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March 3, 2018

Growing up in Louisa  ...Boogying!

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candle stick.” This little nursery rhyme that I still carry from early childhood is a bit disconcerting to me as I look back over the years. You see, I have never had the agility to walk around a candle stick without risking my trousers catching fire, let alone tempt fate by pushing myself airborne over a flickering flame. In fact, I owe apologies to an early tap dancing teacher in Louisa. Apologies are due not only for my failing her class, but for my displaying no interest whatsoever in the then faddish practice.

I recently saw a notice in the Lazer that a line-dancing class was being offered. While there’s little hope I would ever learn line-dancing, any more than I learned to ‘stroll,’ back in the day (I loved to watch others stroll). I do have memories of a time I when was TAKEN (dragged) to a dancing class. My mom must have seen all the Hollywood dance movies of the day. She apparently imagined that her precious muffin might dance to Shirley Temple’s ‘Good Ship Lollipop’ and gain fame and fortune in Hollywood. I suppose I was to bring fame and fortune to the family. It turned out that her goal was unreasonable and would not materialize. Despite my clumsiness she dragged me to Hewlett’s Shoe Shop adjacent to Moore’s grocery on Madison. She had a pair of my dress shoes fitted with heal taps and with toe taps, as well. I liked the ‘click’ when I walked in shoes with heal taps, but the heavier ones in the front just gave me something else to trip over. They were now dancing shoes and were not to be used in public, or during play.

 While I have no memory of who the dancing instructor was, I do remember the classroom. I learned this from the weekly visits when I was pushed up some long stairs in the Compton building that was on the corner of Lock Avenue and Pike Street. I think still exists. As mom shoved me up the steps I undoubtedly whined and resisted. Once I had arrived in that large, open, second-floor room the teacher lined all the kids up. (I may have been the only boy), We were to learn the fine art of tap dancing. In my case, it might have been more useful if she would have taught me to simply walk straight without stumbling. I was, and still am, a bit clumsy. I had developed what I believe is a special skill; that is, finding new ways to trip. It wasn’t as funny as Dick Van Dyke tripping in his TV show, because I frequently suffered injuries such as bruises.

After only three or four dancing lessons I was more than ready to give up. The teacher had likely given up earlier, but my mom was there to watch every move and cheer me on. After what seemed like forever, my mom finally accepted that I wasn’t progressing. The good part was that she wouldn’t have to continue to spend the three dollar fee every week. Sadly, neither would I bring the family money and fame in Hollywood, or at least not by dancing. It was just as well because Hollywood never asked me if I could dance, or even liked dancing. Frankly, when a dance number began in a film at the Garden Theater, I usually figured it was a good time to get some more ten-cent popcorn, or visit the small men’s room just off the lobby.

 Now that I’ve mentioned Hollywood, I remember once being in a long line of kids and their ‘stage mothers.’ It was at the Garden Theater where every kid was in line to pose for pictures. Everyone was clean and polished and wearing their best Sunday outfits. The photographer had promoted the idea to parents that this was a real Hollywood ‘screen test.’ Shirley Temple, move over. Mom explained that once the pictures were taken they’d be sent and reviewed by famous Hollywood producers who would select the next star from the lot. Alas, as far as I know, no one from our little town ever passed the screen test. We did get a package of pictures that parents could purchase for only a small sum. Some of those pictures may exist to this very day, perhaps in the far corners of an attic. Mine are gone, unless the one showing me in a sailor suit came from the session. That exists in a scrap-book that Suzie put together. Maybe she’ll put that out at a wake or memorial service one day. No one will believe I ever looked like that! At that point, I’d never admit it!

I may have posted this sometime in the past, but it fits well here and is worth repeating. Back in 1929-1930, a film was made of Louisa. Since my mother was around during the years following that, I suspect parts may have been filmed later. She graduated in 41 or ’42, but can been seen in the film as a member of the LHS band, and occasionally in groups of students who march in front of the cameras. I guess that was her screen test. They shot most of it in the winter and focused on LHS, ice skating at the locks, a band parade, and pictures of several leading merchants and leading businesses around town. Seeing those old cars and the outfits worn by the women make the movie worth watching. Billy Elkins was kind enough to send me a copy. I watch it every now and then, but it can be found on the web. I’ll post the link here for anyone wanting to see the old town when it was bustling. My mom was so short she was easy to spot, especially when she brought up the rear in the band holding her trumpet.

