Wednesday, 13 June 2012 12:44
The Miracle Melon… a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
My mother’s most favorite summertime thing from our garden was a watermelon. From the first sign of warm weather until the harvest she looked forward to her first watermelon of the season. She loved watermelon more than anything else from our garden and the Georgia-rattlesnake was her favorite variety.
Anyone who has tried to grow melons has probably found out it’s not as easy as it looks. Watermelons grow best in a sandy type soil and need lots of water but at our home on Paw Paw, we had neither. But, Dad didn’t let a little thing like that keep him from trying.
Every year he tried and tried to grow Momma the watermelons she loved but never had too much success. He planted the seeds in hills, a mound of soil raised about two or three inches in a circle about 16 inches in diameter after being flattened off smooth. Then he would take his finger and make a small hole with his finger about 1 inch deep and place one seed in each hole and about 6 holes per hill. When the seeds sprouted and were about 1 inch high, he would thin out the hill to the 3 strongest plants.
Dad had an ingenious way to keep the plants watered during the hot spells of summer. He came up with an idea to take a large, tin coffee can, punch a small hole in the bottom of the can with a nail and bury the can about two inches deep in the center of the hill of plants. About once a week we would carry water to the garden and fill the cans to the top with the water and slowly the water would leak out the bottom of the can, soaking the roots.
He tried to grow melons every summer and sometimes we would harvest basketball size melons but rarely anything bigger. Some were picked before they reached their prime or kids living on the holler stole them before we got the chance to pick ‘em ourselves. But, Dad kept trying.
In the late 70’s, Dad got lucky. Miracle Grow had just hit the market and he was mixing it in every container of water he carried to the garden. Everything fell into place and that summer he had the best crop of Georgia-rattlesnake melons he had ever grown.
I was visiting Momma and Dad one hot, July day when he just had to show me his prized patch of melons. He was so proud of them. Carefully we walked amongst the watermelon vines as he pointed out each melon. These were noticeably bigger than any he had ever grown and he gave all of the credit to the “new” fertilizer, Miracle Grow.
Momma was almost as proud as Dad was of the bumper crop of melons and couldn’t wait until the day when she could cut one to satisfy her craving. She would walk through the garden, flipping the melons with her finger listening for the “thump” that would let her know when it was time for picking.
She sometimes would carry a small straw plucked from her kitchen broom to place on the center of the melons and watch for it to turn on the top like a compass towards the connecting vine to also give the message as being ripe.
I was working at IGA that summer and we had just gotten in a load of some of the biggest Georgia-rattlesnake watermelons I had ever seen. One tipped the scales at 79 pounds and I just had to have it. I had something in mind for the huge melon.
Late that night, under darkness, I snuck into Dad’s garden with my gigantic melon on my shoulder. I carefully made my way to the watermelon patch and carefully cut one of the smallest melons from the vine. Then, I gently placed the big melon on the ground in its place. I took the vine from the small melon and attached it to the large melon with a toothpick. It looked almost too good. I laughed to myself, as I made my way out of the garden and back home.
It didn’t take long to get the phone call from Dad. The very next day, about 4:00 in the evening, Dad called me at work and said, “Rod, you have got to come and see what that Miracle Grow has done. I just found a melon in the garden that I hadn’t noticed before and it must weigh close to 100 pounds!”
“Don’t pick it until I get there,” I answered, “I’ve got the see this for myself.”
I left work at 5:00 and drove straight to Dad’s where he was waiting on the porch. “Where’s this big melon at?” I asked as I met Dad in the yard. Dad smiled as he said, “Follow me.”
I didn’t have to be shown, I already knew, but I followed blindly along behind Dad. “Just take a look over there!” Dad said, pointing to the melon clearly the biggest in the field. “Man, that’s the biggest melon I have ever seen!” I told Dad reaching down to size up the monster.
I then, rolled the melon over and the stem came a loose from the vine. “Well, this one is ready to pick. You can tell how easy the vine broke from the melon.” I told Dad.
“Well, I was hoping so. Your Momma is ready to cut into one and this one doesn’t need to get any bigger. If it did we couldn’t get it out of the garden,” Dad said proudly.
I agreed, as I picked up the melon and carried it to the house where Momma was waiting with knife in hand. “Boys, I’ve been waiting on that melon for 20 years. Stand back,” Momma said as she thrust the long knife deep into the melon’s hull.
It was the best melon Momma had ever eaten, she said and Dad couldn’t have been more proud. And me, I’ve kept my secret until now.
Wednesday, 06 June 2012 12:36
The Wig Party…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
Looking back on that weekend, when were having so much fun with the wigs, little did I know that our time together would be so brief.
My Momma’s sister, Cleo, had recently found a lump that needed to be removed and it turned out to be cancer. After the surgery, the doctors also recommended that Cleo needed to have radiation treatment as well to fight the cancer. It was only a little more than four. years ago.
After the treatment, Cleo had come down to Momma’s to spend a few days with her. She was feeling the effects of the treatment and needed to have someone to help take care of her for a little while and also to spend time with Momma. Cleo was more than just my Mom’s sister. Cleo was like one of Momma’s large family.
