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March 24, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – River City!

Weekly Feature ...by Mike Coburn

Susie and I had sat down for a quiet night’s movie. Usually, the faire is more about love or bonding in spite of conflicts, ala ‘Hallmark.’ That’s fine because we know in the end that we’ll feel good. While they are predictable, they give us the ‘end of the day,’ comfort that all is well with the world.

But this night was to start off differently.

You see, I had browsed and found a movie I hadn’t seen in years that dealt with man’s tenacity toward dishonesty.

It would be a long movie before my faith was finally restored in splendor and celebration in the final scene. The movie was ‘The Music Man,’ a traveling salesman selling dreams he could never really hope to deliver. He would con the people by playing to their hopes and aspirations for their children, the pride of the Iowa town, River City.

While looking for a ‘mark’ the fraudulent salesman discovered that the town was a recent recipient of a pool table being installed in the local pool hall. That spelled trouble for the town’s youth, right there in River City! I swallowed as my mind went back to the ‘River City’ of my youth. We had pool halls, too!

I think that the main pool room was Buttermilk’s, across from Rip’s and the Hamburger Inn. It was this one that attracted the older men, pool sharks, and traveling professional players. Except for those hanging lights centered over each of several pool tables, the room was basically dark. The walls were lined with racks of cues. Stools were set around and sometimes crowds would gather to watch the outcome of a game.

Eight ball was maybe the most common game, but setting up a nine ball rack told us where the money was involved. It was enough for me to remember the rules for ‘rotation,’ let along these other games. It didn’t matter. Younger kids were discouraged from hanging out there. There were some older boys that may or may not have cut a class from high school and frequented the joint. I do remember they would go on alert whenever the truant officer, Bill Elkins, was in the area. The back door was used by a few to escape certain capture and the punishment that was sure to follow. Buttermilk’s was run by Mr. Priode. I can’t say I knew him, but certainly I did see him a few times when I ventured into the establishment.

The funny thing about that was that Bill Elkins also purchased Homer Wright’s pool room over on Madison, next to Ryan’s near Pop’s Dairy Queen. I knew Homer as a carpenter, but didn’t find out for years later his connection to the pool room. Today, the conflict of interest for Bill Elkins seems obvious. Running a pool room and also being responsible for seeing that kids remain in school could be an issue. I think to him it was more about the investment than actually running the store. Still, I can see it dividing loyalties. This one was called, “Sport Spot Restaurant and Pool Room.” The pool room was in the back, so the business seemed to be about eating lunch, but the entertainment was calling at the sound of striking ivory balls. Ferris Bush ran the pool room during the day. A cousin of mine, who had saved up and bought a fancy cue that unscrewed and carried in a black case, was a frequent customer. There were rumors he gambled (o, my) and even sold some spirits until Jack Jordan, the Sheriff, suggested he stop. I think he did. Guys who carried their own cues were a danger to the kids who were just starting to play for money. You could bet the innocent would lose their allowance within minutes.

In fairness, the front room, a small restaurant, did offer up some good food. I’m told the meatloaf was absolutely wonderful. I may have eaten a burger or two, but I really remember more about the pool room. The back door seemed as busy as the front since parking was in the rear.

Louisa had some really good players back in the day. Unk Cain was an old guy, but was known for his amazing skill at the game. There were a few men who were known nationally. One was named ‘Fats,’ but I’ve lost the memory to say more about him. I know I was told story after story of fantastic shots made by these men. It wasn’t luck, either, for they almost always called their shots before taking a position behind the cue ball. Whether six rails, or a complex combination, the balls would drop just where it was predicted.

I know that I learned early on that a good pool player not only made the shot but had to consider whether English was required to make the ball roll or stop rolling where it should. You had to consider the next shot, too, so having the cue ball strike and knock in the target was only part of the mission. The next shot was critical to keep ‘your turn,’ active and allow you to ‘run the table.’ I’ve seen games played and won when the other player never even had a turn, or if having one and missed, never got to shoot again.

pool room pool room  I remember the little blue squares of chalk that you’d use for the tip of your cue. Without that the cue would slip and you’d stand a good chance that the tip would break. I remember the ‘pill bottles’ that were used to play nine ball, and then there were ‘bridges’ that helped one to support the cue during difficult shots/angles. The wooden triangular racks where used to ‘rack up’ the balls for a new game. For nine ball you still used the same rack, but had to position the fewer balls with your hands.

