The Manchester Enterprise: A Boy's Memories Bits of Clay

The mystery fog

The morning started off just like any other normal fall day about 16-18 years ago. I had left for work around 5:30 am to open up my store at Sibert, the Horse Creek Express. I was living on Paw Paw at the time.

I never noticed anything out of the ordinary except a hint of fog in the air as I made my way out of the hollow. I got to work and started with my usual morning routine getting breakfast ready for my customers. Day was breaking and everything was going along just like most every day at the store when my telephone rang.
Leslie , who was enrolled at Union College at the time, was headed for school and Margy was still at home not yet ready to come down to our store and help me. It was about 7:30 am when I got a frantic cal.
“Dad!” Leslie, my daughter began, “What in the world is going on on Paw Paw?” she asked.
“I don’t know. What are you talking about?” I asked her.
“It’s still dark and I can’t even see how to drive! I’m here at Ronnie’s. I couldn’t make it any farther. I can barely could see and was afraid to try to make it any farther,” Leslie said in a shaky voice.
I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. Outside my store at Sibert it was a normal fall morning. There wasn’t hardly any sign of fog as I began asking questions to try to understand what she was talking about.
“What do you mean, it’s too dark to drive? It’s a clear as a bell down here!” I asked
“Daddy, I don’t know what’s going on I could barely see how to turn into Ronnie’s driveway. I can’t even see my hand clearly in front of my face,” she continued. “I think it’s fog but if it is it’s the thickest fog I have ever seen. There’s no way I can drive in it.”
“I’ve never heard anything like that. A fog that is so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face?” I asked again.
“I’m telling you it’s as dark as night. I can’t see a thing,” she repeated. “Here asked Ronnie. He will tell you the same thing.
Leslie handed Ronnie the phone and he pretty much said the same thing that she had said about the mystery fog. He told me he had never seen anything like it.
“Tell Leslie to stay right there and I’ll be up,” I told Ronnie. “Don’t let here leave!”
I then called Margy at my house and she hadn’t noticed the dark fog outside but she too told me that it was a dark as night and by now it was close to 8 am.
I had to go check it out. So as soon as I had gotten all of the customers out of my store I locked the front door, got in my truck and headed towards Paw Paw.
At first I didn’t notice anything out of the normal until I got a little past the Yeager turnoff. Then I looked up the hollow and saw the thickest smoky fog I had ever seen and it was just creeping down the road about a hundred yards high in the air. It stretched from mountainside to mountainside and was as thicker than any I had ever witnessed.
As soon as I met up with the thick curtain of fog I couldn’t see. I turned my headlights on in the darkness but still could only drive mostly by instinct of knowing the road so well.
I made my way up the dark hollow wondering just what had caused the thick fog. I did notice the air had a hint of a sulfur acid-like smell, kind of like a burning slate pile but not enough that it was choking or anything.
When I reached Ronnie’s house he was out with a video recorder trying to capture the event but all it looked like most of the time was just a blank screen. The fog was so thick you couldn’t see anything else.
I told Leslie to leave her car there as Ronnie and I got into my truck to head on up the hollow towards my house. As I got close to home I noticed the thickness of the fog was starting to break up and just above my house about a quarter of a mile it was almost non-existent except for pockets of the thick stuff still hanging on here and there.
I noticed after we turned around that the wind was carrying the fog down the hollow and it was breaking up. A little after about 9 o’clock the mystery fog was gone just about as quickly as it came.
We never knew what caused it and no one I talked to had ever seen anything like it. Someone offered an explanation that one of the many old mine shafts that dot Paw Paw had “belched out” hot air or smoke from an under ground fire and caused the sudden thick fog maybe so, or maybe not. No one knows for sure.
To this day we haven’t really found out a clear explanation for what happened and I guess we may never know. But for a time that morning, what ever caused the fog, it was a very unusual time to say the least.
Anyone have an idea of what it may have been?

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A Halloween tale

It was a cold, stormy, dark night, a night when no one in their right mind would be out unless they had to. It was late October, I remember and just a couple of days until Halloween. I drove slower than usual, every year when it got close to Halloween, the road up Paw Paw was dangerous because of the kids playing pranks by blocking the road. I had done the same when I was younger but finally, I realized it could be a bad thing to do if someone had an emergency and needed to get to the hospital quick. I guess you could say I grew up.

