Wednesday, 27 July 2011 12:11
By: Rodney Miller
One of the best friends I have had in my life is a guy named Earnie Collins. Earnie is much like myself, an avid outdoorsman. If he isn’t working as a carpenter, you will find him in a boat casting for Muskie, climbing a mountain to his birddog on point or in a treestand with his bow or gun waiting on his next victim.
Earnie grew up on Crane Creek and had two other brothers, Richard and Eddie. His dad Orville, a preacher, was a logger. So Earnie was very woods-wise, to say the least.
My Dad taught me a lot about the woods but Earnie taught me a lot more. He can look at the woods and tell you were you would probably find a deer, were to look for ginseng, or where to find a sack full of morel mushrooms.
Earnie and I over the years have become as close as brothers. I couldn’t count the number of trips we have made in search of the elusive whitetail. We’ve hunted Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Fort Knox, Bluegrass Army Depot, west Kentucky, northern Kentucky, and just about anywhere in between.
We used to save our vacation every year for a week of bow hunting at Fort Knox and had many good times there. But one time comes to mind as I think of the many trips.
It was probably 25 or so years ago. We had just put in a hard day of hunting and were headed back to the motel room for some much needed rest. We had just checked out for the day at Hunt Control and were driving up Gold Vault Road. We had stopped at the final checkpoint before leaving base and noticed traffic was stopped up the road with lots of people with cameras in hand outside their vehicles.
Driving up to the crowd of people we noticed seven bucks is a green field feeding about 100 yards off the road. Five of the bucks were trophies that anyone with a bow would have been tickled to hang a tag on. The area where they were in was a No-Hunting Zone but it was only a half mile or so ‘as the crow flies’ from where we had signed in to hunt the next day. We were so excited that night we could barely sleep.
There were seven of us hunting together for the week Me, Earnie, Richard, Eddie, Jerome Jarvis, Buford Jarvis and Keith Root. We had all devised a plan the night before our hunt to pursue the giant bucks we had seen that evening.
We drove to our hunting area hours before daylight, hid our trucks ad much as we could on the dirt road, got our gear together and like when you let a dog out of the truck, used the relived ourselves beside the trucks. Then we started out in the direction through the woods towards the honey-hole of bucks. It was a really dark night, I remember. Someone volunteered as the leader and the other six followed along in single file.
We walked and walked in total darkness afraid to turn on our flashlights for fear of being arrested by the Military Police for being in a restricted area. Earnie thought we were walking in a circle but no one listened. After about an hour, now hot and sweaty and wandering in the darkness, I noticed something white on the ground in front of us. Upon closer inspection I found the white substance to be toilet paper where one of our group had used the bathroom when we got out of the truck. I looked off to my right and saw our trucks parked only a few yards away. We had walked in a circle and had ended up back where we had started. Everyone cackled out laughing at each other but we were still determined to find those bucks before daylight.
Next, I told them that when I saw the bucks the evening before I had noticed a radio tower on a hill beside the field above the trees. In the distance, I pointed to a red blinking light in that direction. “Let’s walk straight towards that light,” I told them and they all agreed.
We were running out of darkness so a couple of the hunting party decided to turn on their flashlights to make better time. That was a big mistake.
We had only walked for about 30 minutes towards the red blinking light when we entered a firebreak in the vegetation near the field where the bucks had been. The darkness and quietness was suddenly broken with a super-bright spotlight shinning directly upon us. A voice came through a loudspeaker demanding us to “Halt! Who Goes There?” Too bad we never understood military commands.
We scattered like drug-heads in police raid. I ended up with Richard and Keith in close pursuit. We ran till we couldn’t run any more. When we stopped Keith had lost his eyeglasses and his quiver and arrows from his bow. Richard was worried to death about his two little brothers. He kept saying, “Mommy is going to kill me. I know they’re both in the stockade or jail. Mommy is going to kill me.”
We kept walking; afraid to yell to see if anyone else in our party was around. After a couple of hours of being lost we ended up behind a new car lot on Highway 31W. We hid our bows and treestands in the bushes out back and walked towards the busy highway. We must have been a sight to see all camo’d up from head to toe to the passing cars.
After about two miles of walking on 31W we finally made it back to our motel. Richard by then was a total wreck worried about his brothers he left behind and Keith, who had really bad eyesight, was tagging along like a 5 year old on a string following it’s parents.
