Every reader of The Kentucky Explorer, no doubt, has a special memory. Why not write it down and share it here in this column? Help preserve the story of our vanishing past for today and tomorrow. We need memories and photographs from every part of Kentucky and beyond. Thanks!
Taylor Smith, The Timber Man
The trees of the forest bend and sway with the wind like music. The forest has a sound all its own: all kinds of birds singing a different song, water flowing over the large rocks with its own soothing sound, and the trees making a statement to all who admire their beauty. Without a word, they send a message of their importance in this world. The trees provide wood for furniture or lumber for a home. Trees are very special, and we cannot live without them. We often look at the forest without realizing the importance of what can be made from the product of a tree.
Mr. Taylor Smith, my dad, knew all about trees. He made a living by buying tracts of timber and clearing the trees that were ready to be cut. He could look at a tree and tell you how many feet of lumber he could get from it.
Dad would get up very early in the morning, around five o'clock. He always ate a large breakfast. My mom, Rachel Lee, would bake two pans of biscuits in a wood cookstove, which heated up the entire kitchen. We usually had ham and sausage, with plenty of gravy. He would eat four biscuits, plus three eggs. The older folks didn't have a lot of junk food between meals, so they believed in eating a good meal.
We had a large woodbox in the kitchen, behind the stove. It was our jobs to keep it full of wood, especially on the weekends. My older brothers and sisters and I had to get the wood from the cow pasture, below the house, and cut it up to the right size to fit into the stove. When my grandmother, Susie Lawhorn, came to visit, it took a lot more wood. She loved to stand by the stove and shove plenty of wood into it. She would stir up the fire, and sparks would fly everywhere. I can see her now, in her long dress and apron, with a little bonnet, lighting her pipe. We were happy to have her around, although we had to get extra wood.
Dad usually took a small mattock or a hatchet along to work with him, just in case he had some trouble with snakes or other creatures. He brought home a lot of ginseng through the week, which he had dug from the woods, when it was ready to be harvested. The Chinese refer to the plant as "the likeness of man." It has two prongs that look like legs, crossed at the knees. Sometimes it is called gold and is used in different kinds of medicine.
Dad dried the ginseng in the warming oven of the kitchen stove. When he had quiet a bit of it, he would sell it to someone in Vanceburg, Kentucky. It was then sold to a buyer in Portsmouth, Ohio. My dad enjoyed looking for patches of ginseng. It has green leaves, with scarlet berries. I suppose this wild herb would be nice, if you could grow it in a garden. It takes a lot of energy and strength to climb the hills to find ginseng. My dad loved to climb the hills and look for ginseng. He always gave a lot of his ginseng money to missionary work, and it provided him with a little extra money to spend.
Dad would come in very tired from a hard day's work. He would take time to rest, while Mom was finishing supper, and read the scriptures out loud. You could hear the reading of the Bible flowing through the house. Sometimes he had to read it over again, if he made a mistake in the reading. Then he would kneel around the long wooden table, and we all would pray. Sometimes we kept quiet, until Mom and Dad finished praying. Whether we prayed, or just kept quiet, all of us children would kneel in respect to God. He gave thanks over the food, and we would eat. These are memories that we will always cherish.
Dad would let us children help him with the Log Rule Book. It was a table that showed how much lumber you could get from logs of different sizes. Usually, at the end of the week, he could tell how much money he would receive from the week's work.
Back then most of the logs were cut down and snaked by a mule or horse. I remember when Dad bought a large power saw to use on his job. It made his work a lot easier and much quicker. He had an old log truck, which he used to haul the logs to the sawmill. Now, they have a modern way of getting the logs out of the woods. Usually, they make a good road for the heavy caterpillars and loaders. He worked all week and a half day on Saturday. On Saturday afternoon, Mom and Dad bought their groceries at the small grocery store of Minnie and Earnest Gilbert. The Gilberts still live in Vanceburg, Kentucky.
Sunday was a day of rest for the family. It was a day of going to Sunday School and church services every Sunday night. My dad, Brother Taylor Smith, everyone called him, was always faithful in paying tithes, which was ten percent of all his earnings. He was the deacon of the church, and he set a good example by giving. He sat on the same pew for many years. There was a scuff mark on the floor, where he patted his foot; I suppose his shoes were a little rough.
