Thursday, November 2, 2017

Frost Flowers of Late Fall

 
 There is a briskness in the air that foretells of colder days to come. The wind cuts through our clothes like sharp knives. Nights are becoming longer as the days get shorter when winter winds its way to our homes.
   Driving down the highway we've noticed daylillies are re-blooming and not just those that have been genetically engineered to do so, but wild ones that give an unexpected spot of color to the roadside. Why, I'm not sure. Others have attributed it to this year's frequent rains with a long span of days before we have a hard freeze.
   A friend asked me the other day if we left home during the winter. The answer is no, we tough it out and enjoy the privilege of complaining about the weather.
   I love the changing seasons, even droopy late fall when you're rushing to pack away the porch and deck furniture. Empty the clay pots of summer, blooms, hill in plants for the winter, and turn pots upside down so water won't collect, freeze, and break them.
   Even a sudden deep freeze has an unexpected rare benefit.
Have you ever seen "frost flowers?"
   Some years ago Radine Trees, Arkansas mystery writer, posted some photos of them she had taken near her home in the Ozarks.
  We've seen them once, but didn't know what they were at the

time. It was very early morning in late November. The sun was rising after a night of a hard freeze. The sides of the road and fields were glittering with ribbons of ice spilling around plant stalks, even from the wooden fence posts.
   What happens is after a season of rain the grasses, plant stems, stalks, fence posts, and wooden deck railings are saturated with moisture. Then the vegetation is hit by a sudden deep freeze. The moisture within the plant freezes.
   Water expands in volume as it freezes to ice. The ice is too large to be contained in the veins of the plants. It is forced out through cracks and fissures in thin ribbons much like the hard holiday candy in hundreds of shapes and sizes creating a wonderland of beauty that lasts for an hour or so before the sun melts them.
   Go to Google Images and type in 'frost flowers.' You will see a large collection of photographs. I've included two from that source with this article for illustration. Many of the Google Images are from Africa, so maybe the perfect conditions are more frequent there than they are here on the Cumberland Plateau.
   For now our cameras are in the backseat ready to hand if we should be lucky enough to pass another display when we go into town for breakfast.
Nash Black, author of Forged Blade.   

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Scardy Cat

I love to visit Aunt Edna. She is my grandmother's sister.
   I've heard Mother's friends whisper, "Poor Edna, she didn't have the looks to catch a man." I was under the table playing with my cars. I don't care, she is one cool pal.
   She didn't scream when I brought Toad in the house and he got loose. She helped me find him before Grand, her orange marmalade cat, made a meal of him. Aunt Edna bought a special house for Toad at the pottery. We put him in her garden so Toad could eat the bad bugs.
   Nights she lets me stay up late and watch scary movies on TV. She laughs at the freaky parts while telling me it's make believe.
   Aunt Edna knows about make believe stories. She makes up stories to put in books.
   Her house is old with thick walls made of stone. There is a window of colored glass by the stairs where the sun shines through in different colors. It's fun to move my hand and make it green like a snake, blue like a specter in a fog, yellow like a slimy serpent, or red like blood on a pirate's blade.
   A padded bench sits under the window where I stretch out and look at a picture book with Grand curled beside me.
   I'm not afraid when I see the ghost. Who can be scared by a ghost that sits on the top step sobbing like a sniveling sissy?
   I know it's a ghost because I can see through his grey self to the banister.
   Grand isn't having any part of the silly thing. He swells up like a balloon having a hissy-fit. I'm not sure what a hissy-fit is, but that is what Aunt Edna said the woman across the road was having one when she found my garter snake in her mailbox.
   She was hollering and jumping up and down while Aunt Edna got it out. Now she opens her mailbox with a broom handle.
   I try petting Grand to calm him down. He shoots across the landing, through the ghost and down the stairs without touching the steps.
   The ghost turns his head. Gives a hiccup without covering his mouth and squeaks, "That tickled."
   "Why are you blubbering? It's enough to wake the dead."
   Mother yells that when I slam the backdoor. Sounds good on my tongue, 'wake the dead.'
   "Don't want to be dead. Don't like being a ghost. No one will play with me."
   "But a ghost can't be seen or get in trouble. They don't have to take time-outs. You scare people."
   "How can a ghost scare people?"
   "Sneak up behind them and yell boo."
   "Boo. What does that do?"
   "Boo is ghost talk. Say it, Boo!"
   "Boo. Did that scare you?"
   "No, that lily-hammered little boo wouldn't scare an old shoe."
   "Why scare a shoe?"
   I'm about to explain I made it up when a horrendous crack of thunder tattles the window.
   Dumb ghost jumps up. Puts his hand over his ears. Races down the hall plunging through my door.
   As I open it the silly fool dives under my bed. All I can see are his bare feet sticking out like Grand's tail does when he hides under the sofa.
   I'm not supposed to call a ghost a fool, but that's how he's acting. Besides, I heard my dad say it about a neighbor so it can't be bad. Not like other words I can't say.
   I like big people words, like 'horrendous,' which means great big. It makes my mouth pucker.
   Aunt Edna went to the store. I've got to get this ghost out from under my bed. If I tell her about him she'll think I'm telling a horrendous whopper.
  How do I get rid of a ghost? If I grab his feet to drag him my hands will ball up into fists cause he's a fog.
   I crawl in beside him. The idgit is howling like a dog with a thorn in his paw. The floor under the bed is dusty. I start sneezing.
   "Why are you hiding? It's a thunder storm."
   "I'm scared," knucklehead blubbers.
   "Of what? Storms can't hurt you."
   "Yes, they can. That's how I got killed. I was playing in a tree." A loud hiccup stops his story.
   My nose answers him with a sneeze.
  "Go on. You were playing in a tree and . . . ."
   "Lightening came down from the sky. Last I heard was a crack of thunder."
   "You can't stay under my bed. You must hide."
   "Where?'
   "Don't know." I sneezed again. "I'll think of something."

   I scrunch out and run down to hall to get the vacuum cleaner. I drag it into my room. I know how to get rid of the scardy cat ghost who can't do anything, but hide and cry.
   I plug the cord in the wall. The motors roars. The ghost come flying out, Scuttles into a corner.
  I lift the quilt and stick the hose under the bed, running it up and down as I've seen Aunt Edna do. When I finish I step on the little button to shut it off.
   I turn to the ghost. He's sniffing. Wiping his nose on his sleeve.
   "What's that?"
   "It's a vacuum cleaner. I'm going to suck you up in the bag and throw you away."
   I walk toward him waving the tube like a magic wand. Don't want a ghost who is a scardy cat.
   "No. No."
   "Fly out the window. My aunt doesn't want ghosts who cry and can't say boo in her house."
   "I'm scared."
   "Can't be scared. You're a ghost."

   I stomp the button. He runs to the window and jumps. I put the vacuum cleaner back in the closet and slide down the banister.
   Aunt Edna is in the kitchen.
   "I heard the vacuum. What were you doing?"
   "Getting dust bunnies out from under my bed."


From our forth coming collection of ghost stories for all ages, Cauldron Tales. Nash Black
   

   

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Pumpkin People

   
Many years ago, there was a village where people farmed the land and hunted deer and quail. Their lives were happy and peaceful except for one thing. Once a year, at harvest, they found themselves at the mercy of a giant race of beings. These beings had eyes that glowed like jock-o'-lanterns and skin so orange that the villagers called them Pumpkin People.


