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May 26, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Memorial Day!   

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Granny called it ‘Decoration Day.’

It took some questioning on my part to understand what was special about it. Up until then the word decoration related to me as when mom would be decorating a cake, perhaps for a birthday celebration, or some other occasion. I knew a little about decorating Christmas trees, but this warm, spring day wasn’t near the holidays, so that wasn’t it. I had no choice but to ask my granny what she meant. Granny explained that people decorated the graves of those fallen in wars. She told me that we’d be going to the graveyard later that morning. While we were at the cemetery we would put flowers on those graves. We would also visit and decorate the graves of others. It was to be a time of solemn remembrances of people that had gone on to their reward before us. Frankly, it was still a mystery to me, but I vowed to go along and learn.

 Because I was a ‘young’un’ in grade school, it was to be my first time on Pine Hill. That steep road up the front afforded me many chances to look down on our little town, but it was a sight that brought fear to me. If the driver of the car taking me up that narrow, winding road made one mistake it would make us permanent members of the Pine Hill Society. I preferred to remain above ground for the time being, thank you, so I mostly focused on the floorboard as the car lumbered up the hill. It was a relief when we ‘topped out.’ There before me was the broad, large cemetery used by many of the families about town. Monuments and tombstones were nearly everywhere in sight and some graves already decorated with flowers or miniature American flags.

I learned that old doc Wray, granny’s deceased husband, was buried near the back where now days a road leads to the recently built United Methodist Church. That shiny new building sits on the ridge that connects Pine Hill and Town Hill. I can’t say that this road existed back in the day, but this route to Pine Hill is preferable to me now over that steep climb that was used for so many years.

Once we got out of the car the adults went to see several graves, including grandpa Wray’s. I had not met the man, and had no picture in my mind of this relative. At first, I hung back. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that close to dead people. I had nightmarish thoughts of an arm reaching out from the grave and grabbing my ankle. I shuttered at the thought of being dragged into the earth never to be seen again. Poor mom would be so upset if her baby was taken so soon.

As the adults lingered, I lost my fears and began to think this might be a grand place to explore. Like any little boy I roamed nearby graves reading the names, dates of births/deaths of the people lying below my feet. “Don’t step on any graves!” my grandmother shouted to me. I wanted to know more so I ran to her as she explained, “It is disrespectful, to step on a grave. Stand off to one side, but never cross over.” Satisfied, I ventured back to a nearby section and carefully continued looking around. I could see other families off in the distance that were bent over and putting flowers next to the headstones. It was then that I noticed that some of the graves seemed to have sunken while others seemed to have mounds. Some were fresh and others seemed to be very old. I ran back to find my family. When I asked, granny carefully explained that in the olden days they didn’t use concrete vaults like they do now. That meant that without the support, the coffin would eventually rot and settle under the pressure of the dirt. Therefore the top layers would sink down around the corpse. Granny was careful to tell me the truth but she avoided inciting panic, which is what would have happened if she had she told me any of the stories of stepping on a grave and the foot breaking through the weakened coffin below. The horror of coming in contact with the remains of the dearly departed below would not have been something I could have handled at my young age. Ugh! Of course, later I heard about those things around campfires, or in whispers at school. No wonder it was bad to step on graves!

After being allowed to roam freely I was now equipped with knowledge of acceptable graveyard behaviors. As is normal with youth, I finally tired and wondered if we would ever be ready to leave. It was time to start pulling on the skirts and crying in hopes of encouraging our departure. I really didn’t want to spend the whole day on Pine Hill.

 On the trip back down the hill, granny also told me about some of the men who had died in defense of our country. It was they who made our lives as free Americans possible. For the first half of the day the flag should be at half-mast, then at noon raised to full staff.

This was a time when we were barely out of a World War, and where ‘police actions’ were underway in Korea. Many of the men in the community had served during WWII, and some older ones I had met had served in the First World War. One had served in the Spanish American war, but he was an old codger. As a ‘war’ baby, I was used to seeing olive drab jeeps, trucks, and even trains. I had seen some of the souvenirs that were commonly displayed in some of the homes I visited during those days. Some of our teachers would not only teach the history lessons of the American Revolution, but also lessons about a number of the foreign wars that followed.

During these days the Garden Theater showed war movies and never failed to have a newsreel depicting the latest news relating to the theaters of war. Many of these were filmed by the War Department, later called the Department of Defense. I learned how men risked and sometimes gave their lives for the flag, or to protect others. I learned about soldiers, sailors, and marines and their devotion to the country and to those of us too young to do our part. With this upbringing, I had no hesitation to join up when it was my time.

