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.