   The Pumpkin People lived deep in the earth, but at harvest time they raided the village for furs and food. When they knock on the villagers' doors, they expected these things to be waiting. If they weren't, the Pumpkin People would leave and return again at midnight to punish those who refused to give them what they wanted.
   "Give us something you have planted," they warned, "or we'll take something of yours to plant!"
   One year, a drought struck the land, and the crops failed. The villagers were barely able to harvest enough food for their own families.  When the time came for the Pumpkin People to visit, the villagers had nothing left to offer. Knowing the consequences of leaving nothing, they put out what little they had.
   Only one man refused to share. Peter Vingle put out nothing. He had lost his wife when his daughter was born, and he treasured the child more than anything. She was perfect, except for a tiny birthmark - the outline of a star on her cheek. Peter thought that was beautiful, too, so he named the little girl Starlina. He was determined to have enough food to feed her through the winter.
   "Let the Pumpkin People grow their own food," he said.
   The people begged him not to anger the Pumpkin People, but he heeded no warnings. He looked at the food and furs the villagers had sacrificed and shook his head.
   "After tonight, they will know how foolish they've been," he told himself.
   The night they all dreaded came, and after dark, Peter heard the knocking. He did not answer. He fed Starlina her supper and tucked her in bed. Then he ate and went to bed himself. He heard the knocking again at midnight, but he did not get up. He buried his head between his pillows and slept on. He didn't hear his daughter's little feet patter softly to the door to answer the knock. It wasn't until morning came and he went to wake Starlina that he discovered she was gone.
   He frantically sounded the alarm, and all the villagers joined in the search. They shook their heads sadly, and Peter flew into a rage when they suggested that the Pumpkin People had taken her.
  "That's foolishness!" he yelled. "She has wandered off. We will find her!"
   When the day ended, however, there was still no sign of Starlina. They called off the search, and Peter Vingle walked home with his head bowed in grief.
  As he started to open the door, he noticed a single pumpkin seed on the ground. Anger boiled through him, and he stomped the seed into the earth.
   Winter came, and Peter Vingle's hair turned white to match the snow. He went into the village only when he had to. The villagers tried to engage him in conversation, but he barely replied in response.
   Finally, it was spring - the time of rebirth. Everything was blooming and growing. It was going to be a good year for crops.
   One day, Peter stepped outside and looked around. He noticed for the first time that a pumpkin vine was growing by the door. He looked closer and saw that it had one small pumpkin on it. He stared at in disbelief and fell to his knees. Eyes glowed from the pumpkin like jack-o'-lanterns, but he knew the features of the pumpkin face so well! The star outline was perfect on the cheek.
   The air grew cold, and a voice echoed from deep within the earth: "Give us something you have planted, or we will take something of yours to plant!"
   The pumpkin vine flew into the air and wrapped itself around Peter Vingle's neck. All went black as he fell across the glowing eyes of the pumpkin.

        From the book, The Walking Trees by Roberta Simpson Brown. Republished for Ono Almanac by Nash Black, with permission from August House Publishing. To enjoy more stories from the book click on the title.


Footnote: We've love Roberta Simpson Brown's multiple award winning stories. For many years she has visited schools, libraries and other arenas across Kentucky telling stories. Her fans are legion and she plays to packed houses that enjoy a chilling experience.
   The past winter Roberta contracted a virus that paralyzed her vocal cords and she lost her voice. A beloved story teller was silenced. At this writing, after months of treatment and rehabilitation she can speak to some extent, but has been forced to cancel her story telling sessions for the witching month.
   We are pleased to share with you a story from The Walking Trees and other Scary Stories, pub. 2006, when we were delighted to give it a well-deserved five star review on Amazon.com.
   We wish to thank Mr. Steve Floyd, publisher at August House Publishing for his permission to allow us to bring you a seasonal story from Roberta.
   Barbara Appleby designed the illustration for the story.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Forged Blade

  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017, 10 AM (CDST) is a special event in the lives of the writers of Ono Almanac. For the first time in their years of writing mysteries and ghost stories Nash Black will be holding an official book launch party to introduce their new detective novel, Forged Blade.
   As a party favor the ebook edition of Forged Blade will be free for downloading from Amazon's Kindle Store to any kind of device. The party will be held concurrently on Facebook, Twitter, and at Somerset Community College, Somerset, KY.
   Nash Black is a pen name for Ford Nashett and Irene Black. Please join them as they celebrate both the publication of Forged Blade and 29 years of working for IF Publishing.
About the book:

   Evan Blade is a private detective, who grew up in Ono County and on a traveling carnival circuit. He doesn't investigate murders because they have little monetary return. That is, until an old friend calls in a debt and he finds himself saddled with three kids, ages nine, thirteen, and twenty-one, who despite his best efforts to insure their safety refuse to follow his instructions.
   Life for Petra Isolta McIntyre life has never been easy. By the time she was five years-old she had been kidnapped, sold on the baby black market, had four names, and witnessed three murders. Now, a grown woman, someone wants her dead before she has a chance to live.
    When Evan learns 'the kid' is a girl he describes her as "so sexless a blind drunk couldn't find her in a dark bar."
  She assures him, that 'yes, she'd shoot him if necessary to get his attention' while pointing a .38 at him.
   Due to some computer glitches Nash Black was worried that Forged Blade would not be available for a free download so they've added a seasonal offering of Games of Death to the pot for a free download.

   We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them.
Nash Black

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Skippy's Night Out

   Skippy, my black and white border collie was tethered in the backyard. He howled at the full moon from beside his doghouse. His mournful voice sent shivers of apprehension racing down my spine.
   Howling like he was in mourning was not normal for him. The direful sound was one of several unusual acts from my dog that my family noticed during the course of the week. He shied away from other dogs. He was highly alert to anything that moved like the shadows my basketball made when I bounced it in the driveway.
   Even the slightest crackle of dry leaves under my shoes would send his ears up as if he was listening to something I could not hear. Things he'd previously ignore as if they were beneath his notice. He cowed when the town's deep throated shift whistles called railroad employees to work. For us, watches were unnecessary, our body clocks were automatically set to that shill whistle. My parents departed for work and I went to school.
   Small towns are much the same everywhere. Family pets are left free to run the streets. Skippy seldom left our yard except to visit with Winky, Gary Neal's Scottish terrier in the middle of the street. He preferred to drape himself across our font stoop waiting to greet me when I came home from school. One day he wasn't there, but I wasn't worried. I thought he and Winky has gone to forage along the creek.
   Dogs are creatures of habit. The five o'clock smells of supper cooking brought even those who'd wandered afar home in anticipation of a bowl of leftovers waiting for them on the back porch.
   When the magic hour of five o'clock arrived, Skippy was AWOL. Still I didn't push any panic alarms, but as the daylight turned to the dark of night, my parent's knew from the lines of worry creasing my face. I was scared for Skippy. He hadn't come home. He'd never stayed out this late. Where was he?
   Gary Neal ran across the street. Winky was missing too. Whistles pierced the evening shadows. Not a single dog responded. Search parties were formed to no avail, our dogs were no where to be found.
   Neighbors told my father that earlier in the afternoon they'd watched two stray dogs, slinking with purposeful stealth, come down the street, followed by other dogs. They were immediately joined by Skippy and Winky.
   One of the strays led the pack while Skippy, the instinctive herder, kept the group together as they crossed Ford Street. They disappeared from sight behind a hedge row that lined a field of weeds, wild flowers, and honeysuckle.
   Mrs. Jones, who lives on the far edge of the field, told Gary's dad she'd watched them roaming the east bank of Lynn Camp Creek. They didn't stay but a few moments beside the stream devoid of most life with the exception of a few water snakes, snapping turtles, and two emancipated goldfish someone had dumped.
   Two miserable days dragged by as adults and friends became despondent with no word of a sighting of our missing pets. At school my history teacher gripped by shoulder in silent sharing when he caught me staring out the window hoping to see Skippy. He'd heard the announcement Gary's dad put on the radio to be on the lookout for Winky and Skippy.
   On the third, my parents efforts to bolster my hopes changed to reminisces of Skippy's place in our lives. As the bewitching hour of five o'clock approached, gathering storm clouds began to replace the day's bright sunlight. In the distance a faint rumble of thunder rolled across the steel grey western sky.
   Looking out my bedroom window, the thunder became a drum roll of sound and fury as the storm broke. Through the driving rain I spotted four dogs part the hedgerow and race up Hart Street with Skippy in the lead. Two frightened canines rushed past the house, while Winky peeled from the pack to crawl underneath the Neal's