We walked the stairs up to the second floor room and opened the door trying to figure out how to get back together with the rest of our group. Inside, low and behold, were Earnie and Eddie. Both had already had a shower and were resting on the bed. Richard ran in and hugged them both with a sigh of relief. He wouldn’t be killed after all. His brothers were safe.
Jereome and Buford showed up after about another 30 minutes later telling how they too were worried about if any of us had been nabbed by the military police early that morning. But all in all it was one of those moments that when we get together now we all still talk about and laugh about our close call.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 12:13
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 14:40
By: Rodney Miller
I use to have a great fishing buddy, but now he’s gone. And like a lot of other familiar stories in life, he left us way too soon. His name was James Ellis Finley but most folks knew him only by “Pooch”.
I grew up close to the Finley family. I lived on Paw Paw and Pooch grew up in the house I now live in at Sibert. Pooch was almost 20 years my senior and when I was a young boy, he was already a young man. I never really got to know Pooch until I was a young man working at IGA.
Our friendship started I guess because we were both from Horse Creek. I knew his family well because my Dad’s grocery store was just a few hundred yards from Pooch’s home place. I saw his dad, Holt, almost every day.
Pooch was always full of life. He acted more like someone my age than the older man he was. Pooch just refused to get old. He was up early almost every day and bragged about his exercise routine he did every morning before work at 8 am. He worked hard to keep himself in shape.
Pooch loved a lot of different things. Some of them that come to my mind as I write this story are: Kentucky basketball (Pooch had season tickets and we went together many times), fishing, grilled rib-eye steaks (sometimes grilling them on the boat deck), and a good joke. Pooch loved my alter ego, radio character, Buckwheat.
He would listen every day just waiting for me to call in to see what I was up to on that particular day. He recorded every call I made to the Talk Show for many years. He then would play them back for me and laugh hard no matter how many times he played them over and over.
Pooch was crazy over music. He loved Country Music (especially Waylon Jennings), any song by Elvis, early Rock and Roll like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and last but not least, Tina Turner.
Many a time he would have “Proud Mary” blasting so loud on the radio I couldn’t hear myself think. And Pooch, well he would be laughing and singing along. He said that Tina had the prettiest legs in the world.
He also had a DVD of Elvis named “Viva Las Vegas” that he watched the same way, cranked way up and full screen. He was one of the first people I ever knew to have a large screen TV. And Pooch’s TV was a full 60 inches.
Pooch and I became good fishing buddies making the trip to Cherokee Lake in Tennessee many weekends. I would work all day at IGA on Friday or Saturday and Pooch would have the boat loaded and ready for me to go when I got off work. We would get to the dock about sundown and we would fish all night.
The first thing he taught me when I got in the boat was to turn my baseball cap around backwards. His 225 hp Mercury was always at full throttle throwing a “rooster-tail” high in the air as we skipped along the water.
Pooch was also one of the first people I know who had a fish finder. He bought a Hummingbird and we were testing it out for the first time one evening on the lake. There were three sizes of little “arcs” that showed fish floating across on the screen. Pooch wanted to know just how big the fish were that we were seeing.
“Rodney, dive out in the water and swim under the boat so I can see how big you are on the screen.” Pooch asked me with the boat sitting in 150 feet of water.
But crazy me said, “Alright,” and I took off my shirt and shoes, emptied out my pockets and dived in. I took a deep breath, swam down to about 10-15 foot deep and under the boat I went.
When I popped up on the other size Pooch said laughing aloud, “Hurry and get in the boat! The fish we are seeing are bigger than you!” Pooch didn’t have to tell me twice.
We always tied up the boat for the night at a pier under the bridge that crossed the lake at Bean Station. Many nights we would fill the live well to the top with white bass, stripers, and catfish.
One night I wanted to have a little fun with Pooch. I could “throw my voice” pretty good and make it sound like someone far away. Late one evening about dark the fishing was slow so I thought I would pull a prank.
“Hey guys!” I yelled out the front of the boat, “Where are you boys from?”
Pooch, thinking it was someone on the other side of the pier yelled back, “We’re from Clay County. Where are you from?”
I answered, “I’m from Clay County, too! Come on over!”
Pooch of course untied from the pier and proceeded to make the trip around the pier. When we got to the other side, Pooch yelled, “Where are you at now?”
“On the other side of the pier. I said I was coming over,” I yelled back, trying not to laugh out loud.
Around the pier back to the original side he went. But when we got there, of course, no fisherman could be seen. “Now where did you go?” Pooch yelled again.