Dad was a good speaker, and often, when the pastor was gone, he would lead the service. He had several songs he would sing. "This World Is Not My Home" and "Precious Memories" were his favorites. He sat right behind the piano, which I played for many years. I could hear him singing with a bass sound.
Even when times were hard, he always gave us an offering to put in Sunday School. Sometimes it was only pennies, but often we would get a nickel. That was a good offering when I was a child. The older generation kept the Vanceburg Church going, with sacrifice and faithfulness. Today, they have a beautiful church and a lovely parsonage.
While growing up, we often went berry picking, while my dad worked. We took a sack lunch with us, which consisted of leftover biscuits and a slice of bologna. I remember when bologna was 25 cents a pound. It really tasted good, when we got hungry. I usually found me a rock to sit on and looked at the trees, which seemed to go right up to the sky. I loved the feel of the wind in my face. The old pine trees seemed to bend way down when the wind began to blow.
Often, we would cross over a small creek, and I enjoyed that. It was exciting to see the water flowing under the log we had to cross. Soon the day was gone, and we would ride back home on the old log truck. The next day, my mother would can the berries and make us a big pie. It sure was delicious.
When I was about four years old, we lived in a small log cabin in a place called Deep Hole. It was a nice place to live, but it was up a hollow. Mom had lots of flowers, and we had an apple orchard behind the house. The house had a big fireplace, and I remember we all sat around the fire, all wrapped up in my mother's homemade quilts.
I'm proud to say that my dad, Taylor Smith, was a hard-working man, a good father, and a wonderful husband to my mother, Rachel Lee Lawhorn. They had a beautiful life together. I think of Joyce Kilmer's poem about trees that features a line which says, "Only God can make a tree."
My dad made a living out of the things that he loved. He enjoyed the beauty of the hills in each season. He loved to watch the blue skies overhead, and breath the fresh air. He recognized the hand of God in all things.
The trees and the products of trees are very important. The things in life that he respected and loved brought joy and contentment into his life.
Nancy Smith Mineer
Frog Gigging On College Lake
This is a true story about what happened to me, while I was a student at Morehead State University in 1968, living in a trailer park just outside the city. I have changed some names to protect the guilty and the absurd. I think the story illustrates the colorful characters and humor found around a small-town police station.
I was a student at MSU from 1968-71. Having been in the military, and living in Virginia for several years, made me a non-traditional student at 32 years old.
The trailer park was run by a colorful character, "Squirt" Johns, who looked like one of those bad guys in the movie Deliverance. He had one eye up and one eye down, and wore a dirty leather ball cap, with the bill turned up. The week-old stubble on his face never seemed to get any longer. "Squirt" was also known around town as the friendly bootlegger.
One warm spring day, I was sitting outside my trailer, having some of his refreshments, when he came by to sit a spell and talk. He spotted my 12-foot, flat-bottom, aluminum boat and started talking about fishing and frog gigging. Since it was springtime, and the frogs were out croaking, "Squirt" described how much he would like a big sackful of bullfrogs. We decided to try Triplett Creek, which ran down by Morehead.
"Squirt" had a big flatbed International truck, on which we loaded my boat, frog gigs, and a cooler. Also, he had a .22 caliber rifle he used to shoot the frogs that we couldn't gig. We started down Triplett Creek around 11:00 p.m. "Squirt" called everyone "Hoss." "Boy, there's some nice frogs, huh, Hoss?" he said. I agreed.
We had gigged about ten frogs when we floated to the small dam the city had put in. We passed under a concrete bridge when "Squirt" spotted a couple along the side of the road, no doubt talking about the birds and the bees. He shined his bright frog light on them, and they jumped up and ran to their car. We eased back under the bridge, because we knew the man wasn't too happy with us. The upset man stopped his car on the bridge, and we heard him walk over to the side. We were silent and waiting.
The man on the bridge said, "Why did you shine that light in my eyes?"
After the third time of repeating the same line, "Squirt" hollered, "'Cause I wanted too!" He then opened up with his .22 rifle.
I ducked and covered my head, as sparks and concrete chips were flying everywhere. We heard a rock hit the water, which the man was evidently going to throw at us. We heard running footsteps, a car door open and close, and the car drive away very fast. "Squirt," no doubt, was more used to those confrontations than I was.
He started talking about taking the boat up to the College Lake, saying, "I'd bet there are some big frogs up there, Hoss." I said it was okay, because it was after midnight, and I didn't think anyone would know or care.