porch."
   Skippy leapt onto the front stoop of our house where he frantically pawed the screen door.
   I flung open the door to my rain soaked collie who was covered with cockleburs, mud, and leaves. He greeted me with yelps of joy.
   I hugged my long lost friend then steered into a storage closet where my almost unrecognizable pet wedged himself against its most secluded corner.
   What happened to our dogs who completely disappeared for three days? Where did they go? What did they eat? Would their barks reveal a secret hideaway? My questions go begging answers. Their unknown destination forever remains a mystery.
   But, for on shining moment all was right in my world. Skippy has come home!
  Noel Taylor (Corbin, KY) is a guest writer this week. His story of a beloved pet has the right amount of weirdness to usher in the witching season.

  Skippy's portrait was created by Barbara Appleby.
Nash Black    

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fall, Fast and Furious


   Last week on September 22nd, the autumn equinox, when the length of time for day and night are equal, began. As each day passes from now until late December the nights will be getting longer and the days shorter in the northern hemisphere. Temperatures will cool, go from crisp to brisk, and towards the end of fall they can get down right cold.
   Signs of the closing season are all around us. We see machines in the fields harvesting corn and silage. I didn't know the production of silage for some farmers is an essential part of their ag business until a friend explained it to me. I assumed silage was made from left-over cornstalks after the corn was picked, as a secondary source of winter feed for their livestock.
   Fields of soybeans are turning a soft yellow as the beans ripen. Much of the tobacco crop has been cut and taken to the barns for curing. Home gardens are getting sparse and cool weather crops like tender cabbage and turnips are showing up in wayside markets.
   Autumn colors are bold and vivid giving a last hurrah before growing plants retreat before the nipping winds of winter. We drink in the sights of glowing pumpkins, mounds of mums, the sparkling yellows of weeds growing beside the roads. Our eyes feast on the deep wine-red of ironweed mixed among clumps of goldenrod.
   This year the leaves of some trees, like the maple in our side yard are dropping their leaves before they've had a chance to turn. By the time the first day of fall arrived they were ankle deep along the path to the tool shed.
   Spiders have decorated the hill sides along Highways 880 and 127 with trap cups that glow in the sun as the early morning fogs burn off. Finding a place to secure their nests to lay their eggs for the next generation.
   Wooly worms and other insects are rolling and twisting a shelter among the falling leaves to emerge next spring as an entirely different creature.
   Flocks of birds are seen overhead heading south, gleaming in the harvested fields, or resting before moving on along the power lines. The coats of wild, domestic, and pets who live indoors have begun to thicken for their protection against the coming winter.
   Fall festivals are in full swing. It's hard to pick and choose among the variety that surrounds us. In our part of the world, a small one, chiefly devoted to books, is at Knifley, KY, out 76 in Adair County. The Janice Holt Giles Festival is held each year on the first Saturday of October with lots of fun, music, and story telling for everyone in the hallow where the writer's historic log home was moved when Green River Lake was impounded. Their country ham biscuits can't be beat. The drive out there is great for a fall tour of South Central Kentucky.
   Boats with their bright covers are being removed from the lake to storage, but I'm sure we'll have many more good weather boating days.
   Maybe this year, we'll have that marvelous special season, Indian Summer, when after a hard freeze kills the mosquitos and the world turns warm again to glow with the richness of living.

Nash Black, author of Forged Blade

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Let's Hear It for the Nose


The nose has been much on our minds of late. The main charter of our new detective novel (Forged Blade) has a broken nose as his most distinctive feature. Few authors choose to write about the nose, yet it is planted in the middle of our face and never stops growing our entire lives.
   The nose has more names than any other physical feature. For example: pug nose, Roman nose, Eagle nose, pig nose, Hawk nose, sharp nose, ski jump nose, patrician nose and the list goes on an on. The lady friend who stuck by Doc Holiday is known to history as Big Nose Kate.
   The nose gets a workout this time of year as 'hay fever' season is in full force with ragweed and other fall plants in bloom. Spring sends thousands of people indoors when trees and early flowers bloom. Spring nose problems are called 'rose fever' and pollen from plants drifts on wind currents from distances as much as 300 miles. We seen our cove, on Lake Cumberland turn yellow from pollen that settles on the water.
   Of all our physical senses smell is the last to fade as we age. Smell invokes memories reaching back through our lives, both pleasant and revolting.
   Our nose twitches when we smell enticing odors coming from the kitchen. We turn up our nose when we don't want any part of a situation. The tip of our nose turns red as an early warning sign of over exposure to cold. We cover our nose when confronted with the smell of offal.
   Dogs with a keen sense of smell have long been prized for hunting, drug sniffing, tracking, rescue missions, and were used to locate the submerged body of a drowning victim near our home.
   Scientifically, what we smell are minute particles of a substance floating in the air reach the olfactory sensatory cells high inside our nose to trigger electronic signals that travel along our nerves to the brain. These human nerve paths were recorded by Bell Laboratories and presented to the public in a film, "Our Five Senses," for use in schools over fifty years-ago.
   Thus, we can disdain the odor of a burning cigar, but wax eloquently about the smell of burning leaves or an open cedar wood fire, or recognize the stink of eggs we put on to boil and forgot.
   Poets use a form of poetry called a sonnet, fourteen lines with a distinctive rhyming scheme to write lovely lines. I found this one to a nose in The Wayfaring Stranger's Notebook by Burl Ives, a folklorist, balladeer, humorist, storyteller, and actor. Since he didn't give an author, I assume he wrote it himself.


                The Importance of Having a Nose       
       'Ths very odd that poets should suppose
        There is no poetry about a nose,
        When plain as is the nose upon your face,
        A noseless face would lack poetic grace.
        Noses have sympathy: a lover knows
        Noses are always touched when lip are kissing:
        And who would care to kiss where nose is missing?
        Whether a vile or wholesome odour flows
        Around us, if we owned no sense of smelling?
        I know a nose, a nose no other knows,
        'Neath starry eyes, o'er ruby lips it grows;
        Beauty is in its form and music in its blows.



   We wish to thank Barbara Appleby, who did the illustration for us several years ago. It is too good to not recycled.
Nash Black, author of Forged Blade.




