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Louisa-Lawrence Co, KY

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June, 9, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Clean, Funny, Comedy !   

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

When I was browsing the web the other day I came across a list of old TV shows that were popular during my high school days and the years that closely followed. I was overwhelmed by the temptation to ‘click-a-link’ and watch an old program. When I gave in, it led me to a land of rediscovery of pleasant times and warm memories.

During my lunch breaks I have a habit of watching these old shows nearly every workday. I pick my favorite funny shows, but I have seen links to variety shows and others that I will explore when time permits. One link that I watched a week ago was not so much a throw-back to TV’s earliest days, per se, but was a nostalgic look at one of the leading stars during that time. Red Skelton was being interviewed by a young lady on a talk show. The entire show was devoted to visiting with this now-deceased, but beloved fellow. A new, younger audience was treated to what many of us old codgers have known for many years. This man was a truly humble, but highly talented man who spent his life bringing joy to others. He was genuinely honored to be in our homes to bring us a moment of fun.

He was a different kind of comedian than we see today. Early TV lacked today’s sophistication but it was very much at the root of good, really funny comedy. Red sometimes appeared as a little silly, but he brought out the kid in all of us. That was what Red SkeltonRed Skeltonmade him a great entertainer. We identified with him or his characters and were pleased by stereotypes in a day that political correctness was not a household term. Whether he was portraying ‘Freddie the Freeloader,’ or Clem Kadiddlehopper,’ he was truly a load of surprises while he fed us some funny, funny stuff.  Who can dispute the visible delight he had when he portrayed two birds, ‘Gertrude and Heathcliff?’ I remember that some in my family couldn’t abide his silliness and his laughing at his own jokes, but Red explained that he was having fun, too, and as such was one with the audience. He was a sweet, sweet man that commented every week that he truly was honored to ‘come into our homes,’ and visit with us as friends.

Red was also known as a talented oil painter. His most famous ones were of clowns, but he did paint landscapes and other things. He had a number of art shows, including his first in Vegas where he sold many paintings. Many of his famous clown paintings and prints were really self-portraits that reflected his character. Others resembled other stars of the day. In his lifetime thousands were sold at prices into six figures. Nonetheless, he was quick to give his work away or donate them to charities. I read that he had earned more money with his paintings than he did in television.

Like all of us, he was not a man without problems. The worse of them was the loss of his son two days before his tenth birthday. Driven to drink he had some rough years. His success in TV brought a lot of friends in the entertainment industry, but also some distractors. Network managers decided his work was too juvenile and lacked support from younger audiences. The long-running ‘Red Skelton Show’ was canceled by the network in spite of high ratings. Red was quoted that this broke his heart. Comedy was an outlet for him and to many of us who watched his outlandish antics. He had come up with many characters, and was known to create some while live on stage. Sure, he laughed at his own jokes, but the world laughed with him.

Another of my favorite memories was about a fellow called Tim Conway. He portrayed several characters, including the ‘old man’ and the ‘old doc.’ He introduced many of them during skits on the Carol Burnette Show. They drew amazing levels of uncontrolled laughter. I know it took great muscle strength to carry out the roles because he would take several minutes just to fall down some stairs. I feel I may be adopting the same, slow shuffle these days. Maybe it’s too much TV. Tim walked as if he was using a walker before they were ever invented. He played on the idea that even short steps will get us there, but it might take a while.

Going further back I enjoyed Cid Cesar and Imogene Coca with their skits. Then there was Steve Allen a truly funny man with loads of talent whose show always had lots of wonderful guest-stars. George Burns and Gracie Allen had a show where George would have a monologue with a lighted cigar. Gracie would join him with her fabulous banter that left us confused about her intellect. Truly, Gracie had to be very sharp to make her clueless character come alive. I remember that she died when she was far too young. Her departure left an empty spot in many of our lives.

Milton BerleMilton Berle Early TV funnymen were ‘humorists,’ after the school of Will Rogers. This was the opposite of the Lucile Balls and Red Skelton. The ‘straight man’ roles were played by Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis’s funnyman, and Jack Benny to Rochester’s. Milton Berle had a regular program that was popular as any of the comedy-variety shows of the day. I remember Mr. Peepers who had a situational comedy format that attracted friends across TV Land. Out came a host of those comedies that included Gilligan’s Island, Beverly Hillbillies, and Green Acres. The amazing thing is none of these had to resort to off-color jokes, or themes unsuitable for the whole family.

Slapstick was another crossover that often sent audiences into roars of laughter. When Lucy got in over her head, which was often, mayhem was sure to happen. These things bought many of us to tears and holding our sides, while gasping for air. Laughter is good for us. It heals, it distracts, and bonds us into a brotherhood.

Those memories of growing up in truly funny times are precious and very worth revisiting. For those who remember we know that real comedy doesn’t require shock, rudeness, or disrespect. Our memories of those early days of television remind us that there’s a better, more effective way to bring comedy to the audience. Want a reminder? I’ll give you a link here to get you started.

Red Skelton Interview:   

Tim Conway playing the role of the old man.     

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June 4, 2018

Open House at Vinson Center includes 'tea party' 

Lillie Vinson, a descendant of the great Fred M. Vinson, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court recently helped host a special "Tea party' at the renovated Vinson Center in Louisa.Lillie Vinson, a descendant of the great Fred M. Vinson, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court recently helped host a special "Tea party' at the renovated Vinson Center in Louisa.

Louisa resident Judy Watts helped host the Tea party at the newly redecorated Vinson Center.Louisa resident Judy Watts helped host the Tea party at the newly redecorated Vinson Center.

