Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nothing Sacred In These Hills....

I will tell you a fact, my friends.  There is no slack of rich gossip up here in this holler.  I just heard something that would make a coon cut a shine.  I was told (by someone who shall remain nameless as she would kill me if I let it be known she is a gossip) ole Harvey, two hollers over from mine, was caught in the act of doing something rather strange, even by holler standards. 
Apparently, Harvey’s best friend Joon Bug was passing Harvey’s barn the other day when he sees Harvey doing a slow, sensual striptease in front of his old John Deere tractor. Shocked, Joon Bug stood motionless, fixated on what was taking place inside.

Harvey was clenching his buttocks and performing a slow pirouette while gently sliding off first the right strap of his overalls, followed by the left. He then hunches his shoulders forward in a classic striptease move, lets his overalls fall down to his hips, revealing his torn and stained cotton shirt.

Then, clutching both sides of his shirt, he rips it apart to reveal his T-shirt underneath that looked like it had enjoyed a couple of suppers. As if he were listening to his own internal music leading up to a grand finale, Harvey then tears the T-Shirt from his body, tosses it high, and then with wild abandon hurls his hat onto a pile of winter wood.

Having seen enough and afraid of what he might see next, Joon Bug went busting into the barn and yelled, “Harvey! What in the world’re doin’ there, buddy?”
Harvey, obviously stunned and embarrassed, snapped back with, “Darn it, Joon Bug, you spooked the crap outta me but let me tell you what I’m adoin’. I know this may look mighty strange but me and the little woman been havin’ a few problems in the bedroom d’partment. She wanted me to see a ther’pist and made me promise I would do just exactly like he tole me to do so I am.

“Now Harv. Somethin' ain't quiet right here. I want ya to think really hard. What in th’ world did he tell ya to do?
“Well, he told me to go home and do somethin' sexy to a tracter.”

(I so wanted to give acknowledgment to the original author of this adapted-to-the-Roan joke but it seems everyone on the Internet is taking credit for it.)

Political Wisdom, Wit and Warnings...

*** I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.  - Charles de Gaulle

*** A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.  - Gerald R. Ford

*** I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them. - Adlai Stevenson

*** If our Founding Fathers wanted us to care about the rest of the world, they wouldn't have declared their independence from it. - Stephen Colbert

*** If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these State of the Union speeches, there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven. - Will Rogers

*** Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it. - Ronald Reagan

*** When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it. – Clarence Darrow

*** Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

*** A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country. – Tex Guinan

*** Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith. - Alexis de Tocqueville

*** If God wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates. - Jay Leno

*** It's not the voting that's democracy, it's the counting. -    Tom Stoppard

*** The problem with political jokes is they get elected. - Henry Cate, VII

*** You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream -- the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order --or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. - Ronald Reagan

*** We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.  – Aesop

*** Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. – John Stuart Mill

And I will end this post, my friends, with one of my personal favorites…

*** Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. - Oscar Ameringer

Make the day a great one and God bless ya! Oh! And don’t forget to pray for our nation’s leaders and the upcoming primaries.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Grandma's Story

'Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while… but our hearts forever.' -unknown

I sat on my porch before dawn yesterday morning rocking, relaxing 
and enjoying my first cup of coffee. The woods around me clothed me in privacy and all was silent except for the sound of a slight breeze rustling the pines in symphony with the gurgling creek. I was reminded once again how blessed I am to be planted here in my hollow. 

As usual, the faint light from the window behind me cast halo shadows on two very precious items that take me back to a time of innocence and pain as they churn up their memories and serve them to me in silence. 

This old churn and butter mold had been handed down to my mama from her mother. I had been the one to inherit them upon my mother’s death due to the memories my sister knew I attached to them.

My mother’s mama, my Grandma Minnie Lethcoe, had a huge impact on my life as a young child; memories of her are as tendrils still clinging to smells, sights and sounds of an old country kitchen from decades ago.

I was a scrawny little blonde of nearly five when we moved our family of six into our ‘new’ home at 1314 Pennsylvania Avenue, Ext. in Bristol, TN. This older white framed house on a dead end street was a two bedroom, one bath home with a tiny kitchen, den and living room. The living room was for guests. 