I never really shot a lot of pool until I had graduated and left for the Air Force. Everywhere I was stationed there was a pool table set up in the ‘day rooms,’ of each squadron. I spent many nights shooting pool and practicing shots. I never got involved in playing for money, but I suspect others did. I just wanted to learn the skillset to satisfy myself that I could learn the game. I was reasonably good, but far from the level of others I’d watch play.

No doubt, there was ‘trouble’ in River City, but somehow we survived. Maybe it was the marching band, or sports, or even academia that saved us? Who knows, but life is full of the good and bad. What we see as bad isn’t usually the worst and what we see as good, sometimes isn’t. Such is the nature of life.

Now I’m looking at some larger homes as a possibility to meet family needs. Maybe there will be a space for a pool table, who knows? There’s a risk though that we’d have trouble right here in the River City where I live, but we could always break out seventy-six trombones and parade about. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

         

March 17, 2018

Growing up in Louisa –Big Freeze!

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

I’ve noticed that our local trees think it must be nearing spring. The pear trees, the cherry trees, forsythia and daffodils are doing all they can to burst into majestic bloom. The days are getting longer but the long-awaited spring has failed to arrive. Like waiting for a rarely late train, we anticipate a flowery Easter and a switch to thoughts of spring training. But wait!

The mid to upper Atlantic coast has just ‘weathered’ their 3rd Nor’easter. Now I’m told another one will form south of Virginia and move up the coast with yet more snow! We are well past ground-hog day so what happened here? Global warming? Huh, more like another ‘ice age.’ Maybe like the giant woolly mammoth, we’ll freeze to be found by some explorer centuries from now. I guess that’s one way of getting famous, but I don’t much like the role but we don’t even get to vote. Even so, maybe some far-off country would interfere and we’d lose either way. Airports will lock up and the whole nation will feel the effects to the national economy.     

 gas stove gas stove When I was growing up in that iconic little town, the house I lived in had no insulation. Maybe that was because we hadn’t heard about it and the house construction easily predated that practice. I know folks who pasted newspapers on the walls to knock down the wind. We had never seen storm windows and real insulation. Therefore, winters took it out on us. Winter meant little personal comfort, especially for cold-natured fellows like me. I remember crowding with others in hope of catching a bit of heat from a small gas stove that was installed in a fireplace in my living room. Each room had a gas hearth heater, but none of them were much help. They simply just never heated the whole room. A person standing with their back in front of the stove could get temporary relief from the cold if only on one side at a time. I remember turning like a pig on a spit to assure the front got its’ fair share. That side of my body got very hot, but I worried about the safety of the gas fumes.

I remember head-aches from the fumes. There were also regular warnings of the dangers of having a robe catch fire if we backed a little too close. Every winter we heard of stories of local ladies who died from severe burns when their nightgowns ignited. Newer fabrics finally underwent some chemical treatments to make them ‘fire resistant,’ and the newer synthetic materials tended to melt if gotten hot. Those still burned the skin. People who had working fireplaces ran a greater risk of fire. So whether gas, wood or coal, fires were necessary to survive, but potentially a source of much sorrow. Only a very few had ‘space heaters,’ or floor furnaces that had large grates usually in a central hallway. Almost no one had ‘forced air,’ like we have today.

I remember a dairy farmer that had natural gas on his property. The gas company ran underground lines but allowed him to tie into the line without charge. I’m sure he was paid for the product, but free heat was wonderful when I visited. He had a floor furnace in his home, but also a heater in his workshop, the main barn, the ‘milk room’ and the parlor. The cows found themselves listening to classical music in a warm parlor and buckets of feed while they were being milked. Life was good for them, I’d think.

jack frostjack frost I clearly remember seeing icy designs on our living room windows. Mom told me it was the work of Jack Frost. He was good with his designs. Jack would paint a new picture again the next evening. . Sometimes, no amount of sun would help because the wind would continue to whip arctic air against the house. I recall curtains standing out as the wind pushed the cold into the room. Even to have had rolls of plastic in those days would have helped, but I think the product was only becoming available. We didn’t have any.

Our house didn’t have gutters, so rain came off the metal roof and created a ‘drip line’ in the soil around the foundations. In fact, small gravel tracks existed where one there may have been soil. My point is that during the winter it was very common to have rolls of ice-sickles hanging along the roof’s edge. I used to try and find the longest ones, or the widest chunks, but the real trick was to watch them fall like some soldiers spear. Normally, these shattered when they hit the ground, but a few would spike in an upright position. Ice-sickles also lined the porch roof, so I could reach these. As a dumb kid I’d break one off and use it as a sucker, much the same as an unflavored Popsicle. I know that wasn’t necessarily the cleanest thing to do, but ‘hey,’ I was just a kid.

