Dennis spied a little fox caught in a bale of hay. The hay was bound with twine, and the fox was at the bottom of the bale, half hidden by the hay. His right hind leg was caught in the binding twine and about to encircle his throat from his struggles to free himself.
He was a beautiful little fox--a baby--with captivating brown eyes, a soft mouth, and perfectly symmetrical ears--a face that bespoke of youth and innocence. He was barely weaned, yet there was an impatience about him that comes from living in the wild.
How to loosen him was the problem. Since he partially covered by the hay and attempted to bite the stick Dennis put up gently to him, we knew he still had plenty of life. He was either badly bruised or had cut himself since a few green flies had gathered around for the kill.
There was no was to loosen the twine, now triply knotted and tightly bound round the bale. We had nothing with us to cut the cords that bound him in his prison. We raced back to the barn to get a pair of sheers to free him and were back in about ten minutes.
Our brief absence seemed to have resigned him to his fate. Dennis held him with little resistance on the fox's part, while after several tries, I cut through the twine. He was free. Swiftly as a bird he was into his underground hole a mere three feet away from where we stood.
Since then I've wondered, was his fate that afternoon accidental or pre-ordained? Like Burn's mouse, did the "best laid plans of mice and men go oft astray?" And the best laid plans of foxes, too -- did they, like humans, somehow manage to get to their destinations, though often through a labyrinth of unforeseen tangles?

Dr. Elizabeth Harden, retired professor from Wright State University in Dayton, OH is our guest writer for this post. She is no stranger to Ono County.
The delightful "Fox in the Hay" sketch is by Barbara Appleby.
Nash Black thanks both ladies for their efforts contributions to this blog.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Some Granny Cures

There was a time when grandmothers knew everything or were believed to by their young worshipers who treasured their presence when illness struck. Today medical science tends to pay Granny more respect for her home remedies than it did during previous generations when the marvels of science was all the rage.
     Splinters were common as toys and many other items were constructed of wood, not plastic. Most were easily extracted with a needle from Granny's sewing basket. If this method proved difficult and more powerful measures were required she reached for an egg. She cracked it, set the yolk and white aside for other uses and carefully pealed the white membrane away from the shell. She gently applied this over the break in the skin above the splinter. The theory being that the egg skin as it dried would draw the splinter to the surface to be removed with tweezers. Today, a dad of white glue can produce the same results when left to dry. It can then be pulled away bringing the splinter with it.
     Chiggers and mosquito bites were doctored with an old friend, Absorbine Jr. This one I know from experience and keep a bottle within easy reach in the bathroom spring, summer, and fall. How many can remember using clear finger nail polish to seal the little hole left by a chigger? Generally one application will stop the itching and burning so the bite can heal on its own.
     Forgetfulness was relieved by cutting a lemon in half and then rubbing the tips of both halves. Next time you cannot find your keys or your glasses try the lemon cure.
     Onions were just not for hamburgers. Every home had a supply of onions; the hot type that would instantly bring tears to your eyes when their skins were pierced. I remember them being referred to as 'keeper' or Spanish onions, they were hard and yellow that when cooked had a pungent taste. For colds and flu they were Granny's friends.
If you were coming down with a cold you would be fed fried onions for supper or given a slice of raw yellow onion to eat just before bedtime. By morning cold symptoms would be gone. For a cough due to a cold cooked onions would be mixed with honey for a soothing syrup.
Another tried and true cold treatment is to gargle with warm salt water before going to bed to relieve a sore throat.
My grandmother was a nurse during the terrible winter of 1918 when a virulent strain of flu raced across the United States killing many people. Her family never caught the flu as she kept half a fresh yellow onion in a dish by each bed. She discovered the ancient remedy in farm homes whose residents were ill, but did not die. When the flu virus was present in the room of the patient the onion would turn black overnight. Why this worked no one knew, but it did.
     Minor burns were treated by immersing the burned area in cold water and allowing it to dry, then the burn was covered with the scrapings from the outside of a potato and lightly bandaged.
     A Band-Aid was Granny's cure for scraps and cuts and my nephew firmly believed it. He bit his tongue and was screaming his head off when he was confronted with a mumble fingered aunt who didn't know anything. Have you ever tried to fit a Band-Aid to a three year-old's tongue? Once I applied the marvel cure he quieted down and was cured.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Country Stores