“Over here, I was coming to meet you!” I answered back.
“Stay right where you are,” Pooch said, “I’m getting dizzy driving around this pier!”
I couldn’t keep my laughter in. I busted out and laughed until my side hurt. Pooch knew he had been had but he too, laughed until he cried.
On another foggy night on the lake we were heading back to the dock before daylight in really dense fog. Pooch, who knew the lake as good as anyone, was cruising along much too fast, as always. All of a sudden we went up on a sandbar and out of the boat we went about twenty feet. After realizing that no one was hurt bad, we laughed together about his knowledge of the lake. It took us 6 hours to get the boat back in the water.
It was hard for me to lose such a good friend so young. He told me on his deathbed that there was so much more he wanted to do. I didn’t really realize until the next day that he knew he was dying and me, well, it was hard for me to accept it. I really thought he would be all right.
James Ellis “Pooch” Finley died at the age of 60, February 22, 1991, at the St. Joseph’s hospital in Lexington. And after 20 long years, I still miss my good friend who loved life so much.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 14:41
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 12:51
By: Rodney Miller
I often wonder now, just how did we make it with so little money when I was young. There were always 10-12 hungry mouths to feed around the table and our table seemed to always be full. I give my parents the credit. Both worked hard all of their lives to provide for our large family.
There was never a shortage of something to do when I was growing up. It took a lot of everyday chores along with a whole lot of preparing for the long, cold winters. And in the summertime, that meant canning and drying anything that could be grown or found on a tree.
We raised a big vegetable garden. I would guess almost a half-acre more. Big enough that we could eat as much from it as we wanted in the summer and fall and still have plenty to put up for the winter.
Back then we never went to the store except for a few things we couldn’t grow like coffee, sugar, flour, salt, black pepper, etc. Don’t get me wrong, we would get an occasional pop or a candy bar but money was hard to get so we had to spend it wisely.
I remember Momma canning for weeks as the garden vegetables came in. All of us kids had a certain part of the whole operation. Take green beans for instance. Some of us would pick the beans and bring them from the field for the others to string and break-up. Then Momma would place the beans tight in Mason jars, add a little water and salt, screw on a lid and place them in the pressure cooker for the canning process. Some days Momma would can 50 or more quarts in a single day sweating over our hot stove.
I remember the old pressure cooker hissing like a locomotive as it let off steam, cooking and sealing the beans. Momma warned us time and time again to not mess with that old cooker because it was so dangerous. She had heard a tale of one cooker exploding and killing someone.
What green beans we didn’t use to can, we dried to make shuck beans. We did this two ways. Some we strung and broke up like the ones we used to can and then place them on a bed sheet in the hot summer sun to dry.
Other times, we strung the beans and laced them with a needle and thread through the middle of the bean into long two or three foot strands and hung them on nails tacked into our front porch to dry. Our porch would be lined completely with many strands of drying beans.
When the beans were dry, Momma stored them in pillowslips or gallon jars to keep until she was ready to cook a mess. There wasn’t anything any better than a big pot of shuck beans with a piece of fatback cooked in them on a cold winter day.
We also dried apples in the sun for Momma’s delicious apple stack cakes. Her cakes would be 8 to 12 layers thick. Her cakes were so good that just a smell would make your ‘tongue slap your brains out!’
Momma also canned a lot of tomatoes. Some were quartered and canned for stewing but most were converted into tomato juice. We used a lot of tomato juice. Momma made macaroni with tomato juice at least twice a week, vegetable soup, slumgullion, tomato gravy, chili, and last but not least we drank it often long before V-8 was ever popular.
She canned a lot of pickles of all varieties: dill pickles, hot pickles, and my favorite, sweet pickles. You couldn’t set still and eat ‘em, they were so good!
Most of the cabbage went into sauerkraut. I have always loved kraut especially when it is cooked with wieners or smoked sausage. I’ve always been told that soup beans and kraut were really good for the heart.
We canned lots of corn, beets, and peppers. Why, Momma even canned pork sausage and sealed the jars with pork fat.
We gathered every thing we could find and made it into jams and jellies. Strawberries, black berries, blue berries, raspberries, peaches, apples, plums, and cherries were picked when they were at their peak and canned until needed.
We gathered walnuts and hickory nuts to crack around the fireplace and use in Momma’s cakes and desserts. They were are fresh in January and the day they were gathered.