     

   


Friday, September 15, 2017

Pots to Repot

   Many people park their indoor plants outside for the summer. I don't because every time I did my treasures played host to all sorts of bugs and scale, even the one on a screened-in porch.
   I have one exception to this rule. They're two pots of mother's tongue or what my family called snake plant. The original plants sat on each side of my Grandmother Piper's front door every summer. She died, in 1952, at the age of 92. The plants have traveled many miles, been divided, repotted, and shared. Today, their offspring grace the wall by my front door; living in the same jardinières my grandmother once used.
   Houseplants faithfully serve both our physic and health by providing oxygen to the air, with the added benefit of having fresh greenery during the winter season. They too, need seasonal attention and early fall is an excellent time for this easy chore.

   Over time their soil loses its nutrients though water leaching it away and through the roots as they to continue to grow. I don't recommend putting it off like one I once had that was so root bound we had to smash the plastic pot to remove it from bondage.
   1. Use a new container, a size larger if possible that has a drainage hole. Or give the old container a good scrub with water and a bit (half a teaspoon) of bleach to kill old fertilizer and minute organisms that find homes in cracks and creases. I recycle pots from the nursery for my plants and then house them in decorative pots that are lined with aluminum foil to prevent staining.
   2. Remove the plant from the container. Gently, shake old soil from the roots. If the roots are in a tight ball take a knife and slice them in several (four) places. You can trim the ends of the roots and separate them. Wash any remaining old soil off the roots. Fill a pan with water and let the roots soak while you prepare the new pot. Don't forget to rinse the foliage to remove house dust and other pests that find a home in your plants, like tiny spiders.
   3. Use a paper coffee filter to cover the drain hole of the plant container pot. This prevents soil from falling through into the pan. Fill one-third of the post with prepared potting soil that absorbs excess water and releases it gradually to the soil.
   4. Place the plant into the new pot with the crown about an inch below the top of the pot to allow space for watering. Then fill in around the roots with fresh soil gently tamping it in as you go.
   5. Moisten soil.
   Your houseplants will last many years with a little TLC every two to three years, even when your thumb like mine tends to be more tan than green.
   Nash Black, author of Catspaw of Death.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Weird Cures

"Good for what ails you." How often have we heard that phrase?
   My nephew was convinced a Band-Aid was the prime cure for all cuts. Have you ever tried to put one on a kid's tongue? That experience ended my baby-sitting career.
   I have a collection of old cures for common ills. Some of them could cause serious harm giving birth to the adage that the 'cure is worse than the disease,' but others are fun to read.
   Warts. Who hasn't had a wart at one time or another? Rub a wart with a rock. Put the rock in a tobacco sack and throw it over you left shoulder.
   If this doesn't work try catching a frog and rub the wart with it. I've heard that catching frogs will cause warts. So that one works both ways.
   When all else fails, walk out into the road after sundown in the dark of the moon. Turn around three times and spit over you right shoulder.
   To Prevent a Cold. Eat an onion sandwich and wash you hair. I'm not sure what one has to do with the other.
   My mother believed a teaspoon of Cod Liver Oil before bed prevented winter colds. This may account for my distaste for salt-water fish.
   With colds comes the Chills. Take a new broom and brush across the patient's back.
   Asthma. If a child has asthma stand him up against a tree and drive a nail in the tree one inch above his head. If the child grows an inch in the next year, the asthma will disappear.
   Nosebleed. Every night pour a bucket of cold water over your head. Keep this up for fourteen days and you will be cured.
   This, sort of, works - had a sister who got nosebleeds when we got in a tussle. We'd stick her head under the bathtub facet and run cold water on her neck so mother wouldn't find out we'd been in a fight.
   Sore throat. When you have a sore throat take a black thread and tie nine knots in it and wear it around your neck for nine days.
   Sty on the Eye. Always tell the truth, because lies cause sties.
            Salt for all mosquito bites,
            Cobwebs on the scratches,
            The sickroom fumigated with
            Our Sulphur kitchen matches.
            Somehow there's quite a bunch of us
            That never had a shot,
            But here we are still kicking
            And enjoying it a lot.
                      Author Unknown

A footnote: The use of cobwebs to seal wounds has an ancient history. Caesar's Roman Legion's carried a supply of cobwebs in their field kits.
   Nash Black, author of the forth coming, Forged Blade.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mules - Beasts of Burden

  
Kentucky Grey Mule
"Stubborn as a mule" or "kick like a mule" are phrases we often hear applied to individuals. Many images of a mule show  a caricature of the animal nose first, floppy ears hanging, mouth wide open with large bucked teeth going 'hee-haw' like the cartoon on the long running TV show Hee-Haw.
   Evidence of the mule has a long history reaching back to early Greece in the 5th century BC to a rhyton, a drinking cup or vessel frequently styled in the shape of an animal's head. One, now in a museum in Algeria, has the form of a mule's head with its long ears completed by a painted bridle.
   Mules are hybrids who are unique in that they tend to be larger in size, show signs of higher intelligence, and exhibit greater stamina then either parent. A mule is the product of mating of a male donkey or jack with a mare. The successful breeding of a jenny (female donkey) to a stallion is difficult - when it does happen the offspring is called a hinney

Out of a Belgian Draft mare
   The males are sterile, but the females have cycles. There are few recorded instances of a female mule giving birth, about 60 since 1527. One in Colorado, in 2007, has been documented by DNA as having a mule mother.
   The mule inherits the size, ability to run, and conformation of the mare, and the character, endurance, and strength of its donkey sire. They are more independent than other equine species and live longer than their parents, while requiring less food for their size. Mules get their coloring from the mare, hence you will see sorrels, blacks, buckskins, duns, and greys. A breeding with an Appaloosa mare gives a kaleidoscope of colorations.
  

Snaking logs
Working handlers prefer mules to horses because their skin and hooves are harder than a horse's. They can also tolerate greater exposure to sun and rain. For some unknown reason genetic reason they have a resistance to disease and insects.
   Amish farmers still use them as working farm animals, though they prefer horses to pull their buggies, which we see on the roads. A friend told me about the fun she had, as a town child visiting a farm near Sano, KY, riding the mules from the fields back to the barn. Her mother rode one to school.
   The late western author, Louis L'Amour tells the story of a breeding of a mule by one of the Sacketts who had to leave the Cumberland Plateau in his novel, Lando. The character acquired a retired thoroughbred mare, put her in a field with a jack, and then headed west to make his fortune with a racing mule.
  A true Kentucky racing story is of Old Red, who was owned by Clifford Grover.  Born in 1920, Red's mother was a sorrel mare. He started his career early in that decade and continued a brilliant run into the 1930s. After his racing days ended he was sold and, most likely, spent the remainder of his life pulling a plow.
  Mules have long been used to transport goods over rough country in caravans called 'mule trains.' Daniel Boone used mules to bring settlers into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap. The trains were immortalized in the song, Mule Train. Cowboy singer, Frankie Laine recorded it in 1949 and it was later sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1957. Drivers of the trains were called 'mule skinners.' Mule Skinner's Blues, tells the life of a driver; it was recorded by the Fendermen in the 1950s.