The country or mercantile store stocked items that were needed on the farm or in the home that would save their customers the long trip to town when time was precious. It wasn't unusual to see fan belts hanging near jars of mustard and ketchup. Cans of 30 weight oil would be stashed next to the soda crackers. Rubber galoshes were stored on bottom shelves and 20 Mule Team Borax soap was easy to hand as it was used not only the housewife, but her spouse for cleaning hides to tan. Hoe and ax handles occupied a dark corner. Items the farm family would run out of or break at the time they were most needed. Every thing was crammed into a small dark space that was lite by kerosene lamps until RECC strung electric lines, which in remote areas did not arrive until after WWII.
A radio perched on a shelf above the cash register. It was tuned to the local station for weather reports, music, and late breaking news. A city newspaper was neatly folded on the counter and most likely a day or more old, but read by customers before being returned to the counter. It was then recycled as wrapping for a package or sandwich.
A phone was mounted on the wall beside the door. The owner collected a nickel before you turned the handle and gave the number or name of the person you wanted to call to the operator, who placed the call for you.
A few had small lunch counters for area workers to grab a sandwich (made to the customer's specifications on the spot), chips, and a beverage. Most of the time the drink cooler occupied a space on the porch within easy reach of a bench or hickory slate bottom chairs where customers relaxed between jobs and traded news of the day. Spring through Fall these were occupied from opening until the lock was turned for the evening.
Recycling of bottles was the prerogative of children, who collected the empties and earned a penny for each return. The precious earnings were gaily spent on another soda or candy bar.
Outside there was a 55 gallon drum with a pump for filling a jug with kerosene. There was one or sometimes two if the store was on a major pike out by the road for regular and diesel gas. The brands differed, but one I remember was the flying red horse. The customer obtained the key to the pump, filled our own tank, relocked it, and paid inside. A normal fill up was five gallons at 25 cents per gallon. Beside the pump was a bucket of water, a squeegee, with a towel for cleaning windshields and air for the tires was free.
The corner store was a mecca for small children whose eyes would devour all the shelves of wonders and listen with relish to the tales that were told. The town of Grab, KY in Adair County was so named because the owner of the store kept a bucket of hard candy for small children to "grab one handful" when accompanied by an adult.
Cold winds brought everyone inside to a wood stove and a barrel with a checker board, where many a battle was raged. A pot of vegetable soup and coffee kept hot on the stove replaced the summer fair.
There are still a few such stores operating in KY today and several have gained a national reputation, but the ambiance is not the same with plastic wrapped sandwiches, candies, and prepackaged goods.
Who can remember when the owner took bulk cheese or bologna from the cooler, used a counter knife to slice a hunk, fished a pickle out of the jar with his fingers, and handed it to you. Did anyone die from such cavalier sandwich makings?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bees, Bees, Bees

The true honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. They were brought to the North American continent by the early setters prior to 1638. The specie is a docile bee who doesn't attack unless they are disturbed or frightened.
Honey bees survive the winter on their stores of honey and by clustering. They move closer together and continue to move their wings, legs, and bodies to produce enough heat to keep the compact cluster alive.
Each colony can tolerate only one queen. She remains within the shelter and begins laying eggs in February. The small cone shaped white eggs are attached one to each cell. It takes about three days for them to hatch. As the days grow longer and warmer, the cluster expands and prepares for the division of the colony.
New cells are built, these brood cells are kept open and the larva are fed a diet of "royal" jelly. When the grub -like larva are full grown and fill the cell, it is capped. Then the larva pupates after spinning a cocoon.
Bees swarm when a new queen appears in the hive. The old queen takes about half of the colony and seeks a new home.
In the early days bees were kept predominately for their honey and wax, but today about 80 percent of our field crops are pollinated by honey bees. This is not true for native species of grasses and flowers--they need to be pollinated by native species of bees.
Since about 2005 there has been a drastic drop in honey bee populations, which has been contributed to many environmental factors or just plain sloppy beekeeping. Many apiculturists recommend returning to the ways of the ancestors to restore health to the colonies. The death of a hive is referred to colony collapse disorder (CCD).
Research seems  to indicate that the use of systemic pesticides, which stay in the plant for the life, known as neonicotinoids affect the bees' ability to home in on the hive because of an induced dementia leaving the queen and a few workers unable to sustain the colony.
New colonies have been imported from Italy and today in Kentucky there are 4,000 to 5,000 beekeepers managing around 20,000-25,000 colonies of bees, which is a big increase from five years-ago.
Backyard gardeners can do their part to sustain the world of pollinators by planting red clover, lavender, buttercups, and goldenrod in their flower beds as a source of food supply for the production of honey.