Yep, things have changed quite a lot since those days. But one thing is for sure; I have never forgotten where I came from and what I was taught as a young boy. You don’t have to have a lot of money to make it. But, you must be willing to work hard if you don’t want to go hungry.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 July 2011 12:53
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 12:50
With the ending of another school year, my thoughts recently turned to a small rhyme all the students used to say on the last day of school.
“School is out! School is out!
The teacher turned the monkeys out.
One went east. One went west.
One went under teacher’s desk.”
It really was like a bunch of monkeys had been released from their cages. Summer vacation meant summertime fun. But one thing was for sure, no sleeping late. We were up at daylight. We had to be if we wanted any breakfast. There weren’t any fast food restaurants to go to for a meal plus, we didn’t have the money if there had been.
Daddy had to be at work at 7am so Momma was up before 6 preparing a big breakfast. Not a wimpy breakfast like toast and juice or a bowl of cereal. She fixed a he-man’s breakfast every morning, school or no school.
Summertime meant running, jumping, swimming, fishing, camping out, and a lot of heated basketball games. And that was in between mowing the grass or sweeping the yard, hoeing in the garden, and picking blackberries or huckleberries.
We hardly ever wore shoes or shirts in the summer, only a pair of short pants or cut-offs. My skin was a tanned as an Indian’s. I hardly ever got sunburn.
My bare-feet were as tough as leather. I could “scratch-off” in gravel and never flinch. I could cut pieces of skin out of the sole of my feet, and never bleed. Now, I can’t walk on blacktop with out some kind of pain in my tender feet.
We swam a lot when I was young, sometimes in a strip pond in the Hensley Hollow, sometimes in the creek and, as I got older, in Uncle Gib Thompson’s pond. That swimming hole was over 50 feet deep with clean, cool water. We worried our parents too death, I’m sure swimming in that pond.
Our basketball games were fierce. When you match brother against brother, it was always a no holds barred match. Most ended up with someone mad or sometimes even blows being thrown. Miller’s hate to lose at anything, so when it’s a game of Miller vs. Miller it was sure to be a “Battle Royal”!
Summertime was the best time of the year to make a little extra money. We started picking berries in late June or when the blackberries got ripe. We used Partridge Lard buckets for picking containers. Blackberries would bring us fifty cents a gallon. When we worked hard we could pick 2-3 gallons each a day if we were the first pickers in a good briar patch.
After a day in the briars we headed to the pond to wash off as many chiggers and ticks as we could. But no matter how hard we tried, we always ended up with some in hard to scratch places. Chiggers seem to know exactly where to hide. Momma would sometimes use her keen eye and a sewing needle to pick-off as many as possible but it was a losing battle. Once they were dug in, it was hard to dig ‘em out.
When we couldn’t stand the itching anymore (from the ones she couldn’t find), out would come the finger nail polish and we would paint on a little to smother them out. That seemed to always kill the chiggers but you could sure tell they didn’t like the nail polish at all. They tried to dig in deeper and deeper and for a few minutes, the itching was almost unbearable. I don’t miss that part of my childhood.
Late in the evenings in the summer I remember chasing lightning bugs with a Mason jar trying to capture as many as possible. It’s a wonder if any survived. Later we would tear off the tails, when the light was on of course, and smear them onto our skin. I looked like a Day-glo Timex watch all lit up but the smell was awful.
We had mud-ball fights and even ate a few mud-pies. I’ve always thought Paw Paw mud tasted better than any other. We shot slingshots at Carnation Cream cans. We swung on grapevines and walked on stilts.
We seined the branch for minnows and crawdads. We gigged fish and frogs and caught mud turtles. We sailed the creeks on car-tops. Summertime was never dull to say the least. There was always something to do.
Summer was a time without many responsibilities, without many worries, without a lot of rules and I was never in too much of a hurry to stop and have fun. Today I cherish every moment of my childhood summertime and those many memories of that long ago time.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 12:51
Wednesday, 15 June 2011 12:51
Back in 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Office of Economic Opportunity or the O.E.O. as most knew it. R. Sargent Shriver, who also served as its first director, created the office.
The OEO was responsible for administering most of the “War on Poverty” programs like Head Start, Job Corps, Community Action Programs and VISTA. Here in Clay County they brought us the Horse Creek Community Center.
The Community Center was headquartered in the old Horse Creek School building between Hima and Sibert. The building isn’t there anymore. It was bought and torn down by the congregation of the Horse Creek Baptist Church to make room for their new church and for more parking.