   Armies used them for eons in mountainous areas like Afghanistan to transport artillery, supplies, and munitions. Sometimes, the poor mule's back was used as a field platform for firing a small cannon. The United States Marines still conduct training classes in the use of animals as packers - the ole mule can go where there are no roads.
  From 1883 to 1889 twenty-mules hitched as a team were used in Death Valley to pull large wagons loaded with borax to railroad lines. The wagons (largest ever produced) were designed to hold ten short tons of ore. Interesting, the actual teams were made up of eighteen mules and two horses, though the famous washing soap was named 20 Mule Team Borax and is still in production.
   Librarians used them as early book mobiles well into the 1940s, as there were few navigable roads in the Kentucky foothills and mountains.
   Today mules, by the select breeding of 'hobby' breeders, participate in all areas of equine sports: such as racing, carriage meets, recreational traveling wagon trains (one operates out of Shelbyville, KY), western style rodeos, show rings, dressage, and pulling contests.
   Kentucky enjoys an extensive breeding industry of mule production, where besides the local market Kentucky bred mules are prized in the countries of China and Mexico.
Nash Black, author of the forth coming detective novel: Forged Blade.

   
    

  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Drive-in Movies

 
 Saturday night with family, a special friend, or the whole gang was the night when everyone went to the drive-in to watch a movie. From early spring until late fall outside of small towns across the United States cars rolled up to the ticket window for the evening's entertainment.
  Before the large outdoor theaters with speakers on poles, in places that didn't have a movie house, the side of a building painted white was used for showing films in the summer. Patrons provided their own chairs and popcorn. Children were free, but adults were expected to contribute enough to pay for the rental and return postage of the film. We tell the story of one such wall movie spot that was located on the side of a garage in Dixon, KY, in a ghost story, 'Club House,' in our story collection, Games of Death.
   
The drive-in was a place where parents could take the kids and not have to hire a babysitter. When the light began to fade the big screen would be filled with cartoon characters like Wiley Coyote who chased Roadrunner across endless miles of desert, but never caught him. By the time the cartoons ended it was dark and most of the younger set were fast asleep. Their parents could relax and enjoy the evening's presentation.
   The films were seldom first run shows, but that didn't matter. Movies, even after the advent of television, had a special glamour and allure that drew thousands of patrons of all ages.
   Teenagers who were lucky enough to wrangle the family car for the evening were the bane of drive-in owners because the favorite game was to see how many pals you could sneak in without getting caught.
   The smallest one went in the trunk. One night a friend was stashed in the boot. Just as we started to pull away from the ticket window - she screamed. Later, she told us what happened. She'd broken the zipper on her shorts and didn't have time to repair it. So she pinned it with a big safety pin. It popped open and jabbed her in the rear.
   We have fond memories of summer evenings fixing popcorn, sandwiches, and drinks. Taking the pickup to the drive-in, backing into the space, then sitting in chaise lounges with all the comforts of home watching the big screen. A couple of times sleeping bags were a necessity when closing time for the season approached.
   Most old drive-ins are long gone, but every once-in-a-while you'll pass the rusting remains of one and feel a bout of sadness for all those Saturday evenings you enjoyed movies from your car with a speaker hanging in the window.

   Nash Black, author of Games of Death.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Color it Red

 I like bright clear colors. I often wear red, because when I go shopping for clothes the offerings are rows of blacks, dull browns, stodgy grays, and faded greens that dominate the showroom floors. It makes no difference if I' m in Lord & Taylors or Wal Mart.
   I get the feeling buyers and manufactures do not like women and work to have them fade into the woodwork. That's being cynical, but anyway, when I see a garment that is red I'm drawn to it.
   This article is not about my taste in clothes, but the color red itself and it's fascinating history.
    First off, in ancient times it was one of the first and easiest coloring agents available - it was obtained from ochre, a clay impregnated with iron oxide. Archaeologists, in 2000, found evidence of it being scraped from the walls of a cave in South Africa 170,000 to 40,000 years ago. They theorized it was used to color human skin, similar to a blue later used by the Druids, of the British Isles, for religious ceremonies.
   A cave painting in Spain (15,000-16,000 BC) shows a bison painted with ochre. The planet, Mars appears red because of iron oxide on its surface. A local example of red staining from clay can be seen in the vertical striping of horizontal layers of rock, on fresh road cuts between Burkesville and Thompkinsville, KY.
   Red covers many shades, from the pink of flowers to the deep burgundy of wine. The color for dyes and paint today is derived from plant, insect, and mineral sources besides clay.
   Red used in paintings has staying power reaching back to the frescoes or murals in tombs and on pottery of Ancient Egypt and the lava buried city of Pompeii. The Roman emperor Charlemagne, the first to adopt Christianity, painted his palace red.
   Red used as symbolism or to convey meaning has a duel personality. The robes of the Catholic cardinals are red to indicate the blood of Christ, while at the same time it is the color of the garments assigned to Satan, the devil.
   When you "roll out the red carpet" it is a form of a salute to the status and greetings accorded to individuals of importance. It denotes power, victory, and wealth. But again, it also symbolizes sin, promiscuity, and decadence of females.
   When "you're seeing red" you are angry, while if you "painted the town red," you had a merry ole time. In Eastern (China & Japan) countries today and in Victorian times in the US, brides wore red as a symbol of happiness.
   Red clothing can easily be seen in a crowd, hence its use in military uniforms through out history from the ancient Greeks to the US Marines dress uniform.

   This began not with my clothes, but when a salesman told me that white was the most popular color for motor vehicles. Maybe elsewhere, but it wasn't what I was seeing locally.
   There were very few red vehicles sitting on car lots, but I counted fifty-one on the road from town to home one Saturday morning. They included every type, from an eighteen-wheeler, a bus, a SUV with a matching canoe to an electric car, plus my own red Jeep.
  Oh yes, I also saw two red wagons. Do you remember having one of your own? I'd say red is the most popular vehicle color in South Central Kentucky according to my unofficial survey.
Nash Black, author of Games of Death.


 


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wicker Summer

   Nothing spells a southern summer like white wicker furniture sitting on the porch. It gives an illusion of comfort and coolness, even during the 'dog days' of August.
   The use of wicker or rattan for furniture, chests, tables, and baskets goes back in history to ancient Egypt. Its light weight easy to obtain materials fostered a rapid spread to Persia, where during the Achaemenid Empire (500 - 350 BC) it was used in battles for shields.
From Persia it spread to Rome. The period of history, referred to as the Iron Age began about 1200 BC and ended around 400 AD, near the time of the adoption of the Christian Bible. This period saw the use of wicker for furniture spread across Roman conquered lands throughout the then known world.

   The construction and early patterns may have been instrumental in the development of what is recognized as Celtic Art, with the twists and turns, like the famous Celtic knot, that expresses undying love.
   By the 16th and 17th century, it was a common household item across Europe, England, and what became the United States. There is a rumor a piece of wicker furniture came over on the Mayflower.
   The great seafarers brought back a new material to add to the manufacture of wicker, a species of palm, rattan. The rattan fibers were tougher and harder than the previously used cane, Later someone opened the stalks and extracted the softer core to make wicker. The process was much like those used to acquire fibers from a flax plant for the weaving of linen that had been used for eons the make the ancient fabric.
   Cyrus Wakefield began manufacturing wicker furniture in the United States during the 1850s. At first, he used rattan discarded on the docks from flying clippers arriving from the Far East. Bundles of rattan were used for ballast on the merchant ships. Later he began importing his own materials. He merged  his company with a rival firm, which continued to build wicker products until 1979.
   Wicker, in our country, became popular with the Victorians, who believed it was more sanitary than upholstered furniture. It does not harbor fleas, which were a common household pest. It was sturdy and withstood the outdoor elements.
   Over the years, the popularity of this ancient home furnishing has waned and gained, depending on fashions of the time. Today the materials used are mainly plastic twisted around wire and then wrapped around an aluminum frame, never touched by human hands. Catalogs refer to it as 'all weather' furniture.
   Some years ago, when wicker was a hot collectible on the antique market, it wasn't safe to leave your old pieces out overnight on the porch.