I still rise at the playing of the National Anthem, or the passing of Old Glory. I cannot help the tears that leak out when I hear the Star-Spangled Banner. My chest swells with pride. I have tried to teach this to my children, too. I have trouble understanding while some don’t in protest. Those people are confused. It is America that allows protests and demonstrations, so America isn’t the enemy. Wrongs may have been and may continue to happen, but it isn’t our native country that is wrong. Speaking out against wrong is fine, but remember it’s those who died that made your protest possible.

Regardless of politics, or the things that separate us in our thinking, we are still Americans and have every right to stand tall and proud. We have an obligation to those we remember this day, who gave what they had for us. I have no doubt this is the greatest nation in the world. It isn’t just the balances of freedom, but the fact we are free at all. We can call out wrong-doing, but we can celebrate that which is right. In this we have hope for tomorrow and can have the determination to see the next generation has a chance to enjoy the benefits of freedom.

Today, Decoration Day has become Memorial Day, the kickoff of summer. Theme parks open to summer hours, the pool covers are removed, and shorts are worn in the warming sunshine. Instead of visiting Pine Hill and other cemeteries about, we see folks taking vacations, making trips to see friends. We attend or participate in ballgames, tournaments, fishing, boating, swimming, and other kinds of play because this is, after all, summer’s first holiday. Those of us who live on the coast are reminded that hurricane season is also around the corner.

 A few will still remember those on Pine Hill and other cemeteries scattered about our country, but most do not. With luck, an American Legion honor guard will be at the stadium. For a moment those in the stands will remember. A wreath will be placed in Arlington and the guards will continue to honor our fallen military men and women. Other national cemeteries will be decorated with miniature flags. Those who recently lost a brother, sister, spouse, or parent will remember, but we all owe a debt. While we’re at it, we could show some support to the hurting families who paid the price.

Decoration Day that was originally meant to honor Civil War soldiers, is today Memorial Day when we are supposed to remember all those who died and those who are yet dying for this nation. May we pause in our summer celebrations and give thanks for the sacrifices not only for those who died, but those who survived and came home. It is politically correct to honor our armed forces, so go ahead, honor them.   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  

May 19, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Trikes & Bikes!  

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

 

My earliest memory of personal travel wasn’t about automobiles. We didn’t own one so it was a rare thing for us to go anywhere. I remember times of travel on the bus when I usually got sick from the fumes and the curvy roads. We also went on a train, but that was really rare. I mostly just watched them roll by. If I was lucky I’d see the engineer and wave. They always waved back as if I was their friend.

My first personal conveyer was a trusty stroller. I remember dim memories of her wheeling me and pushing back the visor to show off her sweet dumpling. Frankly, those memories are like faded tintypes that today I can barely make out. The family pram had been passed down from my cousin George who was three years my senior, for me and then for my cousin Julia who was junior to me by three years. We all graduated to a stroller once each of us were able to sit up. This contraption was made of both wood and steel and had some faded colored beads around the tray in front. I remember playing with those beads, but never noticing that the paint had nearly worn off on the beads and tray, alike. The wheels were made from a metal disk and wrapped with solid rubber tires. There was a space behind the back of my seat that allowed for mom to stick her purse or packages as she pushed me around.

 A red, metal Tricycle became part of our fleet once I was walking and able to push myself along. It took a week or two for me to learn to pedal. Meanwhile, I would often push and find I had entrapped my foot under the back of the bike. It took careful maneuvering to extract the aching foot, usually bringing its share of wet tears and loud crying. That became my incentive to use the pedals since they were far in front of danger. My cousin George was too big to use the trike, but he loved to stand on the little platform above the rear axle and push me down the sidewalks. Again, if I wasn’t careful I could be caught up under the rear as before. There were times that the big front wheel would turn and cause us both to tumble. After being consoled by mom, and George getting a dressing down for his disregard for safety, I resumed my play with the dangerous little tricycle.

It was mid-summer, likely around Independence Day, when George got his first two-wheel bicycle. This was long before the day of training wheels so we had to suffer the learning curve wreaks commonly known to kids all around. We got help from mom and got some sermons, too, relating to safety. While traffic in our little town wasn’t heavy, we still had automobiles and trucks traversing the streets and avenues. We promised to stay away from those by riding on the sidewalks and lots around our home.

I remember when George added decorations all over his new bike. It was the fanciest bike in the neighborhood. He used crepe paper colored in red, white and blue, between the spokes of the wheels. He mounted small American flags next to the handle-bar grips and put another above his rear reflector. Wow, this bike looked really good! It was later in the day when I learned he would be riding his bike in the big parade that was to be held on a Saturday, or a holiday. My mother had been a member of the LHS band and had marched those streets before. There were all kinds of floats and the old open cab, ‘crank’ fire engine. That was replaced later when the town bought a newer truck that I would later use when I was a volunteer.