I doubt the film received any Oscars, either, but it does record what otherwise may be lost history. It’s likely than many of our forefathers graced the movie, but it would take effort to figure out the names of many of the people featured.  Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDogQ4wVoSQ  The movie is about a Hollywood movie scout named Gary Owens who came to Louisa to film the little town and to tell its’ story. It was said that this fellow had come to town in search of local talent. The credit out there on the web gives mention that the movie was transferred from an old projection movie reel to VHS by the Daughters of American Revolution, and by Fred Jones & Patty Wallace in 2000. I was glad to see it and can still pull it up on my computer. ‘Thanks for the memories,’ Fred and the others.

 What is it about moms that makes them think their little prizes are somehow, ‘special?’ From the moment they brought us babies home from the hospital, they were keen to load us into a tram, (baby buggy) to tour the streets (Main, Main Cross, and Madison) of our town. I can understand that they wanted others to meet their beautiful babies and hear compliments and praise of their friends. We babies were victims of their parents hopes and thusly were expected to perform. We smiled, cooed, giggled, spit, filled our diapers, and sometimes cried, but Hollywood missed it all. Sadly, even today no one has yet invited me to make a film. I can still gurgle. That’s amazing they haven’t called considering that many movies are produced today with zombies. I could really get into that role, if I don’t trip.   

I think that fathers generally escape these fame and fortune urges relating to their kids. They tend to focus on sports or some great political achievements. In my years of watching and participating in Little League programs and other such endeavors, it is a rare father that thinks their child was given the deserved spotlight on the playing field. Every father thinks his son should pitch, or bat ‘clean-up,’ and that others should be benched in their favor. Dads with little girls also know that their darling ‘princess’ should be head-cheerleader, the female lead in the school play, or prima ballerina. Let’s face it, we all know that our little muffins are the best in the bunch.

Today, as a doting grand and great-grand father, I am quick to see how very special my little prodigies are. I know that each has their respective strengths, but I keep under wraps that they may have some areas needing work. It’s not that I wish mine always would obtain the top role, but rather they each have a chance to deal with victory, and that they may also learn to handle defeat and disappointment. It will make them stronger. They will be better prepared for those ups and downs that they will experience throughout life.

History proves that it isn’t always to a kid’s advantage to be a rock star, starlet, or the MVP. I knew early in life by watching by LHS basketball and football that being a good sport was a sign of maturity. I was saddened when I saw displays from kids that were uncontrollably angered by things going bad. A wise coach will teach their charges that playing sports must be tempered by good sportsmanship. After all, that is the real lesson to be learned.

I’ve seen a parallel in life about how we feel about our children. If we hurt when we see our kids making mistakes, how much more does the Heavenly Father hurt when He sees us make defiant decisions? We are but one generation and our kids are of the next. The model is the same for each generation since we can do no better. Mankind has become civilized, but are little better as seen in recent history. Time is short, but how precious it is when we raise kids who have become good parents. Therein lies the hope of mankind and the only basis for pride. We harbor hope that our progenies may do well in life. It’s their legacy that counts and those of the next generations.   

A funny thing happened the other day as I stood by myself. I heard an old tune from the past wafting through the air. I instinctively began to move to the music. To my surprise, I found myself doing a little ‘soft-shoe’ dance to those wonderful strands. In my mind I saw again that second-floor room of long ago. Surprise bellowed up when I realized that I was tap dancing. If only mom could see me now. Pray, where are those cameras? Hollywood, watch out!  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

    

February 24, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – The Root of it All!  

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

With all the snow we’ve gotten this winter and the cold temperatures many of us have suffered, I was led to pause and think about the logistical problems that make life a little harder. Of course, what I’m thinking about is making certain we get the nourishment our bodies need (want) when we’re snowbound. Sure, we try to pick up appropriate foodstuff ahead of the storm, but we invariably forget something, or find the store shelves empty. This time around we were safe because our refrigerators were still full of left-over holiday goodies.

Even putting away the newly purchased supplies required some thinking. Like a normal male, I scratched my head and wondered what I might do to make room. Then like a lightning bolt, it hit me. Sitting the frozen stuff outside on the back porch would work. Well, a second thought scolded me for this wayward idea. You see, our neighborhood has befriended a large herd of deer, several foxes, and plenty of other wildlife creatures such as raccoons, opossums, coyotes, etc. If I put out anything that was unguarded it would likely disappear overnight. On top of that I’m sure the forest fauna would remember my address and come back for more. There’s nothing like putting out the welcome mat and feeding them all.