   A friend told me about having her chairs stolen, going to a barbecue at a friend's home, and being shown the lovely wicker patio furniture the friend had purchased at a flea market. She didn't have the heart to tell the friend, it was her furniture.
   I have the pattern book my father used to make wicker pieces for his mother around 1920. The famous one is the floor lamp, no one wanted it and I ended up with it. To us, it was ugly and difficult to keep clean when we were using a wood burning stove for heat. Sold it at the 127 yardsale. On the way home, I saw it sitting on a neighbor's front porch. It didn't travel far, maybe it's haunting me.

Nash Black, author of Cards of Death. 


   

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Pencil

   Reading last week's newspaper about the school supplies fairs and wondered whatever happen to the basic item of my childhood - the pencil.
   My hometown's single industry was Mallard's Pencil Factory. When one entered the first grade, every student was given a #2 pencil, compliments of the company. They were yellow, with an eraser and embossed with a Mallard duck. The number indicated the hardness of the lead, which is actually graphite.

   This lowly instrument provided employment for our local citizens, and the same for others of different lands who contibuted the raw materials for production.
   The tin for the furl to fasten the eraser to the wood came from Bolivia. The 'rubber' for the eraser was a synthetic created to replace raw rubber, an ingredient, for which may have been produced at Old Colonel Distillery at Stamping Ground, KY. The graphite for the 'lead' was mined in Canada. The wood to encase the core was harvested and processed on our own shores. The availability of materials within the Americas aided the manufacture of pencils, when supplies from the Far East were cut off by the conflict in the Pacific.
  This brief paragraph does not include all those who were involved in transporting the materials to get the pencil into the hands of eager, long ago school children, but it does provide the foundation of basic global economics.
   The analogy is not original, I condensed it to 78 words, from memory, with the aid of Google to pinpoint sources of the raw materials during the 1940s, for the purpose of the article. It belongs to Milton and Rose Friedman, from their book, Free to Choose. The book was compiled from their acclaimed Public Television series of the same title.
   The late Armand Hammer used his business, family, and political connections to keep open a thin dialogue for peace between seven Soviet Generals and five United States presidents on the strength of a pencil concession. The Soviets, of the time, were able to duplicate the manufacturing process for many common US items, but never for the pencil.
   Our best goes to each student, who may discover a pencil is adequate to put words  and sums on paper. It's not subject to dead batteries or power outages, and is cost effective to replace.

Nash Black, author of Games of Death.

   

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trading Stamps

   Today we have rewards on our credit cards, clip coupons, or go online and click a discount symbol, before we go shopping at the supermarket, to save a little money. We don't always use the weekly offerings as we can frequently find similar items in the store that are cheaper than the item with the coupon.
   The money saving ways in earlier days were trading stamps. Little stamps you pasted in a book and saved until you had enough to go shopping in special stamp premium redemption stores.
   Interestingly enough, trading stamps caught on first with chain gasoline stations, about 1910 in Canada, then spread to the US, with their new chain supermarkets, during the 1920s.
   The stamps were only issued to cash customers. Customers who ran credit accounts and paid once a month mounted a loud vocal complaints as to unfair marketing practices. In the 1930s, the stamp companies began giving the stamps to all, no matter what method of payment was used.
   The little stamps were a big hit with customers and by 1957 there were over 200 different trading stamp companies operating in the United States. They supported 250,000 firms that were using a stamp program to attract consumers.
   The monetary value of the little stamp was about a hundredth of a mill, or 1 stamp for every ten cents of purchase. The books held 1200 stamps, which equaled $120 in premium value.
   Sperry & Hutchinson's Trading Company issued their first stamps in 1896. Those became the largest and most famous, S&H Green Stamps. The company with its little green stamp continued in operation until 1986.
   Other well know trading stamps were Top Value (used by Kroger), Blue Chip, and Gold Bond. Eagle Stamps was the last company to issue stamps. They closed their doors in 2008, which gives us over a century of saving trading stamps for premiums.
   The only stamp redemption store I was ever in was located in Lexington, KY. I remember you had to show your filled books to a doorman to be admitted. Then inside there were aisles and walls loaded with all kinds of merchandise, much like a modern Wal Mart or in combination with Lowe's because there were large and small appliances, carpeting, clothing, nick-knacks, garden tools, etc.
  I still have and use the electric hand-held Sunbeam mixer I got with my little book. The interesting not is in a regular store it was priced at $10.99, by using trading stamps, which were free, people thought they were saving money. On the other hand, maybe I did save money, because it has given good service for over forty years.
   Not long ago I noticed the Internet listed books of the little stamps for sale at Southey's (auction house in New York City) for more than their original value and full sheets of the unused little stamps commanded a premium price.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tomato Season

   
Corn Gazpacho
Garden tomatoes are ripping, especially when one got a jump on the season and bought established plants for transplanting to home ground.

   July is tomato month, the farmer's market is packed with home grown specimens, groceries advertise locally grown, while everyone who has a big pot or a little space has plenty of their own.
   Elroy Harris maintains you're a savvy gardener if you know a tomato is a fruit and have the wisdom to not put it in fruit salad.
   How we consume this fragile bounty is a matter of choice. Our favorites are tomato sandwiches - a thick slice of a large tomato on white bread slathered with mayo to which you can add a healthy slice of garlic baloney.
   Add spice to the supper table by gently drizzling slices of
Tomatoes with Basil
tomatoes with olive oil, and threads of fresh basil leaves. Layer these in a glass bowl and refrigerate until time to serve. We keep a pot of basil by our kitchen porch for summer consumption. Harvest it early in the morning for the strongest flavor and keep in a glass of water to use later.
   Preserving for winter gives us canned tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, or if you have an entire day to spend in the kitchen to cook it down and stir to prevent scorching there are tomato puree, paste and ketchup.
   Tomato Jam is a rare treat on hot biscuits. This is a family recipe:

2 to 3 pounds, firm, ripe tomatoes, 2 cups of sugar, 2 or 3 grinds of black pepper and a teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice.
   If you prefer a spicy jam you can add these ingredients 1 tablespoon of fresh grated or minced ginger, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon & cloves, and red pepper flakes to taste. This is best served with meats as a relish or as a substitute for salsa.
   Skin and gently squeeze out seeds and juice. Cut tomato meat into 1/2 inch pieces. Using a heavy bottomed sauce pan add sugar and pepper.
   Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to insure even cooking and the liquid has cooked down. If foam comes to the top, skim and discard.
  Jam should register 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Ladle into hot jars & seal.
   At this point the jam can be kept in the refrigerator for at least six months. Ours is small so we use a hot water bath to seal the jars. My aunt would turn the jars up side down and place them in a 250 to 300 degree oven for thirty minutes to seal. I don't recommend her method.
   Gazpacho is a classic Mexican tomato soup served cold, which is perfect for a hot summer's day. Serve it with corn fritters (pancakes) for dippers. We can't help experimenting with recipes so here is our take on this popular summer meal.
   Corn Gazpacho combines two fresh summer treats.
   Cook two ears of corn, cool and remove kernels from cob with a sharp knife and set aside.
   3 large tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1 cup chopped yellow onion, 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar, and hot peppers (seeded & minced) to your taste.
   Skin, seed, and chop tomatoes, cucumber, & onion. In a blender or food processor process these ingredients with limited amounts of the water in small batches, transfer the puree to a bowl and continue until finished.