Unfortunately, in its dirt basement it also housed a terrifying metal monster with gigantic arms that reached out to every area beneath the house and it breathed fire and brimstone, leaving me no place to hide from its grasp.

As I grew older, that monster became an even more sinister enemy. There was no way to escape the dirty light soot it spit on me and my siblings as we huddled over floor registers every morning to thaw out before school after my brothers had feed it its morning meal of coal.

After settling into this new neighborhood and autumn rolled around, my two older brothers and sister had to register in their new school, Central Elementary. Debbie and Dennis, the twins, were now six and that meant they were starting first grade. The oldest, Jackie, would be a fourth grader. Sandy had not yet been born so I was the only kid left alone at home as kindergarten was not yet a concept.

My dad left for work every morning but so did my mama. She cleaned homes for some of the more prominent folks in town. Where we lived in Pickel Holler prior to moving to our current address, there were a bevy of relatives who watched us kids. Alas, the problem now… what to do with me.

A few of the people Mama cleaned for said it would be fine for her to bring me along while she cleaned  and she did. It was at that tender age I was first exposed to the behavioral sciences and their various approaches.

To this day I remember the emotions I felt about the way my mama was treated by each family she cleaned for. There were situations where I would be overwhelmed with sadness and tear-filled eyes, feeling powerless to help her in her plight as a particular ‘lady of the house’ emotionally abused her with harsh words and excessive demands such as, "I want that bathroom toilet scrubbed with this toothbrush, Mary!"

Going to clean houses was but one option regarding where to leave me during the day while she worked. The other was my favorite! I would be dropped off at my Grandma Minnie’s to spend the day and when I arrived, she would wrap me in her arms, always smelling like her kitchen.

Now you need to understand, Grandma was not a "let’s start with playing jack rocks, sweetheart" kind of woman. In fact, I never remember once playing children’s games with her. Time with her was spent in a much deeper, more substantive way.

Once there, Grandma would take me by the hand and we would go to the corn crib and pull out ears of dried corn and shuck off the rough kernels to drop in the pan she brought. Then this feed would be taken down to the chicken pen to be scattered among the chickens. I so loved to stand there and watch them peck, peck, peck, laughing hysterically when they pecked each other on the head.

Next, we would get the pail with all the leftover scraps from the meals of the day before, mix that with some kind of grainy stuff and take it to the pig pen to dump in the trough. The two huge hogs wallowing there were very scary to me as they seemed to be mad all the time.

Grandma told me they were to be slaughtered for food; I told her I did not care, they were mean, muddy and smelled pukey. We would not eat the bunny rabbits would we, Grandma? No, she would smile and stroke my head gently. 

We would then stop for a few minutes and watch Grandpa Hunter, a kind and soft-spoken soul as well, as he plowed up the large field with Old Mader pulling the tiller in preparation for his tobacco and corn planting.


Then came my favorite time of the day. Grandma and I would return to her kitchen and she would tie one of her aprons around my waist, letting it fall to my feet. She would stand me up on a chair alongside where she would be standing and the magic began. Every experience brought something different, something delicious. This particular day it was to teach me how to make her size-of-a-saucer homemade biscuits.

Her kitchen table was huge, solid wood and worn in the places where she prepared most of her food. The 'chopping' end had tiny knife pocks in the wood. The end of the table where biscuits were made was especially smooth and slightly hollowed in the shape of a large round of dough that had been beaten in with her fists on that table God only knew how many times.

 In preparation for biscuit making, first Grandma and I had to walk out to the spring house to get buttermilk, butter, strawberry jam and milk. The springhouse was near the main house and was a small building cut into the side of a hill so only the front part of the small house was exposed. A small doorway gave entrance and you had to bend over if you were big people. Once inside, it was very, very cool.

This little house was built on top of a cold water spring and there were large smooth stones set around the cold pool of water in the middle. On these stones sat a crock of butter, cold jams and jellies, large glass containers of milk and buttermilk from the cow; bacon, sausage, hams and hocks from the pigs; and eggs from those pecking chickens.  

As I looked around with my grandma, I recognized the items I had been a part of placing there. She had taught me how to pour raw milk into her churn from the cow we'd milked and then we'd lift the staff and plunge it up and down, up and down, up and down. That would cause butter to rise to the top. 