 It wasn’t until I was in the first grade when I got my first bike. I remember flashes of my mom pushing me down Clay Street (a new home away from the Louisa Inn) toward Franklin. It was wobbly at first but I began to catch on after a day or two. Even that came with scrapes and bruises, and mom applying tons of Band-Aids and gauze. She used several kinds of antiseptic liquids each with their own disagreeable characteristics. I know that the alcohol burned and that methylate and iodine gave reddish stains or gave minor stings, too. But being all boy I saw the ‘boo-boos’ like merit badges. I was paying my dues, for sure, but the rewards would come in time. Mom had a cure for everything, but if she didn’t there would be a lady friend that would tell her about a home remedy. They were still better medicines than ‘castor oil’ I was force-fed when mom thought it good. I remember liking sassafras but not they say it is bad for you. Oh, well.

It was on ‘Wheeler’s Hill,’ that I had my first serious wreck. That little dip, which I saw on a recent visit seemed steep in those days. I began my descent downhill on Pocahontas leaving from Lady Washington Street toward Clay Street. At the bottom of this grand hill my head somehow went through the front wheel spokes of my bike causing both the bike and my head some serious damage. My forehead still has a lump, though not so pronounced as then. Perhaps this bump defined what the rest of my life would be. Who knows? Well, my cousin George saw the crash and ran home screaming that I had been killed. Here came mom and half the neighborhood running with medical supplies. If we had cell phones in those days no doubt an ambulance would have been called, perhaps from the Curtright or Young’s Funeral Homes. The first miracle of the day from my point of view was that I was still alive. A second miracle was that my head was disengaged from the broken wheel without inflicting additional injury. A third was when we were able to get the bike fixed.

This was a time when Schwinn was the King for making classic models designed to impress. The so-called English bicycles where not yet part of our lives. When they came in I saw my first ‘gear shift’ on my brand-new ‘three-speed,’ bike. Frankly, I never understood why I needed three speeds and found two of them as making my biking life harder, not better. Other generations would get ten-speeds, or even more gears, I guess. They weren’t wrong, but just came from another time.

I think the most negative things about bicycles is their propensity to eat trouser legs. If the chain guard was in place that was less of an issue, but when the chain had to be put back on the chain guard was in the way. Putting the guard back on was an extra step, so we lazy boys rarely ever bothered. We ended up having to roll up our jeans or risk that pants-leg would be frayed and caught up in the works. Shorts were a help in the summer once they were in style, but for a time it was only jeans or pants for us. I was skinny to start with, rarely buttoned by shirt to cover my bare stomach, so rolled up britches and an askew baseball cap made me look like some circus clown. Such was the cost of having and loving our bikes.   

Over the years I became a better bike rider often taking my heavy Schwinn bike down Town Hill without a mishap. That was a long way from my experience on ‘Wheeler Hill.’ (Named for Charley Wheeler). Johnny Bill and I once rode our bikes all the way to Fallsburg just to ask two girls for a date that night. Johnny Bill thought he might have the family station-wagon that night if they said ‘yes.’  The trip met disaster when we were halfway up a big hill we were spotted by Eddie Boggs, Johnny Bill’s dad. We were instructed to put our bikes in his station wagon and get in. He took us to his home and delivered a sermon I still remember. We got the chewing out of our lives. With heads hanging low we expressed our sorrow for not thinking about the dangers and promised to never, never do that again. True to our word, we didn’t take our bikes out on the highways again, but we took a boat trip down the Big Sandy that may have topped everything in terms of dangerous.

 When growing up, aside from dating a nice young lady that had a car, or going with some friends in borrowed cars, my only choice was to walk or mount my two-wheeler. The relatively small town made this an acceptable choice. After all, parking a bicycle and remembering to retrieve it later, was a bit of trouble. ‘Now, where did I leave that thing?’ Shoe leather became more and more important. If the trip was down to Dee’s to meet up with friends there was always a chance someone with a car would pick me up. The bike would have been a handicap and maybe cost me a fun trip to the drive-in in Ironton. My image was suffering because how cool is it to be nearly ‘grown up’ and still be peddling a bike around town?