The Community Center at Horse Creek opened in the mid-60’s and stayed in operation until around 1973. When I was growing up the Center occupied a big part of my spare time. There was always something to do there.
The Center had one of the first volleyball and blacktop basketball courts I had ever seen. Before that, all the games we played were on bare ground. I found out that I really liked volleyball even though I had never played it before. But volleyball never came close to my love of basketball.
The ball court was a large ‘full court’ setup with two goals set on either end of the blacktop. But because of the numbers of players there every day, usually separate games took place on each end. Sometimes the winner of one court would challenge the winner of the other court for the championship each day.
It was a long way away from the basketball games we played at home as a kid. I remember the first basketball goal we had was a 20 inch bicycle rim nailed to the barn and an onion sack for a net. The rim had to be re-nailed often because it couldn’t stand up to the basketball hitting the rim time and time again.
Usually the rim hung downward so much that the ball had a hard time going through the rim because it hit the side of the barn and bounced back out instead of falling through. But I thought it was really something being able to touch the rim, even if it was only 8 feet off of the ground.
Later on, after running into the barn a few hundred times, we got a real goal and put up a backboard made from a wooden grocery skid on a locust pole in the driveway. Then the danger was the barbwire fence that kept in the livestock was only a few feet away from the goal. We learned real quickly that there could be no pushing under the goal.
There was always something going on at the Community Center. The first project I remember doing at the center was attending a “Pottery Class”. I was probably 10 or 12 and knew nothing about pottery but I decided to give it a try. The class was just before Father’s Day and I thought it would be nice to make something for Daddy.
Working with clay seemed simple. My first thing I decided to make a coffee cup for my father. Daddy loved his coffee and I knew he would get lots of use out of a mug. But it didn’t take long to figure out the cup was to complicated to get just right, being vertical and all. I couldn’t get my cup to stand up or even close to being round. I found out clay has a mind of it’s own.
My plans then changed. I decided Daddy would love an ashtray just as much as a coffee cup. Daddy also loved his Camel cigarettes. The ashtray, being mostly horizontal, was more forgiving of my talent. I molded the clay in the shape of a small boat with the edges built up to hold a lit cigarette.
My instructor then asked if I wanted to decorate the clay piece with a design or something to give it a personality of it’s own. I thought about it for a while and remembered a dish that Momma prized for its artistic beauty. The dish had a bunch of grapes surrounded with a vine.
“Yes, I would,” I told the lady, “I want to draw a bunch of grapes growing on a vine.”
“Great choice, Rodney,” the lady answered.
I worked on the grapes and the vine until I got them looking just right. One good thing about clay is, if you don’t get it right the first time just wipe with a damp cloth and you have a new palette instantly. My artistic talent was a little rough then but all I saw was a masterpiece.
The ashtray and then in was put into a kiln and fired. The next day I applied a green glaze to the piece and then it was placed in the kiln again to fire the glaze. It turned out perfect. I was so proud of my Dad’s ashtray.
I wrapped the ashtray up in a paper bag and carried it home carefully and handed Daddy his Father’s Day gift. My Dad said he loved it and somehow I really believed he did. He used the ashtray for years and then it just disappeared.
Years went by and I had given up hope of ever seeing the ashtray again. Then, one day after my Daddy died, I was going through some things upstairs in my parent’s bedroom. There, in a corner of Dad’s closet I found the ashtray wrapped up in a towel, broken. I gathered up the pieces and carried them downstairs to show Momma what I had found.
Momma smiled as a tear streamed down her cheek as I unwrapped the towel. “I broke your Daddy’s ashtray by accident years ago and never had the heart to tell him about it. You know how much he loved it. That was the first Father’s Day gift he had ever gotten. I hid it in the closet years ago and just about forgot about it.” Momma said wiping her eyes with her hand.
I told Momma that it was okay that she didn’t tell him because I could see that it was hurting her more now that Dad was gone. She asked if she could keep the ashtray and of course I told her that she could.
Twelve more years went by and finally Momma to passed on. I then went back to her house looking high and low for the ashtray but couldn’t find it.
I think about the small gift every Father’s Day that meant so much to my Dad and later so much to my Momma and wonder what became of it. I guess I’ll never know but it was comforting to know my Daddy really did love that little green ashtray, even more than I ever knew.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 June 2011 12:52
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