I remember rounding a curve when I saw a man kneeling beside the road without a coat on and the rain was coming down pretty hard. I didn’t know whether to stop or not. My parents had warned me as a child never pick up a stranger but for some unknown reason, I stopped.
He barely raised his rain soaked head as I rolled down the passenger window and asked him if he needed a ride. He never said a word but opened the rear door and climbed into the backseat of my car. As he sat in the backseat I adjusted my rearview mirror and noticed the man’s face was deathly white. I was having second thoughts now after I, for some unknown reason, had stopped and picked up a total stranger.
I asked, “Where are you headed mister?”
He then raised his head and his hollow dark eyes stared into my mirror as he said, “ My name is Tommy and I’m trying to get home.”
I then asked him, “ Where would home be Tommy?”
He then told me he lived on Ephram Creek at the fork of the road. I knew the house where he was talking about but I never had met the people who lived there. I had heard tales of a widowed woman who lived there alone and thought he must have be some kin to her. I turned my car around and told him I would take him there.
As I drove across the hill from Paw Paw to Ephram Creek he sat there in the back without saying another word. I thought to myself the faster I get him home the better. I also made a promise to myself to never repeat anything like this again.
I was scared to death. I have never forgotten the helpless feeling I had that night, but still I drove on. I came to the fork of the road and pulled into the driveway where the man described. I stopped the car and he just sat there so I got out and walked around the back to open the door for him because he really didn’t look so good. Then when I opened the door, Tommy was gone. I looked all around the car to see if he had maybe gotten out the other side of the car but he was nowhere to be found.
Then, a dim porch light came on from the small, run-down house. The front door creaked as it slowly opened and an elderly, gray haired lady stepped onto the porch. Her eyes strained as she looked towards me as if to ask what I needed.
I walked up a dark dirt path leading up to the porch and asked here if she knew a man called Tommy and told her how I had picked him up and brought him here her house. Then the lady gently smiled as she brushed a tear away from her cheek and said “It sure was nice of you to go out of your way to bring Tommy home. You see, 13 years ago today, in an accident just down the road, my husband Tommy lost his life and oh I miss him so. He had stopped to help a young lady change a flat tire and was hit and killed instantly by a drunk driver.”
A cold chill ran down my back as goose bumps raised all over my body and hair raised on the back of my neck as I listened to the story of the tragic accident. She was so in love with her husband you could tell as she tried to hold back the tears telling her tragic story.
When she had finished, I didn’t know what to say except, “Well, I’m so sorry for your loss but I guess I’ll be going now, Ma’am,” not knowing how to handle what I had just heard.
She smiled and nodded as if to let me know she understood.
Then, as I turned to leave she said something I will never forget. The frail little old lady said,  “Thank you for your trouble and the kindness that you have shown ‘cause you’re the 13th one who’s been here, bringing my Tommy home.”

PS: An old song my mother used to sing often inspired my Halloween story. I hope you enjoyed it.

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My special birthdays

My special birthdays… a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

September 16th was my birthday. Now it seems each year goes by a little faster than the last.  I love birthdays but there are two things that I really miss about my birthdays now. I miss my special birthday cake from Momma and my birthday gift from Daddy.
As far back as I can remember, every year for my birthday Dad always gave every kid in my family a dollar bill as a birthday present and Mom always fixed each of us our favorite cake. Every year as I got older I expected my gift from Dad would maybe change or get a little larger but up until his death, it was always a single dollar bill. Boy do I miss my dollar now.
As a small child growing up in the 50's and 60's the dollar was a lot bigger it seemed. Then as I grew into a young man and a husband and father, he still never gave more than a dollar. I often joked in Dad's later years, when my birthday came around, that I really needed that dollar bill to make my birthday complete and he always produced. Most of the time his gift was a brand new dollar that he had gotten at the bank just for my birthday.
    Mom would always take our request for what kind of cake we would like to have each year and always came through with one of the most delicious birthday cakes you could imagine. My favorites were German Chocolate, Italian Crème and Pineapple Upside-Down cake. Nobody could make a cake like Mom.  She knew just how I liked my cakes, easy on the cake and heavy on the frosting.
    I remember so many times getting my dollar bill (which I usually saved for our next trip to Ben Franklin's in town) and my birthday cake with all the candles to blow out for my wish. I was told to never share my wish with anyone else or it wouldn't come true. But always my wish was the same, I wished that Daddy didn't have to work so hard and Momma could have a new bigger house.
    Well, sad to say my wish never came true. Mom and Dad worked hard their whole lives. Dad, working 6 days a week to have the money to support our family, and Mom working 7 days a week to keep us fed and clean the house. But don't get me wrong, I don't believe either one would have done it any differently, even if they had had the opportunity do so.
    Dad in his later years could have quit work long before he did, but he wasn't satisfied unless he was working. And after they got older, he offered to build Mom a new house, but she always told him she loved it where she was. Their modest home was the only home she had ever known and she didn't have to have a big fancy house. I think now it was a way to hang on to her memories when all of her kids were at home. 
    My Dad died in February of 1997 and that September 16th was a sad birthday for both Mom and me. She called and told me she had made me my favorite cake, a German Chocolate and asked when I would be up to enjoy it. I didn't have the heart to tell her that Margy, my wife, had made one too because she didn't think Momma would be up to it. But anyway, I didn't let on and told her I would be there right after work.
    I drove home and told Margy that Momma had called and had also made me a birthday cake and we should go because she was so lonesome now Dad wasn't around now.
After we shared a few tears, we drove to Mom's and she met us at the door as always, with arms wide open and her special smile. As we walked to the kitchen a large German Chocolate cake sat centered on the table and beside it lay a brand new dollar bill with a birthday card that read "Happy Birthday Rodney, From the both of us, love Mom and Dad." It was the best birthday gift ever.