So, keep the groceries under key, I did some shifting around to find sufficient space indoors. Because I write this column that focuses on the past, I began to wonder if man has always fought this same battle. After all, once the hunters/gatherers successfully snagged a buffalo, there was suddenly a lot of meat to drag into the house. I wondered. Now, please keep in mind that when I was growing up, I was just a kid. I wasn’t necessarily aware of everything that happened in life. I left the big issues in the hands of my ‘grownups,’ but I did observe a few things that rise out of the cobwebs in my mind.

 I remembered that the good folks from the country had places where they secured storage, such as barns, cribs, and other out-buildings. Townspeople sometimes had barns, garages, and sheds on the property, but rarely were any of these used for food. The occasional ‘smoke house’ may have been the exception, but another place wiggled through my mind to take its rightful position as perhaps man’s earliest refrigerators. I’m talking about the old root cellars and spring houses that I remember being used on some of the homesteads I remember visiting. These kept food cool in the summer and prevented it from freezing in the winter.

 It was essentially a hole in the ground that was insulated by the surrounding hillside and rocks. They often had an underground source of cold spring water that kept temperatures constant, usually around fifty-five degrees. The ones I remember had doors that were locked to keep food safely away from the abundant animals lurking about, and growing children that might claim it as a playhouse. While people had more than one reason to venture outside to little buildings, it could be rough trying to find the steps that led down into the cellars, especially during heavy snowfalls. Slipping might have been cause for a serious injury in that cold environment. Digging out a safe access route was a challenge, I’m sure. Hopefully, the privy was situated downstream of the root cellar. That would prevent contamination of any water source running into the little structure.

Of course, folks living in those conditions saw it as a routine task for the family to venture out. They still had to do the milking, feeding the chickens and collecting eggs (few to none during cold spells), slopping of the hogs, and maybe gathering, or splitting firewood, or filling the ash can with lumps of coal. That was just part of life for many. In the current generation the problem may be more about how to reach and clean the satellite dish. After all, it’s the weekend and I want to watch the ballgames. Things have a way of changing, don’t they?

In another recent article, I mentioned how much Tom Jefferson may be shocked by the refrigerators that we use today. What with ice makers, filtered water, freezer compartments, drawers, etc., it would have to be a shock to imagine for old Tom and his staff. Of course, today’s refrigerators wouldn’t have worked anyway. Monticello didn’t have electricity, and if they did the snow would have knocked out the power lines. Why, he couldn’t have even called the power company to complain…I digress.

 It was common on larger colonial estates that the cooking was done in another building to protect the main house from the risk of fire. I’ve been in many of the old plantation homes here in Virginia that still exist up and down the James River. They all had separate kitchens early in their life. The first kitchens didn’t have cast-iron stoves, later called ranges, which were fueled on natural gas, wood, or coal. Instead, they had open fireplaces that the cooks used by swinging great pots over the coals on iron arms designed to take the heat. I can see that being okay during cold winter months, but I doubt I’d like those sweltering summers much. It was a step better than using campfires, I guess.

To get back to food storage, when I was growing up in eastern Kentucky many of my friend’s families used the same methods for keeping food as did Mr. Jefferson, President Washington, and all our nation’s forefathers. Vegetables and roots were put away in the dark recesses of root cellars, spring houses, or basement dugouts. That reduced spoilage and kept many things reasonably fresh. I remember that even apples and homemade candy were sometimes kept there. Maybe that’s why they kept the key out of reach of children.

 Meat, on the other hand required cooking quickly, or had to be cured by using salt or other preservatives, or hanging it in the smokehouse. Smoking is still used to flavor meats, and it allows the meat to dry so it is usable over long periods of time. The Smithfield and Isle of Wight County museum near where I currently work has a display of what is thought to be the world’s oldest ham. It was cured way back in 1902. Even at over a hundred years old, I’m assured that it is still edible. It is unlikely this prize ham will ever feel the edge of a serrated knife since it is an important tourist attraction. Farms back in my day often had a smokehouse, as well as other ways to keep milk, meat and produce.

My point is this. No matter how rudimentary the appliances I remember from my early youth, I am still from a far different era than the forefathers that helped develop this great nation. I remember, as many of you might, the ice man who brought a block of ice for the ‘ice box’ in our kitchen. The ‘ice plant’ was located at the southern end of Lock Avenue when I was growing up. It was next to the high school football field. I was told that the large brick warehouse next to the railroad on Madison had been an earlier, and much larger ice plant, but the little one near the football field is all I remember.

