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APRIL 25, 2018

POSSUM BIT...WON'T LET GO!

JOHN HENSLEY JOHN HENSLEY

By John Hensley


For the first 13 years of my life I lived on Big Creek in Pike County Ky. Dad owned three quarters of the hollow that we lived on. Our house was all the way back and up on a hill.

In those days most homes didn't have running water or electricity. We were lucky that we did have electric. We did not have running water. Mom would have my brothers to bring in water every night. They would put the water in a large round bathtub. She would heat the water on the pot belly stove. We kept a good supply of coal and wood to burn. Not only did she cook on it, but it was the only source of heat.

I can still remember the smell of the coffee and the sound it made while it was being made in the perculator.

We had a seam of coal on the property, Dad and my brothers would go mine the coal. I got to go sometimes, but was usually more in the way than a help.

We stayed in the hills and gardens for entertainment. My brothers hunted or fished all the time. My brother Dave, would trap animals in the winter for their fur. He would send the hides off and get his money back in the mail. He would use this for school clothes or whatever else was needed.

He also had traps that he could catch live animals in and release them unharmed. He was always catching baby animals and bringing them to me for pets. I would never know what he was bringing home next. I had pet squirrels and rabbits.

One day he brought home a baby possum. It was not the prettiest pet that I had seen but it was something.

Our house had a porch that was open underneath and the dogs usually slept there.

Mom had a set of barber clippers and would cut the neighbors hair if they wanted her to, Mr, Muncy came to get his hair cut. I was standing on this porch barefooted and shirtless holding the little possum against me on this day.

Possums do two things to protect themselves they will act dead, hence this is where the term 'play possum' comes from, or they will defend themselves.

The dogs, we had a pack of them, came out from under the porch barking intensely. The little possum that I was holding turned and bit me on the chest. You would have to picture this in your mind, a little barefoot shirtless boy running screaming through the house with the possum hanging on with just its teeth bouncing off my chest as I ran. I was no longer holding it.

Mom tried several things to get it to turn loose but to no avail. Finally she found a sewing needle and stuck it with that. The possum opened its mouth and fell off never to be seen again. I have a scar on my chest to this day...

 

MAW AND PAW HENSLEYMAW AND PAW HENSLEY

Hensley now lives across the line in Martin County.

###

April 8 at 11:40pm

Never go home again?

(BONUS STORY)

It is said that you can never go home again, well today I went back home. My mother and father were God fearing and loving people, so I was in church regularly growing up on Big Creek, in Pike Co. Ky. and there was three churches that I attended.

The '77 flood and the new road on 119 took out two of them.

The only one left is the Nolan Freewill Baptist. This church was established in the 1800's and has been rebuilt several times. The church has had the same pastor for around 60 years, Brother Ray Taylor. He has been a true family friend for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories, when I was around three, was of him coming to the house, sitting on the porch and visiting with the family.

He has a very distinctive voice and laugh. Brother Ray is one of the people that I have known that is always a pleasure to see. His message is about loving one another. He was having a community meeting today and wanted everyone to come. He sent word to me through two or three people about how much he would like to see me and my family. So I got up early and went to church.

One of my cousins, Lou Hensley sang a few songs. The church had almost 200 people in it with more coming later in the day. I saw cousins I hadn't seen in a few years and friends from days long ago. It was an uplifting and rewarding day for me. I got to hug Brother Ray, tell him that I loved him and how much he meant to my family and myself. I would have to say that a day like today was priceless...

