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?