I remember spending the night with a classmate who lived at Fallsburg. I didn’t know until I got there that he lived in a real log cabin in the woods. We fished that night, catching mostly water-dogs, but enough perch for breakfast. When we crawled into the shared bed, I found it heavy with quilts. There was to be very little tossing and turning that night. At daybreak my friend shook me and said he’d build a fire and cook breakfast. I could stay in bed until he got the cabin warm. The single room wasn’t that big, so the ‘pot-belly’ stove did the trick. There was a layer of snow on the top quilt that had come through the chinking. He told me it was a normal occurrence and I should not worry. That advice became useful many times in my life when things went south, but would work out. I was a bit ashamed when I realized that two or three generations back, everyone in Kentucky lived in log cabins. Daniel Boone and Abe Lincoln are two that come to mind.

Back then the only solution was to dress warmly. We wore long johns, layers of sweaters and even coats and wrapped in a blanket. We had those granny-made quilts and Afghans. Granny always wore a shawl, but I wore everything I could find and cuddled in a warm spot usually in a corner. It was a good thing if you had a buddy to share the warmth. The bed coverings grew heavy at night so it was hard to get up for nature’s calls. Those were cold days, for sure. I remember a few times when I had to go outside and actually found it was warmer outside than inside. What a discouragement. It would be many years later when I looked back and understood the name of a famous rock band, ‘Three Dog Night.’

The weather gave me excuse to visit friends and perhaps to stay a little longer. I was always friendly in those cold days. I also remember going to school, even if it was officially closed, because the classrooms were warm. I enjoyed sitting and talking with friends when school work was not required. I practiced with band instruments and actually studied a few times. Then it was time to go back into the cold.

ice fishing ice fishing  For the one winter I lived in Detroit I got to see people going ice fishing. They would put up their sheds out on the ice, usually on a lake, and could actually drive their car out to the shed. The younger kids would drive out and spin in circles, having fun. I know a few that went into the water when they ventured too far. I guess some fine old cars are laying on the bottom of some of those northern lakes.

It’s times like these that I have dreams of revisiting the Caribbean. Those tropical breezes, the green vegetation, and the warm sun hitting the beaches are the kinds of cool I like. Meanwhile, I think a cup of steaming coffee might just the take the edge off the chill. Be grateful for today’s advances, my friends, and stay warm! This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

March 10, 2018

Traveling Kentucky-Specific Vietnam Wall replica to debut at State Capitol Rotunda March 12

Traveling Wall 2018Traveling Wall 2018


A Kentucky-specific replica of the Vietnam Wall will begin its traveling career at the State Capitol Rotunda Monday, March 12 at 2 p.m.

The Traveling Kentucky Vietnam Wall displays the names of Kentuckians killed in the Vietnam War, taken prisoner or still missing. There are 1,105 names on the Traveling Kentucky Vietnam Wall. It is 9 feet tall and 18 feet long. Special guests for the unveiling ceremony are Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton, Attorney General Andy Beshear, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) Commissioner Benjamin Adams and KDVA Deputy Commissioner Heather French Henry.

The Traveling Kentucky Vietnam Wall will have no permanent home but will travel throughout the Commonwealth, visiting every county.

“Our intent is to take it to the communities and the public who may not have the opportunity to visit the Wall in Washington, D.C., or one of the large Traveling Walls,” said Jack Mattingly, State Council President of the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans of America. “This Wall is dedicated to all Kentuckians and will provide all Kentuckians an opportunity to remember and pay homage to those who gave their all.”

Several veteran groups joined forces to raise the funds to build the Wall two years ago. The Kentucky Veterans Trust Fund granted $21,000 of the $29,000 total, and other funding sponsors include Eastern Kentucky Power Company, Humana, Marine Corp League Det. 858, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Kentucky State Council, VVA Chapter 1050, VVA Chapter 1051 and VVA Chapter 1104.

To schedule an appearance or event with the Wall, call or write to Jack Mattingly (P.O. Box 675, Harrodsburg, KY, 40330 / 859-734-0217 / www.vvakystatecouncil.org.)

From Department of Veterans Affairs