 

April 21, 2018

Growing Up In Louisa  ...Wash day!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

 Several years ago I wrote about some of my early experiences relating to washing our clothes. I know you will remember the grade school song that echoed in the hallways and classrooms of that old brick school at the base of Town Hill. “This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes...” Well the other day I sang that in hopes of getting some of my little grandchildren to join me in the little ditty. The problem was that they not only did not know the song, but I was moving my hands up and down as if it were on a washboard. You got it! These kids had no idea what I was doing. They’d never seen a washboard so it was totally foreign to them. It would be as bad as handing me a smartphone. The folks of my generation would know about those old implements, but very few that came after that ever saw anyone wash clothes that old-fashioned way.  When I thought about it, Washing clothes at creek Washing clothes at creek that method wasn’t far from beating wet garments on rocks on the side of the creek like in the movie “Old brother, where art thou.” By the time I was in grade school washboards were already slowly disappearing except for with country décor that displayed them to get that throwback ‘look.’

I remember when I was a young child that my mom would often set up a big galvanized washtub on the back porch. The tub was filled with hot, steamy and soapy water that had been heated on the kitchen stove and poured by bucketsful to use in the wash. I watched as she put her favorite wooden washboard down into the soapy water. I think it had a copper corrugated surface that she’d use to scrub the wet and soapy clothes up and down. I washboard washboard remember she had a second one that had a porcelain scrubbing surface, but for some reason I don’t think it was a favorite. All washboards I have seen have a place at the top to keep a bar of lye soap to be used to rub out stains or dirty areas. I remember with a bit of hurt that her hands were red from the hot water and all the abrasion from scrubbing the clothes up and down. Even in the winter this practice took its toll on her. I felt so sorry for her, but I continued to dirty up my clothing. It is what boys do, after all. This practice served as an example to teach me that all things in life do not come easily. Our moms did a lot of things for us for which I am grateful.

Some places we lived the laundry was done in the kitchen or in an outside laundry room instead or on the porch. I’m sure that was because the source of water was there. Those wash tubs and wringer washers had the propensity to get water everywhere. Dryers are a relatively new invention that many folks could neither afford to purchase or afford the electricity to run. It was a decade or two later when they finally came out.

ringer washer ringer washer  When we moved from the Louisa Inn to Granny’s house at 301 Clay Street, we soon had a brand, new ringer-washer. The tub was filled by a hose that was connected to the cold and hot water spigots. Once the water, soap, and clothes were added mom plugged in the electric cord in and moved the stick-handle that put it in gear. It was rather like shifting gears in a car.  Then the built in agitator began its work of swishing the clothes back and forth. I remember that the water darkened, or greyed, I assume because of the freed up dirt. Finally mom hooked the drain hose over the sink. A built-in pump sucked out all that dirty water into the hose so it could go down the drain. I remember seeing someone out in the county who didn’t have a sink, so they just allowed the water to run on the ground, outside. Because their house wasn’t plumbed, they had to fill the washers by bringing heated water from the kitchen range. Once a cycle was done, Mom had to wring out the water by putting the clothes through the attached wringer. It was a device that was swung into position over another washtub that was filled with some clean, but cold, rinse water. The laundry would fall into the rinse water, be swooshed around by hand and then wrung out again before they were put back through the ringer.  After that, mom would shake out the clothes and take the wet garments out back to hang on the line.

using ringer using ringer  I remember my Aunt once getting her hand stuck in the ringer. While she was screaming in pain, the rest of us ran around trying to figure out what to do. The machine pulled her whole hand in and started up her arm, but a safety feature finally popped the two roller-cylinders apart. She was badly bruised and sore for several days. I learned to respect machinery from that event. Oh, and I finally figured out that unplugging it might have helped…whoops!

As I grew taller I helped hang the clothes on the clothesline. I remember we had two kinds of wooden clothespins. One was a single piece of wood that looked like a little man with a head and long legs. I remember using them to make Christmas tree decorations back when our kids were young. The other kind was made with two pieces of wood and held together with a steel spring. This one could be opened to clamp the wet clothing on the clothesline. Both worked very well. Mom showed me how to overlap the various pieces of wet clothing so to minimize the number of pins needed and to save space on the clothes pin clothes pin clothesline. Some garments, like pants were hung by their cuffs, upside-down, so to dry better. Since the water would go to the lowest level, you could feel the waistband to see when they had dried enough to fold and bring in.