Then that butter would be scooped up and she helped me put it in a cloth and we would squeeze it ‘til there was no liquid left. We would then stuff it tight into that butter mold and carry it to the springhouse to turn firm. When it was done and we turned it out on a plate, it had a flower from the mold on top of it!

I also helped Grandma steal the chicken’s eggs from them. I gathered apples from the ground while grandma picked from the trees so we could peel and cook them with sugar and cinnamon and then pour them into jars. We picked strawberries from her berry patch, one for for the basket...another for me... and delicious jam was made.

This day the buttermilk, butter, milk and strawberry jam were gathered, we settled back in the kitchen and the big wooden mixing bowl was set out. First, a whole bunch of flour was dumped into that bowl and then a pinch of salt, a large lump of white stuff she called lard. This was followed by a splash of melted butter. A great big wooden spoon stirred all this together and then we finally filled grandma's favorite tin cup with cold buttermilk and more mixing.

Another handful of flour went scattering out over that table top and the sticky mess was dumped in the middle. Then grandma’s hands were flying so fast over that huge ball I could hardly see them. To this day I love the sound and sight of dough 'being worked' on a floured table. After she got control of it and most of the stickiness out, she told me to grab hold; I needed to knead it, she said.

The old oven door of the wood burning stove was popped open and the pre-heated pan drawn out. A quick lard coating of that pan, the biscuit shaped dough plopped on and then back inside that roaring fire heat.

Then came the part Grandma and I loved best. We sat at her kitchen table with the big platter of homemade biscuits, country butter and strawberry jam between us with large glasses of cold milk. We ate and laughed and talked about things that were especially important to a really old lady and a tiny blonde kid.

Of all the giggling and telling of tales that day, there was one thing this woman I loved so much failed to share with me.
She was dying.
My mama began to stay with me during my special time with my Grandma Minnie. Then eventually my grandma took to her bed and she never rose from it again. My mama fed, bathed and continually cried over her mama while I wandered aimlessly around the farm.

Mama then began to bring all us kids down to grandma and grandpa's every weekend. Mama's sisters and brothers and our cousins all came as well. Grandma's adult children all gathered in grandma's room and we kids romped and played outside in the tobacco barn and scattered over the cornfields, clueless of the 'death watch' taking place inside the old weathered house where grandma lay.
I had finally turned six and would be starting first grade soon. I knew my days of staying with my grandma during the school days would then be over.
I just hadn't internalized my days with my grandma would soon be over forever.

This gentle and wonderful woman died not long afterwards, after much agony from cervical cancer. She was prepared for burial and brought in her casket to our little home on Pennsylvania Avenue and set to rest in our living room used only for guests. I have no memory of crying. I do remember someone putting a tall stool beside her open casket for the kids to climb up on and sit. I did, staring at her, emotionless. And my mind is blank from then on regarding her funeral and the aftermath. 
It has been said that Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while… but our hearts forever.

I will always cherish our churn and butter mold, Grandma...and my memories of our time together are as slender tendrils clinging to those smells, sights and sounds of your wonderful old country kitchen from decades ago.

Monday, November 2, 2015

He Swept Me Off My Feet!

The first time I saw him my heart skipped a beat. 

It had been a long time since any other had this effect on me; I knew I could not let him get away from me without meeting him.

I was standing in front of the floral shop at Food City in Elizabethton waiting on an arrangement I had ordered. He had picked up his grocery cart at the front of the store and had rounded the corner, headed in my direction.

As he was strolling toward me my mind was racing. What could I do to get his attention? Should I quickly pay for my flowers and then follow him around as he shopped for his groceries until I ‘accidentally’ ran into him? I felt my face blush at the thought of that idea; I did not want him to think I was stalking him…he would probably shy away.

By this time he and his cart were about three feet from me my anxiety of missing this once in a blue moon chance overcame me. I garnered every bit of moxy I possessed and stepped out in front of his cart causing him to bump into me. A woman on a mission, I extended my hand.

“Hello. My name is Linda Blevins.”

He, too, held out his hand and in a very low, somewhat gruff voice said, “Hello ma’am. I am Mr. Lyons.”

I asked him if he knew how captivating he looked and if anyone had ever been as bold as I to step out and stop him just to meet him. “Yeah, there was a woman in Jonesborough who did the same thing”, he mumbled shyly.