A sudden spring thunderstorm came up and drenched us. After about 20 minutes, the storm passed, and the temperature started dropping. We had a big sack full of frogs, so we decided to get out of there. As soon as the police made their run and drove away, "Squirt" and I hurried out of there. We almost made it off campus when the police blue-lighted us. We were then turned over to the Morehead City Police.
We had certainly gone through a lot for those frogs and were about to go through a court session the next morning; something you would expect to see only in an Andy Griffith episode. Our court appearance was conducted at the police station, which looked just like Andy Griffith's jail. The city police thought it was hilarious that the town bootlegger was caught frog gigging on College Lake.
After a round of jokes and laughter at "Squirt's" expense, the judge pro tem, who was the acting judge until Judge Caudill got back in town, opened up by saying, "We got this charge of frog gigging on College Lake before the bench."
One of the big-bellied deputies, leaning against the filing cabinet, said, "If I'd caught him, I would have confiscated his frogs." The others threw their heads back, laughing and slapping their legs. Watching all of this, I must have looked like a wide-eyed deer caught in the headlights.
The judge turned to Officer Dirk of the University Police (the students called him "Maximum Security," because of all the police equipment he hauled around) and asked, "Why can't the townspeople use that lake up there?" I gathered from the conversation between them that there were bad feelings between the University and the townspeople, because no one could enjoy a nice lake so close.
No sooner had that conversation ended, another hefty deputy, who was leaning back in a wooden chair, said, "Are they big frogs up there, 'Squirt'?"
"Yeah, Hoss, they is some giant frogs up there!" There was more laughter.
"How much would you take for that rifle, 'Squirt'?"
"I can't get rid of it, Hoss. It's one of a matched set."
The judge then decided to rule on our case, saying, "The bench is unfamiliar with this charge of frog gigging on College Lake, so I'm going to dismiss it."
"Squirt" and I, happy with our freedom, went back to the trailer and ate us some hard-earned, tasty frogs.
James R. Harris
Growing Up In Middlesboro
It has been said that "You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl." It seems true in my life, when I remember my growing up years in Middlesboro, Kentucky. Though our family moved to Ohio on two different occasions, and lived there for more than 12 years, our parents returned to their Kentucky roots in 1965.
Life was not easy for our family, materially, but we had an abundance of love and happiness. We were poor, but so was almost everyone else we knew. We lived in an old house without insulation, no running water, and no indoor plumbing, until I was about ten years old. I remember when the water line was laid to our home, and the first time we turned on the faucet, watching the water flow into the sink.
Wow, that was an exciting event. It marked the end of our water bucket and dipper, and lugging water from the creek or surface well beside the house. The well was certainly not one that would have been approved by a health inspector, but it had clear, cold water; and we were never sick from drinking it.
It was a miracle that we grew up as healthy as we did. That was probably due, in part, to the pinto beans we ate nearly every day. There were a few times when we had little food. I remember once, when Dad dug some new potatoes, just to put a meal on the table. Mom often went to the fields to pick wild greens and berries. She was familiar with the many things one could find in the wild to eat, having been taught those things by her mother.
Our aunt would often say, "If things ever get bad, I'm going with Lillie. She knows how to find food to eat."
We seldom had meat. If we did, it was on the weekend, and was probably a ham or pork roast that was a bit past its prime. Mom would trim, cut, and cook what remained edible for Sunday dinner. We had fried chicken now and then, and we usually had a baked chicken on holidays. There were a few times when we had wild rabbit and squirrel. I think that came to a halt when a couple of relatives came down with rabbit fever. We sometimes had to take medicine for parasites; a red syrup that tasted worse than awful.
Our dad was a hard-working man, but with five children to feed and clothe, the struggle to make ends meet was always with us. Our mother often sat for hours, crocheting various designs on handkerchiefs, making doilies, and other articles, which she sold to earn money for our school lunches.
She sewed for us when she could get the material. Most of our clothes were handed down from cousins. I didn't get my first store-bought coat until I was 13. Through the help of the Lord, Mom and Dad were, eventually, able to do better, financially.
The freedom we had as children, to be children, was wonderful. We roamed the fields, creek banks, and woods. Not a one of us ever received a snakebite or serious injury, though a few cuts probably needed stitches. My cousin and I fished in the creeks. Whatever size fish we could catch, we talked my mother into frying. Many were so small that they might easily have been classified as minnows.