In the winter we’d still hang out the wash, but everything would soon freeze hard. I remember playing outside and running into some frozen pants once. They spun around on the line and hit me again from the backside. The clothespins kept them from falling. It stung my poor, cold ear so I made sure to avoid hitting them again. I seem to have a thing with clotheslines. One winter’s day my mom asked me to go out and bring in the wash. I looked up from reading my comic book and told her I was sure it was frozen solid. It made sense to me that if it was frozen then water was still present in the fabric so when the clothes warmed up they’d still be wet from the thawing ice. She brushed that off and made me go out anyway, so I did as instructed. I was right that it was stiff, but when it thawed to my amazement it was perfectly dry. I still don’t see the logic of how that works, because when ice melts it turns back into water, but not in this case. Where did it go? Freeze dried, I recon.

Would you believe that today, some neighborhoods will not even allow you to have a clothesline? These fancy homeowner’s associations have nothing to do but take away our freedoms. We must have this kind of roofing, a certain kind of siding, and this kind of windows! We cannot have junk out, can’t fly a flag, or park a vehicle with business markings on the street. They have their own Gestapo out every day looking for violations. I mean, whoever heard of not hanging out your clothes? Many newer homes have the laundry room near to the bedrooms instead of the kitchen or back porch. This allows laundry to be washed and dried near its point of use. Cuts down on having to carry baskets up and down stairs, I guess.

When I was growing up I don’t remember who put in the first laundromat in town, but I do remember the celebrations of opening day. Town officials were on hand as was nearly every lady in town. There were a few men, but that was a different time. The new laundromat was located near the tracks midway down Jefferson Street south of Pocahontas. I remember there had been a good bit of advertising posted around town on telephone poles, the windows of various businesses, and ads in the weekly newspaper. It was a new thing for our little town so folks had marked the day on their calendars and were getting excited. Each of the ladies and sometimes the bigger kids had big baskets of dirty laundry to test out the new equipment. They had been promised that this would save tons of work. Management had put up signs on the walls explaining all the ‘rules.’ To be fair with others, to reduce risks and liability you needed to know what customers could, or could not do.

 detergentdetergent As I remember the new cinder block building had a double row of washing machines that went down the middle of the room. The driers were lined against the outside walls. The building was painted a bright white inside and out, which made it look clean. I remember they had some tables that were meant to be used to fold the laundry once it came out of the drier. It seemed as if the owner had thought of everything. There were even dispensing machines to provide soap and bleach. I was told to stay away from that because bleach mishandled could ruin everything. I remembered a few of the commercials about detergents, but really that just didn’t seem that interesting to me.

There was a line of people waiting to use the machines, but they were patient to take their turn. They just used the spare time to visit and catch up on the local news (and gossip). I listened as the dimes and quarters clanked when they were dropped into the machines. In spite of having the machines that dispensed soap, many brought their own boxes of Tide, Oxiclean, Borax, or Fab Laundry Detergent. I was excited at the sight of the lids being lifted. Powdered soap was being spilled into the washers while the first group of customers were busy folding or bringing in another load.

Being a curious boy, I went outside and inspected the vents where air was coming out. It was hot, and humid, and contained small amounts of lint and fluff. Hmmmm. I supposed those cinder block walls would not ignite from the heat and the wind would likely carry away the lint. The operation passed my expert fire protection exam. My Great Aunt Shirley Chapman spent some money there over the next couple of days, but when the excitement wore off, she figured out that it took serious work to haul the dirty laundry over there, she’d have to wait to use the machines, and it would cost her money. Money in any denomination was scarce in those days. We went back to doing our laundry at home. I don’t know if that building is still in use, or if it’s still a laundromat. I guess I should have driven down that way when I was in town to see if it was still there.  I think that Andy York, at some time or another, maybe closed his store and changed it into a laundromat. I would have been good for the lower end of town if he did. I’m sure someone will remember that and remind me.