   Whisk in olive oil and vinegar. Stir in the corn as a last step and chill for at least one hour. Serve with a dollop of sour cream topped with either green onions or water cress. Makes 4 servings.
  Fried green tomatoes and green tomato relish were fall menu items for us when we rushed to cull the vines before a coming frost, but many use them as a sneak preview of the bounty to come.

   Last week we had lunch at the Blue Willow Inn located in Social Circle, Georgia where fried green tomatoes are a standard item on the buffet. If you are in the area (fifteen miles east of Atlanta) it is an off-the-beaten-track gem of gastronomic delights of southern cooking.
   A relish made of garden leftovers of onions, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, pickling spices, and vinegar goes great on hot dogs, in dressed eggs, and on hamburgers.

Nash Black, author of the forthcoming Forged Blade, a detective novel.  




Saturday, July 1, 2017

Freedom's Document

July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was approved by the First Continental 
Congress. This bold document severed the political ties of the thirteen original colonies with the government of England.
   It was written almost solely by Thomas Jefferson. The last time I visited his home his working copies were housed in glass cases in the basement. A visitor could see his edits were he worked to polish the final copy.
   Reading the Declaration of Independence one can visualize the young fiery redheaded Jefferson standing in front of King George III delivering an eloquent formal speech of smooth words flowing from his mind, but as it progresses he raises his hand and shakes a finger of indignation under the King's nose with shorter, caustic, and blunter statements of grievances. He then regains control of his temper and returns to articulate phrasing of the beginning.
   At one time every student in America learned the preamble to repeat to their classmates. The stirring words: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights . . ." could be instantly brought to mind. To honor this document and the purpose for which it was written is the reason for the fourth of July holiday and not to be forgotten amidst the fireworks, picnics, parades, and family celebrations.
  This brief document is one of the major hallmarks of freedom in the history of governments and affairs of people. Today the original copy of the document is housed in a special climate controlled vault in the National Archives. That wasn't the case in August, 1814 when it and other documents pertaining to the government were kept in the office of the Secretary of State.
   When word arrived that the British warships were in Chesapeake Bay James Monroe (Secretary of State) sent a note to John Graham, his chief clerk and Stephen Pleasonton, an aide to "take care" of the valuable documents housed in his department.
  Pleasonton followed orders, though General John Armstrong (Secretary of War) advised them there was no cause for alarm. He cut the Declaration of Independence from its frame, stuffed it along with other books, treaties, and deliberations of Congress into protective linen bags they had had made for the removal. Then they were loaded into carts and moved to a mill outside of Washington, D.C.
   Pleasonton still did not consider them safe. He procured wagons and took them to Leesburg, Virginia where he housed them in a vacant farmhouse. Later when Monroe became president he rewarded Pleasonton for his diligence and appointed him custodian of the nation's lighthouses.
  Jefferson became the third president of the United States. John Adams, who devised the Constitution and became the second president both died on July 4, 1826 as the new county they largely created celebrated its fiftieth birthday.

   


    

  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pondering

Our Front Porch with companions
   Hot weather is the time to sit on the porch with a fan in one hand and a glass of sweet tea in the other to think deep thoughts. It will drive your neighbors to distraction wondering why you have a contented smile on your face.
   We've culled our notes, files, and the Internet to offer a few suggestions that demand excessive hot air for serious consideration.
   Ever wonder if all the world is a stage where is the audience sitting?
  Have you asked yourself why glue doesn't stick to in inside of a bottle before it is opened?
   Why is it the folks on the evening news begin with "Good Evening" then spend fifteen to thirty minutes telling us why it isn't?
   Search the house for a lost item. You find it. Then a smart chimes, "It's always in the last place you look." Why would anyone go on looking after it's found?
   Can you cry underwater?
   Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
   How often have you heard someone say, "It's out-of-whack?" What in the heck is whack?
   Has a scientist ever calculated the speed of dark?
  Why do folks believe you when you point out there are over four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
  If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?
   How is it that we were able to put a man on the moon before someone thought to put wheels on luggage?
   Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs.
   Is there a day in the United States when mattresses are not on sale?
  Why do toasters have settings that burn bread beyond recognition?

  What happened when "I have no idea" became a statement of fact?
   Why do we try to keep the house as warm in the winter as it is in the summer when we complain about the heat?
   Why is it when talking you must "put in your two cents" yet you only get "a penny for your thoughts?"
   Our glasses are hitting rock bottom. We've collected a crowd at the bottom of the drive wondering why we're laughing on such a hot afternoon.
   We wave and go inside for a refill to watch the evening news.

Nash Black, author of the forth coming detective novel, Forged Blade.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Old Glory

June 14th is a small and often neglected official observance, Flag Day. This day has been designated as the special day when Americans honor their flag. Beginning in 2016 the entire week in which this date falls has been set aside for waving out flag.
   A proclamation from the President of the United States urges all citizens to fly the flag during this week.
   Flag Day, June 14, 1777 was the day our flag was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. The resolution was actually published on September 2, 1777. Our flag was adopted before the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 and ten years before the ratification of the Constitution, which established us as a nation in 1787.
   It coincides with the adoption of the "American Continental Army" on June 14, 1775. Was the date chosen on purpose or by accident? History doesn't tell us.

   The story of Betsy Ross's work on the flag is familiar to all, but an interesting footnote to the story are the number of points on the stars. George Washington's sketch shows six-pointed stars, which is the British style. Our flag carries five-pointed stars, which is the French fashion. Was the change made to pay tribute to France for their aid during the Revolution.
   This date is also the anniversary of the "Bear Flag Revolt" in 1846, when thirty-three Americans and Mountain Men arrested the Mexician general in Sonoma and declared the Bear Flag Republic. This territory later became the state of California.
   All the stories of our flag's beginnings make interesting reading and there are set formal procedures for flying out flag. They do not include using it as a logo or pattern on lunch boxes, purses, beach towels, jackets, or other items as it has been in recent years.
   The flag flies high, free, and clear of all obstacles. It is never dipped, except as a time honored custom of greeting when ships meet at sea, then it becomes a salute.
   Ole Glory, is our most visible symbol of who we are and what we stand for as Americans. Our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, is a salute to our flag written by Francis Scott Keyes as he stood on the deck of a ship waiting through the night to see if she still flew. The actual flag that Keyes witnessed hangs in the Smithsonian.