If I needed to go to Johnny Bill’s house the bike was a good thing. If we went off doing something I would be able to choose to take the bike or leave it there. Then there were times when my good old steed was in disrepair. Whether it needed a new chain, a tire patched, or spokes replaced it was still out of commission, so walking was my other choice. So I would amble along kicking a can, or a rock, down the street. After joining the Air Force I was home for a visit. The last time I saw my bike was I had joined the Air Force. My cousin Julia used it to ‘toot’ me out of town, just past Hinkle’s Motel and Restaurant, where I thumbed a ride to back to Virginia. Until then my bicycle had been my primary mode of transportation. I guess the old beat-up ride is somewhere in bicycle heaven.  

While walking I sometimes dreamed that someday I might afford a car of my own. I’d have to get a driver’s license and be able to pay for gasoline, insurance and the occasional repair, but it would be worthwhile nonetheless. Oh to have the ability to pick a direction and burn up the local highways. In my thoughts I imagined I might even go as far as Huntington, maybe even further if I had good reason.

Fulfillment of this dream would require my getting a job. Then again, having a job would restrict me from having the time to go anywhere, so maybe the better solution was to relax and just let things happen as they might. Meanwhile, I rode my bike around town to see if anyone was doing anything. Who knows? Maybe they would let me join them.    

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May 18, 2018

In the early sixties when I was growing up, most homes didn't have TVs so people would go and visit each other for entertainment.

We lived in the main back of the hollow.

John Hensley lives in Warfield, Ky. where he runs a discount store. His main interests, besides writing FB articles,  are wood working, planting flowers, raising a garden, cooking, baking and going to lodgeJohn Hensley lives in Warfield, Ky. where he runs a discount store. His main interests, besides writing FB articles, are wood working, planting flowers, raising a garden, cooking, baking and going to lodgeDad owned two thirds of it, the entire left side and over to the right hand side. He let a couple build a house on the left side and said they could stay there, rent free, for as long as they lived. If they moved, the house would go back to him.

They were a nice old couple and we spent a lot of time with them.

Aunt Sarah, was what we called her, would gather us around and tell us ghost stories. She told us about how her cow milk was going sour and she didn't know what was causing it. It was stored down in a well that kept everything cool.

She was told that a witch was doing it and for her to stop it from happening, she had to get some willow switches to whip the well with. She did, and the next day her milk was good. She said later that day she saw a woman that had been mad at her for years that had stripes from the switches all over her!

Aunt Sarah would tell us about how, late at night, she could hear something coming down the mountain on the other side of the hill. She also told about how she had seen a ghost and told how it just seemed to float instead of walking like a normal person would do.

Even in the middle of the day her stories would raise the hairs on the back of your neck. There was a dirt road that ran up the hollow  shaped like a horseshoe where Aunt Sarah lived you could see the other side of the road from her house. There was a bottom in between the the two sides of the road. In the daylight there was a path that you could follow and make a shortcut. At night without a light it was impossible to do.

When I was six we moved out of the hollow and back into the house that my grandfather had helped to build for Mom and Dad. My oldest sister, Mary, and her husband, Roger, moved into our old house at the head of the hollow and lived there for a little while before lightning struck the house and burned it to the ground. They then bought the house that the old couple had lived in. They had moved out a year or so before.

Modernization began catching up with us and people started putting phones in their homes. They were party lines. You would have to wait until the line was clear before you could use it. You could pick it up and listen in on anyone's conversation. Today we all have private lines, but back then there was no choice in the matter.

Me and my baby sister Sarah had been staying with our sister Mary and playing with the babies, when Mother called and said that she was coming to get us. It was right at the edge of dark, in the twilight.

The moon was full and was out bright.

There was a mist in the air from the moisture of the night.

You could see fog starting raise out of the ground.

Mom was standing straight across from the house. She told us to walk down the road and come to her so we started walking, holding each other's hand and remembering the stories that Aunt Sarah had told us about the hollow. Mom was talking to us all the time and that helped to ease our fears a little bit but not much.

Just when we were getting to the the back of the horseshoe curve in the road, we saw something moving. It was all in white. It was moving towards us swiftly, seemingly to just float above the road. It was in the moon light and from where we were, it didn't appear to move like a human at all.

We started yelling and screaming for help and ran back to our sister, Mary. We were still holding hands, with me pulling my little sister onward. We would look back and see that it was gaining on us, This made us yell and scream even louder.

We had almost made it back to Mary's house, when it caught us!

We thought we were dead!

It turned out to be our middle sister Elizabeth. Mother had forgotten to mention that Liz was going to stay with Mary that night to help with the children. She and Mom had been to church and she was still wearing the white dress that came down to her knees, that she had worn to church. She was about ten and was afraid herself and was running to get there quicker. She didn't mean to scare us at the time, but did rather enjoy it. She was out of breath from running and laughing at us. After what seemed like an eternity for us we calmed down and caught our breath and started back again.

We made to Mother with no further incident.

 

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