Washing machines have changed a lot over the years. Back then they were top loading, but the one I have now in my home is front loading. Newer ones have a number of settings and other features that are designed to handle different fabrics, and to even diagnose the problem if something is wrong. One of the joys for me was when they were spinning they would sometimes get out of balance and make a racket. I’ve seen them jump so badly I wondered if they might break through the floor or take out a wall.

While dryers are now very common, it wasn’t so in the 40’s and 50’s. The dryers today can ‘feel’ when the load is dry, but they have timers, too, and a few automatic settings. They send out signals like a microwave so you know it’s time to take the load out. They also keep the laundry wrinkle-free by tumbling it regularly for a spell, to give you time to get back and put the clothes on hangers, or in case you forgot you had a load working.

 Some of the major changes involve the newer fabrics as much as the washing machines. I remember when some things were good to wash, but others had to be dry cleaned or they would shrink. The way I was growing I didn’t need anything to shrink. Ironing was another step that the newer textiles have made unnecessary. I don’t miss that. I remember having to iron my suit for the prom with a flat-iron and a pair of pliers. We had lost the wooden handles, so the pliers made it possible to maneuver the flatiron. The electric iron wouldn’t work because we had a power outage just in time for the dance. Grrrrr!   

Today we consider an electric washer and dryer as complete necessities. We live lives that are far more hectic and faster-paced than our ancestors.  We tell ourselves that we just don’t have the time to hang out laundry and then later take it in. Maybe this kind of work was more rewarding than we realized. The quiet time while hanging out laundry gave us some fresh air, some vitamin D from the sunshine, gave us time to think, and also gave us a feeling of accomplishing something. We were blessed in many ways in those days, and blessed again as America made progress. We still had ironing to do until finally ‘wash and wear’ became the norm. Today we don’t starch, don’t iron, and barely deal with our dirty clothes. That may be fighting words to some who still spend a lot of time with the laundry, and young single folks who have to go to a laundromat. When I hear folks complain about having to wash our clothes, I think of mom’s red hands and her scrub board. Those who complain don’t know the half of it

My wife has a recipe for making your own powdered soap. She told me that wants to sell her two old washboards should you find that you want one. I think she feels threatened that I may want her to use them… As we sign off dear readers, sing with me now, “This is the way we wash our clothes…”

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April 14, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Echoes of Laughter!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

I know that Kentucky is still living with winter’s snows, but over here on Virginia’s coast we’re finally getting a break in temperatures and enjoying some tentative outdoor opportunities. In fact, my wife and I are trying to close on a new home that will offer fishing and other outside activities. A deck will provide plenty of sunshine as if I needed to get my summer tan. More likely I’ll be inside flipping through a different kind of channel.

While growing up had its ups and downs for most of us, it is the good times that we like to remember. For example, I remember those summers of long ago where we kids grabbed an empty canning jar and went in search of lightning bugs. Once we had them secure in the jar their little flashes would light up sending excitement as we marveled over the miracle. We were quick to let them go since we didn’t want to harm them. Along the same line, we also caught ‘June Bugs.’ While they were larger and made a buzzing sound with their wings, we learned, perhaps from an older kid, to tie a string on the bug’s back legs and then let them fly. Of course, they could only go as far as the length of the string, so they flew in circles around us to our delight. Maybe the Lord will punish us one day for being cruel to the little creatures, but until the new wore off, this was an annual entertainment on those warm days.

I am looking forward to our first lightning bug hunt this year because we have three toddler grandkids staying with us for a time. I know they will be interested in capturing a lighting bug or two. That should have brought back a memory for most of you readers because it would have been a rare kid that hadn’t collected those in their early years. My kids and the older grandkids still get excited watching the bugs blink on and off like a commercial neon sign. Even as an older kid, chasing friends around during a late game of tag, or hide and seek, lightning bugs were always part of the scene. I’m sorry for any reader that may be offended by this activity, but it still is a common practice.

