The Bill Doug Hole
On one side of the river a massive chunk of rock had fallen away from the cliff and into the river, possibly eons ago, leaving a gaping hole in the side of the hill. The huge rock made a dandy place from which to dive into the cool, clear water on a hot summer's day. On the other side of the stream was a small sandbar, which was ideal for resting up after a swim, or for just lying there soaking up the sun.
The Bill Doug was about a mile, more or less, from my grandmother's house on Tunnel Hill, but when I was young and full of vinegar, such a distance meant nothing. When I was in the mood for fishing, I'd dig up a dozen or so juicy earthworms, put them in a tin can with a little dirt, and head out for the Bill Doug. I'd walk down to the bottom of the hill, cross the river on the railroad bridge, then turn left onto the well-worn path to the fishing hole. I remember how pleasant it was walking under the cool canopy of the big sycamore trees that lined the river's bank. On the way, I'd find or cut a slender stick five or six feet long, wrap 15 or 20 feet of white twine around the small end of it, then tie on a fishhook. If I didn't have a piece of lead to use as a sinker, I'd tie a small pebble onto the line.
At the fishing hole, it took some nimble footwork to get over several of the larger rocks, but it was usually worth it. As someone once said, "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work." The hole held catfish, red-eyes, horny-heads, and shiners. I didn't care what was biting, as long as something bit. I'm sure there were large and smallmouth bass in the Bill Doug, but it was not until years later that I learned how to fish for them.
Most of us boys, when we went swimming in the Bill Doug, wore jockey or boxer shorts, or cutoff jeans. Some of the braver lads, if they were reasonably sure that no females were approaching on either side of the river, would go skinny-dipping. But I, being the modest soul that I am, always wore my jockey shorts.
One sultry day when a bunch of us boys were enjoying a swim, there appeared, just beyond the sandbar, a group of Girl Scouts on a field trip. Here, I thought, is my chance to impress a few young girls. I climbed up the big rock as far as I dared, struck a pose like an Olympic diver, and hit the water. I dove as deep as I could, then shot up through the surface like a submarine-launched missile; minus my shorts.
Well, the reactions from the girls ranged from screams to giggles to stunned silence. The flustered scout leader hurriedly gathered her girls together and herded them on up the riverbank and, thankfully, out of sight.
Oh, yeah, I made an impression on them all right. But not in the way I'd anticipated.
My family, both on my mother's and father's side, is from a small place in Knott County called Vest. My father, John Owsley, was born there on November 27, 1900. My mother, who was two years older than my father, was born in Vest on July 28, 1898. Her name was Sylvania Wooten. (See photo, page 14.)
I remember as a child how hard life was for them. My father loved farming, but had no luck at it. As the family kept growing, he felt he needed to make a move to Perry County, where he could get a job working in the Ajax Coal Mines. We moved to the little town of Bulan, about five miles east of Hazard, when I was school age. Dad worked for the Ajax Coal Company for several years, until his health began to deteriorate from breathing all of the coal dust. My mother worked just as hard as my father, taking care of four children, gardening, raising chickens, selling eggs, and keeping several borders from time to time. They always seemed to find a way to keep us all going.
However, the time finally came when my parents had to move from Bulan to Phoenix, Arizona, because my father had black lung disease, and the doctor thought the drier climate of the West would be good for him. By this time, I was in Europe doing my part in WWII. It was 1943.
My parents returned to Bulan in 1948. They quietly settled back into the tiny mountain community. I was back from the war by this time and had started a family of my own. Like most of the young men of my day, I got a job working in the coal mines and stayed with it until there was little work to be had.
I, eventually, had to pack up, say goodbye to my family and friends, and head north, where I was told there was plenty of factory work for anyone wanting a job. For nearly 35 years, I lived in Michigan City, Indiana. I retired from U. S. Steel in Gary, Indiana, in 1984.
After living in Dayton, Tennessee, for five years, following my retirement, I made my way back to Bulan and the home where I grew up.
The house holds many fine memories for me of my parents, and the good times I had growing up there. I remember that my mother was always cooking, cleaning, or canning something. My father worked in the garden when he wasn't at the Texaco Filling Station he ran for nearly 20 years in Bulan.
My parents are gone now. The house passed to me, following their deaths. I sit on the big wrap-around porch and admire the rose bushes my mother had planted on the hill in front of the house many years ago.
I can look out past the well of mountain stone my father built more than 70 years ago and see the aged grapevines he planted. I remember how he enjoyed picking the vines clean when the grapes were ripe. He would turn them over to my mother, who used to make wonderful jams and jellies.
The grapes are cared for and picked by me now, and usually are given to my neighbors. Mom and Dad are buried at Bearville, on a quiet hillside away from the noise of traffic and not far from where they were both born and reared. They rest among generations of family, who spent most of their lives in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.