Ancient bee beliefs include:
Bees will not thrive if their keepers quarrel over them,
An unclaimed swarm settling on your property is bad luck, and
The bees must be informed when a death happens and be invited to the funeral, black cloth must be hung over the hives to indicate mourning.

Ancient Bee Keeping Advice
     Set hive on a plank (not low by the ground)
          Where herbe with the flowers may compass it round:
    And boordes to defend it from north and north east,
           From showers and rubbish, from vermin and beast.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Don't Do Windows

by Dr. Elizabeth McWhorter Hardin

Whoever invented windows must have been mentally challenged. I'd like to think that BW (before windows) people were happy-rather like living in a graveyard-nobody wanting in and nobody wanting out. So there was no compelling reason to look see.
Why is cleaning windows so humiliating? Why is it that ordinarily sane people-even those who are paid for hire-flee for their lives when window cleaning is mentioned? Of all domestic chores, why is this one rated first among the most despised, dreaded, and postponed?
Each spring the window-washing battle becomes less and less challenging. And it returns, regular as the seasons. I indulge in a private pity party, then get out the hose, brushes, Windex, Fantastic, paper towels, old fabric towels, squeegee, stepladders, and head outside. I put on my big picture hat and wear dark sunglasses.
I'm going about 30 mph, hosing down each window, brushing the shutters, applying the Fantastic, drying off the shutters with the fabric towels, and applying Windex to the glass before polishing the panes with paper towels.
My mind wanders as I settle into my routine. Chief, my neighbor's dog, wanders over seeking attention with his tail wagging for a few pets. I take the time from my drudgery to minister to his needs. Time that in our busy lives has become a rare collectible.
Suddenly, a butterfly lights on the flowering hedge to become my companion for a spell. I have see a lot of butterflies, but have never taken the time to closely observe them. This one is a shimmering rainbow, a stunning kaleidoscope of gold and black and orange. I watch his antennae as they touch the small flowers. I am fascinated by his movement-in concentric circles from left to right-over and over again. There is such delicacy about his form and such beauty in his movements that his routine doesn't seem to be mundane.
The robins are nesting out in the big Elm tree. They go about their task happily twittering. Building a nest is a cooperative venture, which takes effort to compact the mud and straw. I cannot help but notice their patience, as straw by straw the nest takes shape. I can vision the sky blue eggs, followed by four tiny heads peeping out over the edge of the nest. Then mother will edge them out when it is time to take wing. Her maternal instincts will watch over them until they can fly solo.
As the long morning drifts into afternoon, I am at the last window and cannot believe it. Where has the day gone? Was I completely frazzled from anticipated tedium and boredom?
Not this time because of what I've learned from nature's audience: from Chief, the knowledge that both animals and humans need love; from the butterfly, a recognition that beauty, harmony, and industry can co-exist; and from the robin, that most of life is a perch, not a nest. I have to wonder why so many humans never teach their young to fly solo and call their act protection while clipping their wings.
From all of them, I learned the need for persistence, patience, and an unquestioning acceptance of mundane routine. One could do worse than be a washer of windows.

Dr. Elizabeth McWhorter Harden, graduated from Russell County High School, KY and ended her academic career as Dean of the Department of English at Wright State University, Dayton, OH. She wrote this piece at the farm where she grew up and has been a friend to Nash Black for more years than either care to count. We thank her for the thought provoking contribution to the Ono Almanac.
The sketch of the woman washing windows was drawn by Russell County's Barbara Appleby.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pocket Knives