We played in the creeks in summer, and around the creeks in winter. Our dad would swim in the creek, while we played in the water, though not a one of his four girls ever learned to swim.
We had access to two creeks. One we called Big Creek, which was actually part of the flood control project for Middlesboro. It was used for Red Oak Baptist Church baptizings. We used it for "baptizing" as well, and more than one of us nearly drowned at the hands of an amateur baptizer.
The second creek we called Little Creek, but it was really Four-Mile Creek, flowing out of Four-Mile Hollow into Big Creek. This ran very near our home, and it furnished our wash water for many years.
For the first four grades of school, four of us attended Binghamtown School (between 1941-53), a two-room brick structure located on the lower end of the North Belt Line. Binghamtown School was built in 1922, and our mother attended the first year it opened. Our uncle bought the school property in later years. After his death, it was sold, and the school has since housed some sort of shop.
Some of our teachers were Mrs. Lowe, Mrs. LeFevre, Mrs. Shoemate, and Mrs. Ousley. There was a pot-bellied stove that we used in winter. The smell of steaming wool from our wet coats, leggings, and gloves permeated the room. Later, the large entry hall was remodeled to house indoor restrooms and cloak rooms. There was a large playground, with plenty of room to play ball, hopscotch, and jump rope. There was also a stream, probably nothing more than an unsanitary drainage ditch, that we played in.
In spring, big red roses bloomed in profusion on either side of the front doors, and the sweet scent wafted in through the big open windows. Howard Jenkins' Store was located nearby, and we were permitted to go there to purchase our lunches. Once, my sister got a bit confused (or hungry) and ran over at recess, thinking it was time to buy her lunch.
The clerk asked, "Does your daddy know you are buying this for recess?" She was a shy little girl and was terribly embarrassed. In earlier years, the store was known as Joe Archer's Store. Our father was employed there for a period of time.
Red Oak Missionary Baptist Church, located on the North Belt Line in Middlesboro, was a big part of our lives. In his retirement years, our father pastored the church. Three of us were baptized in Big Creek by pastors of Red Oak; one of them was Rev. Bill Jim Mason. The church is still there and has a very active ministry.
Most of our neighbors attended church with us, and most of the children in the community attended Binghamtown School. We were related to many of them in one way or another; the Fusons, Masons, Carters, and Webbs, to name a few. We have many memories of Sunday School, dinners on the ground, baptizings, revivals, Christmas plays, and singings; as well as funerals of many loved ones.
One of the sickest moments in my young life came after drinking Kool-Ade, which had been made in a big tin lard can at a church dinner. This is said to be a toxic combination.
Every descendant of our paternal grandparents, William Thomas Miracle and Cordia Bell Fuson Miracle, has moved away from Middlesboro. An aunt, by marriage, remains; Vesta Harville Miracle, wife of the late Ed Miracle. Our parents, Rev. James Otto Miracle, Sr., and Lillie Yeary Miracle; and our brother, James Otto Miracle, Jr., and his wife, Rosa Turner Miracle, are buried in the Miracle Cemetery, on the hill above Red Oak Missionary Baptist Church.
This writer will always be thankful for the family roots, which grew and flourished for so many years in the southeastern Kentucky mountain town of Middlesboro. We left the country as we knew it, but a part of the country will remain with us always.
Allene Miracle Sloan
Every Boy Had A Slingshot
I consider myself very fortunate to be blessed with several nieces and nephews, plus a new generation of "Third Growth." Third Growth is how we describe our great nieces and nephews. They are bright, healthy, and well-behaved, but they suffer from a special need I never had. The Third Growth generation needs entertainment. They become bored easily, because they have nothing to do.
Fenton Fletcher, the 10-year-old who lives down the street, is no exception. He rides his bike around the neighborhood looking for something to do. One warm day this past spring, he saw me sitting on the porch enjoying coffee and a newspaper, and he wheeled up my driveway. He did one of those little skid-around moves with his bike, the kind that leaves black marks on your white concrete driveway.
"What's happening, F. F?" I asked, pretending that I didn't see the black skid marks.
"Nothing. I'm bored. There's nothing to do around here," he replied. I had heard that before from the Third Growth.
"Why, Finny, a 10-year-old-boy like you should have a thousand things to do on a pretty day like this," I chided.