I remember attending the Hildreth School (Nicholas County), with the huge bell in the tower on the roof, ringing for miles to tell children that it was time for school. Ringing the bell was a special privilege, reserved only for the older boys in the class (girls did not ring the bell, since Women's Lib was unheard-of then).
I remember the giant pot-bellied stove, which stood in the center of the building. It was the teacher's responsibility to come in early in the morning to build a fire, so the room would be warm when class time came.
Large seats, reserved for the older children, were placed close to the window, so in the wintertime the older children would be cold, while the younger ones were warmed by the wood-burning stove's fire.
The tables were turned in the spring, however, when the window provided breezes on warm days.
I remember reading the Bible before classes began, reciting the Lord's Prayer, and saying the pledge. We didn't know, at the time, that our civil rights were being violated. We could use a little violation in this day and age! It was probably the only religious training a lot of children had.
I remember following the path outdoors to the restroom, and having to drink water from the cistern just outside the door. Everyone drank from a bucket. If you did not own a cup, one would be made by folding a piece of paper which, although not fancy, suited the purpose.
Of course, some things never change. Like today, recess and lunchtime were looked forward to with great anticipation. Some of the favorite games played were baseball (with homemade balls, made by cutting strips of rubber from an old tire tube, then rolling it tightly into a ball and covering it with string), tag, and hide-and-go-seek.
Girls didn't play ball, though. Instead, we made houses out of rocks, complete with furnishings. Back then, the best toys came from the toy boxes of our imaginations.
No matter how many times you hear the stories of parents walking countless miles to school, you can never really appreciate it unless you have done it yourself. There were nuts to gather on the way, grapes to pick, or vines to swing on. It was easy to get sidetracked on the way to school. Back then, walking was a way of life (busing was unheard-of). We fared quite well, until a rain or snowstorm came up.
A final word for the brave teachers who had to cope each day with 20-plus children, ranging in age from 5 to 20, teaching the three R's (reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic).
A special place should be reserved in Heaven for these giving, dedicated people, who helped mold the lives of so many children. The small, one-room schools may be a thing of the past, but they still live in the memories of those who had the pleasure of answering the call of that bell in the tower on the roof of the one-room school.
Motor vehicles were uncommon on Linefork, especially above the mouth of Turkey. The sound and sight of a motor vehicle was something that aroused great curiosity all along the creek. One always heard the straining of a vehicle's motor (probably locked in low gear) long before it was seen. Sound had a way of being heard over great distances along those bottoms and hills.
It always happened right after the start of the school year, and it always happened about midday. Sometimes we were still in the schoolyard running off some of the cornbread and buttermilk lunch. Had the exact day been known ahead of time, every kid in the Cedar Grove School would have been hiding in the hills or under a house. The dreaded moment was always preceded by the sound of a straining motor. I would break out in a cold sweat when I heard this sound, and I began praying that this vehicle would pass right on by the school, knowing full well that it was going to drive right into the schoolyard.
You have probably guessed by now that this day was all about. It was the day for getting shots! I have often wondered about two things concerning shots: 1. Did Mr. Arthur Watts, our teacher, know the schedule ahead of time?; and 2. Why did it always happen right after lunch? I think I have figured out the answer to the second question. It probably took a half-day to get from Whitesburg to the school. I'm hoping there are still some teachers around that might know the answer to the first question. By the way, I have never overcome the dread of getting shots, although I had them on many occasions, including the Korean War, and for several extended assignments overseas. Due to cancer I even had to inject myself twice a day a couple of years ago.
I am thankful that I am not a diabetic.
William's son, Dr. William L. Heizer, Jr., took over his practice for the next 49 years. He served the people of Lexington. William's daughter, Martha Earl Cochran, taught school in Lexington and retired in 1998.
In the Bulletin of the Department of Health, Volume XI, March 1939, No. 8, you will find the following: "With the going out of existence of the National Board of Health in 1885, the Board undertook to organize and succeeded in organizing and maintaining, through 1888, a conference of Boards of Health in the United States, Canadian Provinces, and the states of Mexico for mutual protection and cooperation against epidemic diseases."
Shortly after 1900, the work of the Board commenced to receive increasingly popular recognition, which was respected in correspondingly increased financial support by the General Assembly. With increasing funds came enlarged activities on the part of the Board. By 1910, these activities had expanded to the point where segregation under bureau heads became necessary for their proper prosecution. In that year, the General Assembly, by statute, definitely created the Bureaus of Vital Statistics, Sanitary Engineering, and Bacteriology; and it authorized the Board to establish several other bureaus when it became necessary.
Dr. W. L. Heizer, who served in 1916, was their first director. I am proud to be his grandson. I know that he served people in Kentucky in this special role, as well as being a physician, surgeon, husband, and father.
Lucien H. Rice
There are many other "I Remember" stories and memories of our readers in the June 2000 issue of The Kentucky Explorer.