I watched an old man refuse to hand over his pocket knife to the deputies at the Justice Center. He turned around and walked out. A few minutes later he returned to pass through the scanner without the knife. He laid his vehicle keys in the basket and went to renew his driver's license.
The deputy called to him that he'd forgotten to pickup his keys.
"Keep 'em till I get back."
"We'd have returned the knife."
"Young man, I locked it in the car. I don't give up that knife to anyone. My father gave it to me when I was eight years-old."
Some years later I was watching one of the deputies admire the collection of pocket knives that he was holding for men who were transacting business and I asked him when he got his first knife. A smile of pleasure spread across his face at the memory.
"For Christmas when I was nine, my father gave it to me. I still have it."
What is it about the small knives that evoke a rite of passage from childhood to boyhood, which they treasure their entire lives? I posed the question on Facebook and the answers I got were from women.
Roberta Simpson Brown told me her father collected pocket knives and he gave her the ones she liked. She had one shaped like a coffin and several advertising Elvis. She never envied the guys because she had her own knives.
The famous Swiss Army knife came up in the discussion when one gal told of losing one while trying to cut a fishing line, buying a new one, and later finding the old knife crusted with mud, but still working. I carried an old Barlow in my camera case until the case expired from old age and it now resides in my desk to open letters.
Genealogies are traced with love as we handle the knives our fathers and grandfather's carried. A huge world of collectors meet to admire, discuss, appraise, and trade the sturdy instruments.
Nash doesn't remember when he got his first knife or when he started carrying one. It is a part of getting dressed in the morning like putting his wallet and keys in his pocket or combing his hair. He does remember each one he has lost over the years with fond regret like the one that had a tee bar that swiveled with one blade or the one with imitation pearl sides.
Another one he remembers is similar to the one my father carried. It was about two inches long with three blades and horn sides. My dad's was a Case with three blades, one of which had to be a fingernail file. I can't remember how many we bought over the years for presents after he'd lost the previous one in the garden. These shorter knives were often referred to a pen knives.
A good stout pocket knife has a many uses as it has owners: opening letters and boxes, cleaning your nails, pruning bushes and plants, cutting flowers, removing splinters, paring an apple into slices, and on-and-on.
A blade should be honed to razor sharpness to be effective for the many chores it is asked to perform and it must hold it's edge. What is your favorite use for a pocket knife?
Warm weather brings out that venerable institution of whittling and shooting the breeze. Many of the old men you once saw sitting in the sun were artists with wood  who'd produce small animals and toys for the lucky child who admired their work.
Times change, customs disappear with the years, but will we one day join the ghosts of the whittlers on the square?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Comes to the Cumberland

Spring officially arrived in Ono County on March 20th at 5:45 pm CDST. This is when the sun was directly over the equator on its journey to the Northern Hemisphere. Scientifically it is referred to as the Vernal Equinox.

White Trillium, Blue Flocks, & Violets 
Spring in the Cumberland region is a time when the trees bloom. A time when the lake can be coated with enough pollen to create a yellow sea. The woods become a fairy land with the deep wine of the redbud with an understory of frothy layers of white dogwoods.

The Cumberland Plateau is an east/west range of old mountains that extend across the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. The Cumberland River meanders through the plateau in all directions before it enters the Ohio River moving north from Kentucky. This includes a broad dip through downtown Nashville. It was once the major highway of the region, but is now home to several TVA lakes with great fishing and boating.
Spring is an odd time and the locals who live close to the seasons describe the cold snaps as "winters." We overheard a group of coffee drinkers discussing the various winters and which one caused the most impact as we ate breakfast the other morning.
Redbud or Linen Britches Winter: These are two names that allude to the first cold snap after the flush of early spring. Linen Britches refers to the fact you've been fooled by warm weather and have put away heavy clothing for the coolness of linen.
Dogwood Winter occurs close on the heals of Redbud winter when the dogwoods are in bloom.

Tulips Dusted with Snow
Blackberry Winter is the next progression when the thorny bushes bloom.
Whippoorwill Winter is the last hard cold snap when you can hear his song at the twilight. This bird is heralded as the true harbinger of spring.
Locust Winter occurs when the Black Locust trees are in flower spreading their sweet smell and pollen across the land.

Firewood & Yellow Trillium
Stump Winter is the final round, it is so described because you've burned everything but the stumps from your winter fuel supply.
Each "winter" is milder than the previous and it isn't unusual to find violets and daffodils blooming through the snow. This past winter has been particularly difficult for many Kentuckians so any evidence of an early spring brings delight and joy. It is still a good idea to wait until Locust Winter to set out your tomato plants.
Nash Black would like to thank the late Lester Acree of Jamestown, KY for helping us get the winters in the correct order.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Keep On Truckin'