I remember the echoes of laughter and the screams from delighted children on a summer’s evening. Supper was over, the adults had settled on the porch, and we ‘young’uns’ were free to run, at least for a time. I think the most common thing to play was ‘tag.’ No one wanted to be ‘it’ and the competition was sometimes fierce. Slower kids like me were regularly ‘it’ to the point I often wondered if I’d ever shed the role. We surely remember calling out the phrases, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free” or “Ready or not, here I come.” I remember those little chanted songs such as “Here we go ‘round the Mulberry Bush” and “Here’s the way we wash our clothes (Who remembers how to use a washboard, or even know what one even is?) Even using a new ringer/washer in those early days was a game at first. Then, we found out that ringing out the twisted wash burned our hands, especially in cold weather. That wasn’t play anymore!

I remember one summer’s evening when I was playing in a friend’s backyard down near the northern end of Lock Avenue. Lighting was scarce because it was after dusk. I didn’t know the terrain well but still joined in a game of ‘tag’ or ‘hide and go seek.’ I was a tall, skinny kid, so you might be able to picture my trauma when I ran through a neighbor’s yard and hit a clothes line. It got me on my neck and like an arrow that was strung on a bow, the wire stretched as far as it would go. Then it did its job and shot me backwards as if I was an arrow. When I came to my senses I realized that I was on the ground and suffering some serious pain. I grabbed my throat and found a raw, nasty welt. I had seen pictures of hangings that (thank goodness) were before my time, but never thought I’d feel their pain. Other kids told me it looked bad so I was certain I was near life’s end. Of course, it wasn’t really that bad, but try to tell that to an injured teenager.

My grandmother told me the stories of kids from her generation running barrel hoops down the road with a stick. I’ve seen pictures of that, but barrels weren’t as common as they were before my time. I have never had a wooden barrel hoop but have seen steel ones. Used to hold barrel stays into place, they fell out of fashion when farmers no longer had to buy things in large quantity. I own a couple of ‘nail kegs,’ but can’t imagine buying a barrel of anything. In considering that older ‘sport,’ I could visualize the hoop breaking loose and crashing into a car or hitting someone. Back in the day there was less to hit, but shiny new cars changed that.

The closest I came to that kind of thing was a game of ‘kick the can,’ or ‘rock,’ or ‘stick, or whatever.’ I would move the object along as I walked up and down the roads of our little town. I’m sure the rough treatment didn’t help my shoes any, but it did keep my mind from drifting toward anything useful. It reminds me of a film on “Funniest Home Videos” where this dog kept pushing a rock with his nose. The sound bite that went along with it said, “push the rock, push the rock, push the rock’ over and over. I guess kicking the can was a little like that. Duh!

I remember neighborhood girls playing skip rope, or jump rope. (I never could do that, nor even wanted to.) They also played hopscotch (I was far too clumsy and was a guy anyway). Excuses aside, girls weren’t always nice if we cut in on their games, anyway. They would make faces, wiggle their hands next to their ears and sing in unison, “nanny, nanny boo-boo.” Boy! I hated that! It ranks right up there with ‘Nah, nah, Na nah nah.’

I remember that many boys played basketball at my house. We had a light wired way up in the trees so we could play up to eleven o’clock at night. It was before air conditioning, so all the windows were open in the neighborhood. Sounds of the ball being dribbled on the hard ground must have kicked off several headaches. Half of the LHS basketball team played there, learning the tricks they would later apply on the high school’s full court on Friday nights. Charlie Jones was one that often stopped by. Jim Bob Hatcher, Butch Wellman, and I think maybe Larry Weeks also played some there. I know Harry Richard Cyrus was there, as was Creep Chandler and Jimmy Walker. Billy Elkins remembered playing there when I spoke with him recently. Age didn’t matter so much, but the older fellows were automatically team leaders, or captains. We would choose up teams, an odd man sometimes ruled out. I was plenty good at being the odd man out. The last time I visited the old homeplace I looked at that area of the yard and wondered how we played is such a small space.