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Hog killin' time

Hog killin’ time…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

Walk outside and take a long deep breath. The smell is in the air. It’s the smell of fall. But sometimes, just that smell, takes me back to my childhood, growing up a young boy on Paw Paw.  Some of you will know exactly what I mean while others will ask themselves, what smell is he talking about?
As a person gets older, there are certain things that will take them back to another time in their life. It may be a song on the radio that when I hear it, I remember the very first time that I heard the song and where I was at when I heard it. It may be other things that trigger my memory, like the smell of a fresh baked cake or pie that reminds me of a Thanksgiving morning and Momma getting ready for a big dinner and a table without and empty chair. Or, it may be a picture in an old album that I haven’t looked at for some time that triggers my memory and takes me back to that exact moment in my life. That’s what smell I’m talking about.
The seasons of the year have a certain smell, that when I close my eyes as I take that deep breath, I remember things from long ago just as if I was a child again.  When my kids were young and at home, I would sometimes get that deep breath and I would tell them it was going to snow soon. They would ask how I could tell and my answer would be “The smell that’s in the air.”
I don’t need to watch the news to tell me when the weather is going to change all I have to do is close my eyes and breath. Now I’m not talking about forecasting the weather a week in advance, but on a day-to-day method.
I walked out to my truck this morning going to work and the smell of fall was in the air as I opened the front door and stepped outside and took my first breath. It’s that crisp, cool, clean smell that no air freshener can duplicate. It’s the smell that takes me back to when I knew that before long it would be the most beautiful time of all, autumn and hog killin’ time.
Some of you may argue otherwise, but to me there nothing more beautiful than when the leaves start to turn their browns, yellows, ambers and orange in these beautiful east Kentucky mountains that I call home. The songbirds begin make their yearly flight to warmer climates. And life in general, just slows down.
As a young boy, there was quite a bit more to do then as winter approached. It was the time to harvest what we have grown and prepare for the winter ahead. We always had to ‘put-up’ most of the things to get us through another winter.
Dad would always kill at least a couple hogs. It sometimes made me a little sad to see the pig we had raised all summer to be killed but times were tough and we had to eat. Dad with a good clean shot,  assured me there would be no suffering for the hog. But now, the work began.
Dad had a large kettle of boiling water ready to scald and scrap off the hair. After a good washing down the meat was quartered up. Dad was a skilled butcher and taught all of us how to “break-down” the meat. We then took the meat to our smokehouse to be stored until needed. Most of the meat was preserved by a good salting down or by smoking it with a fire fueled by hickory wood.
We stored the meat by placing it on greasy wooden shelves in the smokehouse or by tying strings to the heavy pork pieces and hanging them on nails in the smokehouse rafters. The smokehouse would be full of big hams, slabs of bacon, racks of ribs, and lots of shoulder meat that would get us through the cold winter days. 
Nothing was wasted when we killed our hogs. Mom’s job was to render lard from the trimmings of fat or to make lye soap from it. The skin from the hog would end up as cracklings or as meat skins cooked in our oven, they were truly delicious. Pap Paw Miller would most times take the hog’s head to cook and prepare it for souse meat.
He was the best around for making souse. He trimmed the head real close not wasting anything and combined the meat with his own recipe of spices handed down from generation to generation. He then cooked the meat and added gelatin that would hold the meat together. Next, he poured the combination into old metal lunchmeat cans we had saved until the souse ‘set up’. Then, it could be removed in a perfect square loaf ready for slicing.
With the feet, Mom would pickle them and store in quart jars. The tail was cooked in soup. The neck bones were cooked in water along with potatoes from the garden for a tasty meal. Dad even ate the hog’s brains, fried in a skillet along with scrambled eggs. Our neighbor Clayton, even asked for the hog’s eyeballs every time we killed a hog, he said he loved ‘em. Needless to say, Dad didn’t have a problem with giving Clayton all the eyeballs he wanted. Again, nothing was wasted. Dad always joked, “The only thing you lose when you kill a hog, is his squeal.”
Now, today as I take that deep breath of fresh air and smell that smell of fall it still reminds me of when I was a boy. I can close my eyes and see Daddy sharpening his knifes, boiling the water to scald and scrape the hog and Momma standing over the fire with that big black cast iron kettle, singing as she sweated, stirring the fat to render lard or making our soap. Yep, it’s hog killin’ time, again. I can smell it.