1920s pickup truck
The universal symbol of rural areas is a pickup truck. They have been in use for generations and have survived the age of fashion statements as in "in" vehicle to drive. Long before they became popular we were using some northern college kids to help us clear brush at the farm. On the way home one turned to me and said, "I wish I had the pickup truck franchise down here. I'd make a fortune."
These sturdy vehicles are used every where for dozens and dozens of chores. People are known by the truck they drive, someone may not know the owner's name, but you can be sure they know the truck. They seldom wear out and often a good overhaul is less expensive than the cost of a new one, so in terms of a sound investment nothing beats the purchase of a pickup truck.
2015 Chevy
Everyone has their own personal favorite manufacture. Many an argument has originated as to the virtues of each brand. For ourselves, other than switching to four-wheel drive thirty-five years ago it is the same basic design.
Meeting a truck coming toward you institutes a wonderful southern custom of waving. It is of small significance whether the driver is known to you. He may not know you personally, but is waving at a truck he does recognize, so you wave back to return the greeting. This custom drives outsiders crazy as they spend the rest of the day trying to figure out who that stranger was who waved at them in the morning.
The following is a true story that happened to us on a visit for an IRS audit in a large city:

"It was 12 degrees below zero, most of our records were frozen in the trunk of the car.
"The auditor asked, "What do use a pickup truck for on a farm?"
"All I could see, in my mind, was hand carrying each bale of hay from the field to the barn. My brilliant answer, "To get from place to place."
I immediately packed up what I had, walked out, and requested another auditor.
Later, a friend who owned the largest dairy operation in the county and knew of our experience got the same guy, who asked the same question.
Sam's answer, "To haul manure. Want a lift?"
     Nash Black, Writing as a Small Business, 2008, p. 84


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Life Before Electricity

Noted ghost storyteller Roberta Simpson Brown recalls what it was like growing up without electricity.
As a child growing up in the country I had no problems with road conditions, school closings, food supplies, home activities, or entertainment. We lived on a dirt road about a mile off the main highway. If we needed something from the nearest  store that we could not carry, Dad hitched our mule or horse to the wagon in the summer or sled in the winter.
Our sled was handmade of wood with runners carved from small crooked trees. Most of the traveling was done by foot, by wagon, or occasionally by horseback. Few farm families had cars and for those that did during World War II gasoline was rationed and was only used for travel in dire emergencies.
In the winter we did not have school closings because of the weather. We used "shanks mare" transportation, which meant we walked in all kinds of weather and didn't think a thing of it. Our one room school had a wood stove for heat and light came in from outdoors through large windows so we could see to do our work.
We always had plenty to eat as we grew most of our own food during the summer month and preserved it for winter meals. Before our root cellar was dug, we buried beds of turnips, carrots, and potatoes for winter consumption. The orchard provided, apples, cherries, pears, and peaches, while our supply of nuts came from the wooded areas around us.
My mother kept chickens, so we had lots of eggs for breakfast and chickens to fry for Sunday dinner. My father raised hogs for hams, side-meat (bacon), sausage, and other cuts of the sweet meat. It was smoked in the smoke house for later usage.
Our cow provided us with milk, cream, and butter. Summer month were the hardest times to keep our food from spoiling. My father made a spring box that kept the milk and butter cool in its fresh, running water. We also had several hives of bees that provided us with honey for eating with butter on hot biscuits and for the homemade desserts Mom created. She used both the fireplace and the iron kitchen range to fix our meals.
After supper, we did our homework, read, or wrote by kerosene lamps. We often gathered around the fireplace or wood stove to share stories if neighbors or relatives came by. It was fun to talk and listen. Sometimes we played music and sang. We had a battery-operated radio, but we had to select favorite shows. If we used the radio too much the battery ran down. Hand cranked record players were called victrolas.
Air conditioning was unheard of, so much of our time was spent outdoors. By bedtime the house would cool off enough for us to sleep inside. You can still see many old farmhouses that had open or screened second story porches for sleeping.
My mother used a washboard, hung the clothes outside to dry, and ironed them with a flatiron heated on the kitchen range. In the summer iron kettles of water were heated over open fires for doing the laundry. The last load was usually the children so their mothers didn't have to carry extra water from the spring for baths. It wasn't unusual to see women using a board across the backs of two chairs and ironing outdoors. This was also true for those who had a second wood kitchen range to do their canning in the cool shade of the trees.
We've come a long way from those days and ways of thinking. Now we take electricity for granted. We walk into our homes, flip a switch, and expect a light to come on. We press a button on a remote control and expect to operate a TV or DVD player. We are comfortable with our refrigerator, microwave, washer and dryer humming along.
Then a storm takes down the power lines. Without a time machine to transport us, we suddenly find ourselves back in time. All the conveniences that we have grown accustomed to can be snatched away in a moment, leaving us fairly helpless unless we have a store of self-reliance to see us through the rough times of life without electricity.