Yard games, such as badminton, croquet, dodge ball, choose-up baseball, football, and horse shoes were commonly played at parties and get-to-gathers. I remember two devout techniques on throwing horseshoes. I have seen the opposed points of view argued nearly to the point of fighting. One figured that holding the shoe near the opening of the ‘U’ was best while others thought that holding it at the bottom of the ‘U’ was the better way. Some spun the shoe while others tried to keep it from turning to keep it aligned with the post. I saw some real tournaments over those ‘growing up’ years. Some players were clearly better than others, but I think a measure of ‘luck’ often made the difference. I know that when no one was looking some players often tested other methods, hoping to find the perfect pitch. Then, there were those that would try to cheat. Not me!

Some of us boys had seen so much of John Wayne in war movies, we could not help having a favorite past time of playing war. We would build forts or redoubts on the river bank, or in the woods, and fight the imagined dreaded hoard of ‘Krouts’ or ‘Japs’ (depending upon the latest movie) until we met our deaths as valiant American heroes. We would crawl for hours through the mud to sneak up on a team of friends that was playing an enemy. I know Billy Elkins and Harry Richard played, but I expect that Jimmy Mullins, Creep (Paul Herman) Chandler, Johnny Bill Boggs, Stanley Brown and Johnny Justice were there, too. Billy told me he remembers one special redoubt/pillbox that we dug on the banks of the Big Sandy River below the bridge. It had to be near the place of an early landing at the end of Main Street. In our play we knew that we could ‘control’ the river from that site with a machine gun placement.

Along a different line, several of us town guys would meet on a Sunday afternoon and divide into two teams to play ‘track.’ One team would leave about thirty minutes before the other group and head up town hill and points beyond. The second group would have to go up and look for signs of passage such as a freshly overturned stone or broken twig. It was the second groups’ challenge to locate and catch up with the first group. That sometimes took hours but it was great fun, always ending with a wild chase up and down steep hills. I remember once going down a hill so steep that I only hit the ground every ten feet or so. When I realized a small tree was directly in my path that I wouldn’t be able to avoid, I ran right into it and tore it out of the ground. Thank goodness it was a small sapling. When I got down to the creek at the bottom of the hill there was a flat flood plain. My friends informed me that my head was bleeding. I felt a big knot and located small cut on my forehead. We laughed and headed back to town, having caught up with the first group. We were brothers who enjoyed being together. What a day!

When we were younger, we also played cowboys & Indians and would dress up with home-made war paint and feathers. (Chicken or goose.) I tried to figure out how to make breech cloths but quickly found that towels didn’t work very well. They rubbed us raw and inflicted great pain. If any adults or girls were near we also discovered that they were also dangerously susceptible to wardrobe malfunctions. Whoops!

As a boy, I dreamed of having some deer-skin pants like the ones worn by Tonto, but I never saw any for sale. I did find some neat moccasins on a Sioux reservation in Canada when on a fishing trip. I had worn them every day until they finally went in the trash my junior year.

Sure, there were a few times when I was bored, but those times were rare. After all, I had an imagination and could put any object to use with a little ‘make-believe.’ Sticks became guns or horses, or a baseball bat. In some ways, I think toys are almost too available, today. Certainly, we had some when growing up, but we also made our own. Whether it was out of an empty Quaker Oats box, or something else we found in the trash, we made do.

Life’s memories are made from things like games, and a ‘pretend’ attitude. Young minds and bodies grow when we reenact life by observing our parents and those around us. Play helps kids understand the past, and gives them a solid platform to figure out the future. Playing is how we learn, how we cope, and how we grow into adults. In school, recess was sometimes the best part of the day. Even better, it was at night when the neighborhood play-grounds drew those echoes of laughter and gave us immeasurable delight. I remember. Finally, with my energy spent, it was sweet to finally lay down my head and sleep.

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