Exquisite table settings and atmosphere at the Open House tea party @ the Vinson Center in May.Exquisite table settings and atmosphere at the Open House tea party @ the Vinson Center in May.

Lillie and Sullivan University official Catrina Vargo had a great time at the Tea party...Lillie and Sullivan University official Catrina Vargo had a great time at the Tea party...



June 2, 2018

GROWING UP IN LOUISA – Summer is Here!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Now that we’ve passed Decoration/Memorial Day we know summer has begun. In fact, today’s weather forecast is for muggy temperatures in the low nineties. I suppose it is time to delight the world by putting on some summer shorts and showing lots of leg. Well, maybe not. I have been known to show mercy from time to time.

On my way to work the other day I noticed that some of the local farmers had already plowed and planted and neat rows of corn, cotton, and soy beans were ‘sock-high.’ With the rain pouring down from tropical depressions and cold fronts that aren’t, the plants are shooting skyward with utmost dispatch. We will soon enough be biting down on some well-buttered roasting ears. That’s one advantage of having a beard, I suppose. The butter has a harder time running down my chin.    

We are past the day when my wife would be busy washing the canning jars, collecting new lids, and locating the canners in anticipation of harvest. While I have no doubt that ‘home-grown’ is the best eating ever, we have grown older and lack the energies and stamina to face another canning season. There are farmer’s markets about where we can buy a bushel or peck as needed, but I still favor having some fresh tomatoes for the making of summer’s BLT’s. I also love half-runners and Kentucky Wonders together, pick them and let my wife do her magic with a little seasoning. Yum. Our kids and grandkids can eat tons of those with slices of ham, or a baked hen.

When I was growing up I was like most kids and I didn’t care much for my vegetables, On the other hand I remember that my grannie knew just how to season some garden greens, or make a salad with some hot bacon grease and green onions. That may have been bad food by today’s health standards, but boy it was good. On Sundays we usually had chicken, fried in the summer and baked in the winter. During the week we sometimes had pork chops and ground beef, usually used to augment spaghetti sauce, chili, or some gravy or sauces. I remember eating Welsh Rarebit which was melted cheese over toast, sometimes with a thin slice of country ham. Other times were lean and we were lucky to have dried beans, like navy or October beans.

 I remember sitting on our front porch with my great-grandmother and helping her to string garden beans. I can see her now sitting on that metal porch chair in her dress covered with a large, white apron. She would grab a handful of freshly picked beans from a bushel basket and dump them on her apron that covered her lap. She would string them and break them putting the good part in a large bowl that sat on the floor. She taught me how to string them and break them to just the right length. When we were finished she’d hold her apron and walk over to the edge of the porch and shake the strings and lose end into the flower-bed. Well, that was how it was done in those days. We literally through our trash away. At least the beans were biodegradable, eh? Later, when I ate some of those beans they tasted better because I had helped in their preparation.

A cliché that was often used while I was growing up was ‘best thing since sliced bread.’ As a kid, I took that to mean that sliced bread was better than the random cuts of homemade bread. In fact, in the days before serrated knives, homemade bread was hard to slice and not make a mess of everything. If the intent was to make toast, it took even more effort to size the slices just right. Today, I enjoy homemade bread, but the store-bought has its place, too. I guess settling on one thing or another in life deprives us of the best in some cases. It all has its place and we deserve to enjoy progress. The deal is figuring out what is real progress and what isn’t. For example, I enjoy the wonderful smells of fresh baked bread and the taste of fresh melted butter soaking into the heart of the slice. Even way back then, I remembered to take a hunk of bread and dip it into sorghum or honey. But for sandwiches, or to quickly mop up some gravy, there’s so many other kinds of bread that can add to the experience.

Late spring is also strawberry time. Who can doubt that strawberry picking, putting up jam or jellies, or spooning some on shortcake is an experience worth having. Kids, all with sticky faces and fingers squeal in delight as they spread on the butter and jam on a muffin or toast. A glass of milk and maybe a damp dishrag makes it all worthwhile. These are the kinds of moments that build memories and remind us seasonally, that good times are at hand.   

Many of us remember that during the wars of our childhood the government encouraged families to plant victory gardens. These gardens literally fed America while the commercial foods were canned and sent for the troops in the field. Some were larger than others and some families were better at choosing the right varieties of seed, but when properly done, they fed us well. I once wrote about the canning shed that was set up behind the old LHS bookstore. I was young then, but I remember seeing the steam rise from the commercial canners. Everyone was putting up food. I have no idea if it was a food-drive of some kind, or merely a time to share the canning equipment for the family pantry. Someone reading this may remember.   

I remember a number of those gardens that were sprinkled around the town, but so much more out where people had space. I know that High Bottom was full of gardens, as were many of the farms I saw as I traveled up and down the Big Sandy. I saw them in Webville, Lomansville, Buchannan, and Fallsburg. Smokey Valley had them on their rolling hills, and the Point with its flatter land was loaded with them. I saw them out toward Blaine, Catlettsburg, Potters, and Walbridge and all about. They were everywhere because Kentuckians know how to eat. I still know how and try to practice it daily. It’s no wonder that Harlan Saunders made good chicken.

Summertime is slow and easy, but it is also a time to eat. Usually, summer eating is lighter with salads, lighter desserts, and an iced drink. We had sweet-tea, but for lunch I often had Kool-Aid. Pop pulled from the freezing waters of the old drink machines hit the spot, but so did that drink from a gourd next to the well. I’m think it’s time to find a hammock, fold a magazine over my chest and close my eyes. See you next week.

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