Roberta Simpson Brown, grew up in Russell County, KY during World War II before electricity was brought to their rural farm. She graduated from Russell County High School in 1958, Berea College, and taught English in the Louisville, KY Public School System until her retirement. She and her husband have been publishing and telling ghost stories for nearly forty years. Their next collection is Holiday Hauntings: Twelve Months of Kentucky Ghosts which will be published by the University of Kentucky Press.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Right Snuff

1942 glamour girl shows us the right snuff in a small almanac from Memphis, TN. The first half of the volume is an excellent pictorial essay on the cultivation of tobacco and the production of "Where the Very Finest SCOTCH SNUFF in the World is Made." The photo collection even shows a flatbed truck loads with hogsheads (large barrels) that were used to transport tobacco from the sales floor to the factory.
It claims that once the tobacco reaches the manufacturing plant it is not touched by human hands.
The fashion of taking a small pinch of snuff has long receded into history, but you can still find the lovely ornate snuff boxes that were a part of every gentleman's attire. Ladies took their snuff in the privacy of their boudoir.
Kids, like me, stole a pinch to try what the grownups enjoyed and were deathly ill. That may be one reason snuff is no longer popular as we remember hiding outside and heaving so our parents wouldn't discover our peccadillos. Once was enough for my snuff escapades.

The last part of the volume is devoted to regular almanac information with one exception.
WEATHER FORECASTS: "We are not including weather forecast for it is a well-established fact that the weather can not be predicted accurately for more than a few days in advance."

If you dream of growing cabbage, it is a sign of good fortune, but if you're eating cabbage in your dream it is a sign of sorrow.
Eggs give real problems - If you see many in your dream it is a sign of pain or great noise. If the eggs are broken it signifies a great loss.
If you see a kite in your dreams then be on guard against robbers.
If you observe an idiot in your dream if is a sign of a long life.

Having trouble hanging a picture - here is some sound advice. "To put a screw into a plaster wall so that it will hold, drive a nail into the plaster, then remove the nail and plug the hole with steel wool. As a rule, the screw will hold tight without cracking the plaster, and will also hold heavy weights."

"Scissors can be sharpened by cutting a sheet of fine sandpaper into small strips."

This lovely example of an almanac comes from the collection of Osburn Roy. Thanks Roy for letting us enjoy and use them for this blog.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snow Cream

Snow for children is a dream world of special delights: no school, sledding, snowmen, and snowball fights. Then there is the treasured memory of making snow cream and shivering with its stinging on your tongue from the icy cold. It is much colder than regular ice cream.
Snow for Ono County is normally wet and heavy, just the stuff for packing into balls or rolling to produced forts and snowmen. Snow cream requires a light, dry fluffy deep snow to produced the best ice cream. For us in the southern region of the US it is a rare phenomena.
I mentioned making snow cream in an e-mail to friends and the overwhelming response was, "I haven't had that since I was little." Strange, but my spouse, who is a Yankee, had never eaten it, but quickly became a fan.
We're using the left overs for a topping on fruit salad instead of a dairy whip, though it doesn't keep well in a frost-free freezer. It rapidly develops little ice crystals, but retains its unique taste. He has also been using it to cool his coffee.
For all our Ono County fans to keep for the next time an Artic Clipper blows cold dry snow down our way this is the recipe for a beloved memory of childhood. Snow Cream without all the calories of the original.
Collect a dishpan of clean light snow, avoiding any yellow snow. Store it on the back porch until you have the base ready to use.
Beat one egg until light and foaming. Add one 5 ounce can of evaporated milk, 1 cup of fat free milk, 1 teaspoon of real vanilla and 1/2 cup of sugar. Mix until well blended.
Incorporate the snow into the base in small batches much like you'd fold in meringue until you have the smooth consistency of ice cream. It is best eaten immediately with cookies and hot chocolate. Sit back and remember when grandmother made it as you watched every dip of her arm.
The old home way to make snow cream was to beat heavy whipping cream until it was thick just before it turned to butter then fold in the snow. Two ingredients, what could be easier?
Oh yes! You might save some for the kids and create a snow memory for them. It's a treat we can only enjoy every ten years or so in our neck-of-the-woods. Who wants to grow up when such deliciousness is in the offering?

I just remembered Laura E. Wilder included another use for snow in one of the few recipes she mentioned in her books. Molasses in the Snow, I think it's in Little House in the Big Woods, but there I maybe wrong. It makes a taffy like candy.