Well, I told him, she must have been a writer as well and she must have, as I, felt she could not live another day if she could not take a photo and write a story about him.

“Yes ma’am, that’s right. She told me she was writing a book and was from Jonesboro.  So you write stories too?”

And that is how I came to meet Mr. Lyons, the Chimney Sweep.
That day I met him I knew what a Chimney Sweeper of the 1800’s looked like; he even wore a dapper black top hat rounding off the complete look. I must say I was fascinated. He was definitely a story waiting to be written.

He graciously gave me his phone number and I told him I would be in touch.

When I did call Mr. Lyons he agreed to come up to Misty Hollow. After all, I did have a chimney at Jakes Cabin that needed sweeping. When he arrived  we started chatting like we had been friends for a hundred years. As this delightful, small statured and charming man started carrying in his equipment and setting up, he kept me in stitches with his clever and funny remarks.

While he worked, I asked him, in the interest of writing his story, what was the most serious thing that ever happened to him during his long career of sweeping chimneys.

“Oh, that’s a easy one”, he responded quickly. “I do remember that day I was standin’ with one foot on the very top rung of a thirty foot ladder and the trick was to swing my other foot over to the roof to get to the chimney. Well, it did not work ‘cause I crashed to the ground and broke my back in two places. The next thing that happened I was in a hospital bed and learned the bad news. Now, my wife was in a hospital up in Virginia. She depended on me and here I laid with my back broke. I had to get outta there and get back to work! So I left that hospital early with a full back brace and went home and sat there in a chair, starin’ out the window for three days. Then it hit me, I gotta get up and start movin’ so first I walked just a bit around the house. Then I walked just a little bit more and then I got out and walked down the sidewalk. In seven days I was drivin’.”

At this point, I was stunned. What were you thinking, I asked this sweeper of chimneys, obviously a man who also swept away sound judgment when it came to his health and well-being.

“Well, I had nobody to help me, Linda. I was in a bad need of things from the grocery store and the only way I could get there was to drive. So from that first drive, I figured that a broken back could throw me to the ground but could not keep me there.”

I sat there in amazement listening to this crusty, pull-myself-up-by-the-bootstraps man-of-men and marveled. He continued.

“So, where I had been out of commission, seven days after the accident I was drivin’ and three months after that fall, I was back up on that ladder sweepin’ again.”

Oh holy cow! I told him I truly knew of no one in my lifetime that could have pulled that off.

Distressed by that story, I decided to switch gears.

“Mr. Lyons, do you have a light hearted story you could share? What about the funniest, or the most exciting thing that has ever happened to you in your long career.”

He brought his face out from that dark scary hole going up into my chimney and flashed me a big smile. I shot one back, not wanted to laugh out loud at the black soot on his nose and forehead.

“Oh yeah. Well, it was not funny at the time but lookin’ back on it, I do chuckle now and again. And it was definitely excitin’.

One day I had a appointment at a house and this was a old 1800’s house. Those houses have the ole timey dampers that you have to stick your whole head up in to. The lady of the house, like you, had never seen a chimney sweepin’ so she perched on the couch to watch. After gettin’ everything ready, I laid on the floor and then reached my whole head all the way up into that damper.”

I sat there on the sofa at Jakes Cabin, breathless, hanging on to every word this man was saying.

“Lo and behold! I came face to face with a huge blacksnake!

I jerked my heard out from there and gaspin’, told the lady what I had just witnessed. She thought my reaction was so darn funny she started cacklin’. She then asked me how the world we were goin’ to get that thing outta there and I told her to go get a sack. She did and when she came back I told her I was going to pull it out and she was to hold the sack open wide and catch it.”

Now, I am not a mean spirited person but I am a story writer and I could not contain myself.

“Oh, Mr. Lyons! Please tell me you accidentally dropped the snake on her for laughing at you!” I mean, you have to admit that would have been an incredible ending to this story.

“Nope, I didn’t. We got that six foot long bugger in the sack but by the time that job was finished, I felt like stickin’ her up that chimney!”

My buddy of soot and steel left that day with an appointment to come back and sweep Bear Cabin. I cannot wait. As he drove away, he left me with the gift of knowing I had made another new friend up here in these mountains I now call home.