"Name one," he shot back.
"Well, you could go make something, like a slingshot, for example. All you need is a pocketknife and one of those giant rubber bands."
"I don't have a pocketknife," he whined. "What is a slingshot, anyway? What do you do with it?"
"Ahhhhhh," I cried. "Finny, here you are, a 10-year-old boy, and don't even know about a slingshot!" I screamed.
"I've never seen one. Will you make me one?" he begged.
"Well, okay," I replied, putting down the paper and taking one last gulp of coffee. "Wait here, while I go inside and get a few things."
I went upstairs to my bedroom and took a pocketknife, a giant rubber band, and some string out of the dresser drawer where I keep my stuff.
"Get your hand out of there, Fenton," I yelled, as he sifted through my stuff.
"What's this?" he asked, holding up a pair of dog toenail clippers.
"They are toenail clippers for a dog, now put them down," I said.
"What are they for?" he asked.
"What do you think they are for?" I shot back.
He shrugged and muttered something about cutting a dog's toenails.
We proceeded outside to one of my giant azalea bushes and found a nice forked branch that looked like it might die in the next few years. I went ahead and pruned it off. We sat down on a garden bench, and I began getting things ready to make Fenton his first slingshot.
"Put the knife down, Fenton," I scolded.
"Oweeeee," he screamed, dripping blood on my shirt. I wrapped my handkerchief around his finger and told him to wait there, while I got a Band-Aid. I proceeded to the bathroom and pulled open the drawer, where I keep my other stuff.
"Get your hand out of there, Fenton!" I shouted.
"What is this?" he asked, holding up a pair of nose hair clippers.
"Those are nose hair clippers, put them down," I snapped.
We went back to the garden bench, where I made a perfectly good little slingshot, while Fenton made several trips up and down my driveway on his bike.
"Look at this, Fenton," I said, holding up the little slingshot for him to admire.
He took it in his hand, turned it over a few times, and asked, "What did you say you do with one of these?"
"You shoot it," I replied.
"What at?" he asked.
"Oh, targets; drink cans, and things like that," I replied.
"How about dogs and cats and birds and cars and things like that?" he remarked.
"Certainly not!" I scolded.
"What kind of bullets do you use?" he asked.
"Ahhhhhh! You don't use bullets, Fenton. You use little round pebbles like the ones your mother buys at the garden center."
"Wait here a minute," he said, looking at me as if he expected me to follow him. He rode off on his bike and returned a few minutes later with a pocket full of those little white pebbles that his mother had bought at the Wal-Mart Garden Center.
"Perfect," I said. Then I sat up a pop can about 20 feet away and hit it the first try.
"Let me try, let me try," cried Fenton. I showed him how to hold the fork in this left hand and pull the rubber bands back with his right, while holding the pebble between his thumb and forefinger, and taking aim by looking through the fork at the object being shot at. On the third try, his white pebble made the pop can bounce. He squealed with delight.
About that time, a bluebird lit on the branch of a nearby dogwood tree. He eyed it, then looked at me. He could tell by the glare in my eyes that he had better not do what he was thinking about doing.
We enjoyed shooting the slingshot for about half an hour. Fenton made several trips back to his mother's flower garden to get pebbles.
"Do you think one of these little round pebbles would break a picture window?" asked Fenton.
"Yes, it certainly would," I replied, while reaching for the slingshot. "I need to make a slight adjustment to one of the prongs," I told him. Then suddenly my knife blade slipped and off came one whole prong of the fork.
"Now look what you've done!" shouted Fenton. "You've ruined it. Can we make another?" he begged.
"Not today," I said. "Maybe, when you get to be about 18, we'll make another."
"Can we make something else?" he whined.
"Not today. I need a nap," I whined.
While sitting there on the garden bench with Fenton, I suddenly had a flashback to the Andy Griffith Show; the one where Opie Taylor killed a mother bird with his slingshot. Little Opie cried, and a 60-year old man got all teary-eyed, while Andy explained how the baby birds would die, because their mother had been killed.
I've since talked to several senior adult men, who watched that show and got all choked up. None of us would admit to it, but the truth is, we've all done what Opie Taylor did that day. We all had slingshots.
Several other "I Remember" stories can be found in the July-August 2000 hardcopy issue. Look for it, today, at your favorite newsstand.