I recall that our ‘icebox’ always seemed to smell of clabbered milk. No doubt, the ice could only do its job when it was kept fresh and the doors were kept closed. I remember that the tray at the bottom of the icebox was designed to hold the melting water, but it required regular dumping. As I toddler, I remember grabbing the tray and dumping it several times, that is, until finally I learned that spilling water on the kitchen floor was a ‘bad thing.’ While it was funny at first to see people slip, it was decidedly not funny after I was caught laughing.

I also remember that only a block down the track from the Louisa Inn, Bill Keeton once ran a frozen-food locker business. I was in there several times with my mother, but I don’t have any idea what we kept there. His locker was somewhere near the rear of Bradley’s Grocery Store and the barber shop, or maybe another door north. I’m sure it burned when that big fire happened that took many of the buildings in that area. In any case, refrigeration was a relatively new thing for many of us during those days. Freezers were even less common, and very rare in the early forties. I think I remember from somewhere that Bernard Nelson worked at the lockers briefly.

 It was the practice in northern climes for men to cut ice from the frozen lakes and rivers. They had to truck it (or wagon it) so they could store it in insulated rooms that was full of sawdust to keep the ice from sticking together. Mr. Jefferson had one of these rooms on the mountain just downhill from his dear Monticello. Historians tell us that he served up exotic cold desserts to his guests, such as the Marquis de Lafayette, or Merriweather Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), James Madison, or others that may have popped in. The ice would undoubtedly have caused a commotion and was to be greatly admired. These days, my mother and grandmother would be impressed with the refrigerator I currently have in my kitchen.

The wonderful small and large appliances of today, including: cook stoves, microwaves, air fryers, blenders, coffee makers, grills, sinks with running hot and cold water, stone countertops, and fancy cabinets would be cause for even my mom to shake her head. I mean, dishwashers? Get real! So, I ask you. Just when were the good old days?

Times change, but as the world’s wisest man once wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” He was right, you know. Today, we approach things differently, and have a lot more conveniences, but there are also trade-offs. So, for me, I’m in favor of enjoying whatever toys I’m lucky enough to have. In fact, I’m lucky to have even lived when I could have them. I just need to remind myself that as fantastic as they are, they are just today’s ‘toys,’ but will be tomorrow’s junk. What I think is graceful living probably won’t be considered living ‘high on the hog,’ very long. Abe Lincoln, as a President living in the White House, didn’t have a life-style anywhere near as luxurious as some of our poorest people take for granted today. With that, I think I’ll take another shower and sit down in front of my wide-screen and relax. Maybe I’ll dig out a root cellar next summer… or maybe I won’t. Just remembering may be enough.     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

                 

February 23, 2018

The Tug and Levisa rivers meet @ Louisa. Bobby Johnson's FB picture of the meeting point is striking.The Tug and Levisa rivers meet @ Louisa. Bobby Johnson's FB picture of the meeting point is striking.

By Wes Taylor

"...I’ve lived on the Tug my whole life, I’m 43 and I love this old river.

My grandfather Ray Taylor will be 86 this February and he has lived on the Tug his whole life, too.  I love the stories about him growing up here and fishing the Tug but a lot has changed since he was a boy.

He told us about the white bass and sauger runs every spring and the drums under boats but now we don’t have the runs or drum and would love to have that back, but I think the reason for us not having the runs is the fish can’t make it up and over the old locks down Louisa.

Fred's pics:  locks and needle dam. from Fred JonesFred's pics: locks and needle dam. from Fred Jones

FT. Gay view of locks and dam. photo by Joetta HatfieldFT. Gay view of locks and dam. photo by Joetta Hatfield

You can go there in the spring and catch them but I’ve fished both forks of the Big Sandy and have only caught one white bass above the locks and that was years ago and it was when we did a float down that way.

Our river is a lot cleaner now than it’s been in years, and more people are taking interest in the river and I think it would be great if we could get the fish runs back up the river again I mean two years ago I caught a green eel l had to call the Ky fish department to find out what I had caught.  The guy told me that it was the first time he had heard of one being caught on the Tug.

That’s when he said it must have got over the locks when the river was in a rise so I thought about it unless the river is up really big at the time the runs happen there’s no way for the fish to get on up the river so I was wondering if there’s other guys out there that would love to fish these runs like my grandfather did and if there’s a way to start talking to whoever is over things like this and see if there’s any way to remove the old locks or have a fish byways put in so we could have the runs of fish back up both rivers of the Big Sandy.

I hope that I’m not the only guy who would like to fish for this fish and maybe there’s someone that reads this will know who we can talk to about restore this fish runs."

 

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