                           Long May She Wave.
Nash Black


    

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Garden of Dreams

      
Gardening is one of our favorite outdoor sports. When we were growing up everyone we knew had a garden, large or small for fresh vegetables in the summer. They were called Victory gardens during WWII and their purpose was both to feed the immediate family and to aid the war effort by diverting commercially grown food stuffs to feed our troops overseas.
    Corn, beans, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes were the major family garden crops. Vegetables that could either be canned or stored for winter consumption. Today it's hard to imagine a time when one couldn't go to the supermarket or produce market to purchase selections from countless rows of perishables regardless of the time of year.
   At that time flowers with the exception of marigolds, which deterred bugs were an extravagant personal indulgence except for a few daylilies, peonies, and roses left over from days before the war that became treasured spots of color around the house.
   The photo above is one of those flowers. People have seen the wild orange daylily growing in terrible soil, it is one of our most durable native wild flowers. As their name implies each bloom is only for one day.  My mother grew the one pictured above, which is not a single petal bloom, but a quadruple with four sets of petals in the same bloom. Her start was given to her by a relative when my parents bought their home. It is a 'sport', an accident of nature from the common wild daylily, that reproduces profusely and has traveled many miles among family and friends.
   Now for many, a couple of tomato plants still retain a place in our tiny gardens that are devoted to flowers to have something blooming all summer. The urge to garden is still with us, but space and time are limited so we indulge in beauty. Catalogs tempt us right after the first of year as we dream, turn down pages, and envision all of those marvelous plants blooming in our garden.
   Spring brings hundreds of offerings to the gardening centers and we walk for miles admiring the lovely flowers.  These have been forced and we're careful to purchase only those that have limited bloom because we want the flowering to be in our garden not in the greenhouse. Instant color is soon gone.

   This past winter was unusual, we lost plants we've had for years, but had Dusty Miller, which is an annual survive. Only a few of our azaleas and rhododendrons bloomed, but the bushes have sent out strong spurts of new growth so we can look forward to next year.
   We haven't noticed any change in the weed production. They continue to grow faster than we can remove them so they don't bloom to produce more seed to lie in wait for years to plague the gardener.
   We're two people, our days of cooking for a crowd are long gone as is our time of a large truck garden. Old habits die hard, but when we shop the produce stalls we try to be careful to buy small quantities so it can be used before it spoils. Sometimes this is difficult as a package of brussel spouts goes a long way, thank heavens they keep better than most fresh vegetables.
   I've often wondered what happens to all the left over truck that isn't sold when it passes the 'to be sold by date.' It's no secret that everyday enough food to feed a small size city is thrown away in the United States. It isn't even ground up to make compost to replenish the soil of organic farms or used to feed the chickens or slop the hogs as was the practice of our parents and thrifty farmers who collect town over production.
Nash Black, author of Forged Blade. Coming soon.

    



Thursday, May 4, 2017

No Circus to Join

"I'm off the join the circus" was a favorite saying when someone wanted to run to get away from it all.
   P.T. Barnum created the beginnings of Ringling Brothers, Barnum, & Bailey Circus in 1821. After 146 years of bringing joy, astonishment, thrills, and laughter to audiences all over the world the merry month of May 2017 has turned cheerless because the Big Top has folded.
   The huge canvas tent faded into the past many years ago when the circus moved into big arenas. Lot lice, townspeople who hung around in hopes of pulling the ropes for a free ticket to the show disappeared. The manual labor involved in raising the big tent was enormous and a sight in of itself.
   The circus from the moment it rolled into town either by horse drawn caravans or the long train was a prelude to the excitement. I was privileged to see the entire thing when the big show steamed into Frankfort, KY to inaugurate the new downtown hotel-arena complex by the river. 
  The long train reach from the Capitol Avenue Bridge through the station to the river. First the equipment was unloaded onto big trucks and taken to the arena in the early morning hours. You heard the roustabouts yelling 'John Orderly', circus talk for get a move on. Workers were old hands and knew their jobs, which gave the entire procedure the precision of a ballet.
  Then came the colorful wagons of animals, performers, and clowns dressed up in their finery to parade up Ann Street to Main Street, and then down to the arena. When the lions roared we shivered in anticipation of the great show to come.
   The arena in Frankfort is very small, but somehow they managed to cram three rings into the limited space. The lines and trapezes were rigged across the ceiling with engineering precision. The big show played for one performance, if I remember correctly, and the bleachers seats were packed to the rafters. The roasted-in-the-shell peanuts were salty and the cotton candy sticky.
   I've talked with friends who remember the Big Top with it's tarnished glamour before other forms of entertainment pushed it aside. Who cared if it was hot & dusty the sense of wonder was there as they suspended breathing when the aerialists swung high above their heads to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

   There were no bailouts for the circus and many reasons have been given for its demise, but the one that bothers me most of all is the shorter attention spans of today's children.
   What kind of future do they have if they are unable to focus long enough to observe something that is constantly changing in the three rings? Has their sense of awe and amazement been reduce to a two-by-two screen?
   "I'm off the see the elephant" is a famous western saying when someone traveled to see something exotic and wonderful. It appears in many western novels. What pleasures with readers have when the only elephants they've seen are housed in special enclosures. Remember the elephant is a working animal in several cultures like our horse. 
   What are your memories of a real circus, large or small, dusty lots, dancing elephants, elegant ladies on prancing horses, and clowns? Clowns - send in the clowns.
   Barbara Appleby created our clown with its grotesque smile painted around his mouth who can't hide the tear on his face when the Big Top came down for the last time.
   If you can find a copy of the old movie, The Greatest Show on Earth then that is as real as it will get from now on because the show is no more. The end of a venerable and beloved institution.

Nash Black, author of Games of Death.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

How 's Your Luck

"With a little bit of Luck"
   Part of a line from one of my favorite songs from the musical, My Fair Lady. How many of us sophisticated, non-superstitious folks put our hands behind our backs and cross our fingers when hoping to score a prize?
  How many of you checked to see if you could still cross your fingers?
   Luck is the joker in most endeavors. You work, you learn, and you persist then one day the world spins, your 'luck' changes and you win. Did you unconsciously follow the rules?
   Let's see how many we can remember?
   We wish people good luck, especially actors & musicians before a performance by saying, "Break a leg."
   Find a penny head-side up, pick it up, it will bring good luck.
   Find a pin, pick it up and you'll have good luck all day long.
   Luck of the draw is an old gambler's adage or we can stretch it a bit to include the survivor of a western shootout. 
   Carrying a rabbit's left-hind foot or a buckeye in your pocket will bring good luck.
   Finding a four-leaf clover will bring food luck.
   Your chances are 1 in 10,000 based on the material I read in Wiki. One man in Japan found a clover stem with 56 leaves. How much luck did that bring?
   Four leaves on a clover stem is according to the scientists a sport (one time change in a plant) or a rare recessive gene which produces the famous symbol of good luck. As a kid I spent many hours on my hands and knees searching for one. I still look down to see if today is the lucky day when I find it.
   Celtic symbolism gives each leaf an attribute: faith, hope, love, and luck.
   The other side of the coin is bad luck. We all know the famous line from Hee Haw, "If it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."
   When things go bad, then you're down on your luck.
   If you break a mirror you'll have seven years bad luck.
   Walking under a ladder will bring you bad luck or a crack on the head or both.
   A black cat walks across your path is a sure sign of bad luck in the future.
   Friday the 13th means bad luck all day long. Got a good thing going for us in 2017, we won't have an unlucky Friday the 13th until October. So enjoy your summer.
   Step on a crack, break your back is another symbol of bad luck. That little rhyme popped through my head as I edited our new novel, Tempered Blade, which is coming soon. Unconscious writing where we have a character being careful not to step on a crack.
   It provided the inspiration to find and remember things lucky and unlucky to share with you. Today is your lucky day.
Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death