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Snow in September

Snow in September…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

I went fishing at my pond the other day and as I was throwing my bait as close to the cattails as I could to catch Mr. Bass my mind wondered back to when I was a kid, as it often does.
I smiled to myself as I started thinking about the time when we decided to make “artificial snow” using cattails.  I’m sure some of you may have done the same but if you haven’t, here is my story.
Back when I was growing up we only got toys at Christmas and then it was a long year before we got another one. We never spent much time indoors and I guess it was mostly because we only got one channel on TV, WATE out of Knoxville and the fact that CD players, computers, facebook, ebay, ipads, and iphones were years down the road.
So most of the year it was shooting slingshots, walking on stilts, playing marbles, tag, hopscotch or whatever we found interesting on any given day. Some days we would go fishing in the creek at Sibert. Other days we might hit the woods to swing on grapevines, or have an acorn fight or just to do some exploring.
Back then the outdoors was our biggest playground. There was always something new to see and new to do.
We did some crazy things back then and later on in my life (when I was much older) my Momma would shudder as I told her tales of how we spent some of our days as kids. Momma would say, “Lord, if I had known you were doing those things I would have worried myself to death.”
Then I would say, “I know Mamma, that’s why I never told you.” Momma would just shake her head side to side in disbelief, halfway smiling and I’m sure thinking how glad she was that none of us ever had any really bad accidents. That is, except for me. It seemed like I was in the hospital every summer for bone breaks or stitches.
Now, getting back to my story. It was another lazy day late in the fall years ago on Paw Paw and the Miller boys were as usual, looking for something to do. We were playing around our family pond when decided to cut a few cattails from the water’s edge to play with. Back then many simple things in nature could keep us occupied for hours
Now, if you don’t know what a cattail is (and today I have to ask that question because most kids growing up probably don’t) it’s an aquatic weed that grows in the edges of ponds, lakes or in marshy places with a brown top that looks like a hot-dog wiener stuck on the end of a stick weed. Some say it looks a whole lot like a corn dog.
Old timers use to tell me that American Indians would use the cattails for tom-toms when they beat their drums. And I must agree, they do make a beautiful sound on an old lard can’s lid
But anyway, we cut a handful each and took them to the house to beat on our drum playing Indians and cowboys. And we have been known to sometimes even beat them over one another’s head. Now, anyone who has played with cattails knows that in the fall of the year if you hit cattails hard enough the brown top will explode into a white, cotton-like substance by the handfuls. (I think the white fluff actually is what carries the seed of the cattails in the air to spread the seeds.)
So after a few of them had been beaten on the lard can we noticed that the cottony stuff from them looked just like snow on the ground around the can. It had built up to several inches thick. That’s when we got the idea to make the whole parking lot look like it had snowed in September to surprise Daddy.
All of us began to beat the cattails against the ground and before long the ground began to look white. We made several trips back to the pond and grabbed ever cattail we could find. Before long, the entire parking lot at our house was covered. I must say it was a beautiful site.
When we walked through the snow-like stuff the feathery-white fluff would fly up all around us into the air looking just like it as snowing. Momma of course, thought it was beautiful. We ran and played all afternoon in the winter-like playground.
We all wondered what would Daddy say when he got home from work and saw our winter wonderland? Would he find it as beautiful as Momma did? Only time would tell.
Momma told us to all hide inside the yard when we heard Daddy coming up the road to see how he would react when he saw it unknowingly.
As he topped the hill and started down the driveway all of a sudden he locked up his brakes coming to a quick stop causing all of us to laugh. Daddy then put the car in park and walked the rest of the way down the hill into the fluff. Then we all began to run towards him laughing, parting the cattail snow as it flew into the air.
“Whose ready for a snowball fight?” Daddy yelled as he bent over pretending to grab a handful. Of course we all held our hands high in the air and answered “Me!”
We had a lot of fun that day playing in the artificial snow running, jumping and making snow angels.
Next morning we were up early to again play in the winter wonderland but to our amazement, the snowy-stuff was all gone. Daddy told us it must have blown away sometime in the night by wind.
Even today, every time I see cattails I think of that day when we did almost the impossible with those cattails. It was one of those days that I will never forget. I hope one day, when my grandbabies are old enough, to show them how to make it snow in September just like we did long ago.

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Page 9 of 25

e-Edition A-Section 10-23-14


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e-Edition B-Section 10-23-14


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