Momma hadn’t found out yet that she too had a cancer and was trying to nurse her younger sister back to health. And if anyone could have done that, Momma knew she could.
All of my Momma’s sisters were very attractive women. So when Cleo started loosing her hair from the radiation treatment, it really depressed her. My Momma then came to the rescue. She decided that loosing a little hair didn’t have to mean you still couldn’t look pretty, so she bought Cleo a really nice wig.
Momma also had a couple of wigs of her own that she had gotten somewhere and one weekend, to lighten things up, Momma decided on a wig party.
What’s a wig party, some of you might ask. Well, it’s probably not what you would think. I only called it a party just because we had so much fun that weekend with the wigs. We were all trying to cheer up Cleo because she felt bad and Momma always said, laughter is the best medicine.
Most of my brothers, Uncle Lloyd and I had gathered at Momma’s for a little get together and we decided it would be fun to put on the wigs and see how each one of us would look wearing them trying to make light of Cleo losing her hair. There was a short blond wig, a short dark wig, and a long dark wig.
We grabbed the camera and as each one of us tried on the wigs and we began to take pictures of the hilarious moments. It was as much fun as I had had in a long time. All of us tried on the different wigs as someone took the pictures. We all looked so silly.
Momma and Cleo were having a ball. When either of them put on the wigs they also got into acting like different people and began to talk in funny voices. Sometimes acting and talking like a southern belle and other times like a hillbilly hooker. I laughed so hard my side hurt.
The “party” went on for most of the night as all of us got into the act. I still smile when I think of Ronnie and Anthony in that blonde wig, they looked so funny. Especially Ronnie, since he has had slick shaven head for years. But each time a different person put on one of the wigs someone would snap a photo. It was a weekend I will never forget.
After a week under Momma’s care, Cleo began to feel a little better and she returned back home to Cincinnati.
Not long after that, I began to notice little changes in Momma. There were small signs at first that told me something wasn’t exactly right. Momma started complaining more often of bad headaches. Her personality had changed a little too and as time went on she began to stumble more and sometimes, even fall.
Momma slowly began to get weaker that summer and was hit with another tragedy when her brother Lloyd, suddenly died. She was almost too weak to walk as we led her into the cemetery to bury her youngest brother. Momma was getting worse by the day.
After being in and out of several hospitals trying to find out what was wrong with Momma, a doctor in Somerset said he thought there was a chance she might have a brain tumor. The test was run and the results weren’t good. There was a tumor and it had been there for quite some time.
The doctor said the tumor had grown deep into her brain. He told us he could operate and maybe that would give her a few more comfortable months, but he thought it was only a matter of time.
We all agreed on the operation, deciding it would be best to try to remove the cancer. After all, Momma was the strongest woman I had ever known. But, sad to say, the doctor did his best but couldn’t remove the entire tumor.
After the operation, the doctor suggested that radiation treatment was now needed to slow the growth of the tumor and just like her sister Cleo, after the treatments Momma began to loose her hair. My sister Darlene remembering the wig party we had thrown for Cleo and how it raised her spirits, bought Momma the best wig that money could by to cover her balding head.
Momma would spend the next few weeks living with my sister Jackie, in London, where she would took care of her. We brought Momma home for her last Thanksgiving that fall because she wanted to spend it at her home on Paw Paw. Momma wore the wig as she posed for pictures with her family.
It was sad to see such a once strong woman, now so weak and frail. But in every photo, Momma was still smiling. Momma died the following February. We buried Momma next to my father in the Miller Cemetery where her bother Lloyd was laid to rest just months before.
My Aunt Cleo was now getting weak, as her cancer had started to return again. She couldn’t even make Momma’s funeral. Just a few months later, Cleo also died.
Within just a two-year span, Momma, Lloyd and Cleo all died too soon. Today, I think back to that weekend of the wig party and it seems like it was only yesterday when all three were laughing, joking and full of life as they enjoyed each other’s company, one last time.
It was a weekend I will remember forever.
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:41
The Dirt Demons…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
I remember the long stretch down the new dirt road seemed like it went on for miles. So far, I had to strain my eyes to see the end. I had never seen a straight road like that ever before living in a county where curves were more the normal. But here it was, as level as a pancake, with no blacktop (yet), no trafic and no speed limits.
The road I’m talking about was when the Daniel Boone Parkway (Sorry, I can’t ever get used to the Hal Rogers name change) came through the head of Paw Paw and down Ephram Creek. Back then, in the late 60’s, it was like a country boy’s racetrack.
The road had taken long time to get to the point of where a person could actually drive on it. With the big cuts through the mountains and the tons and tons of rock and dirt that had to be moved to the low valley spots in the road the work went slow.
But near the end, just before the paving began, it was perfect playground for having some really wild times. And we were wild enough to put them all to the test. I guess you could say we were “The Dirt Demons” of the Daniel Boone Parkway.
We could only drive on the road on weekends when there wasn’t any construction going on or on sections of the road that were completed and the construction crews had moved on to another location. Mornings and evenings were bad times also, the work crews used the dirt road to get to and from each location.
But one most weekends it was like they say in NASCAR, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” The night watchmen that patrolled the road were either asleep or had left the site until the next night shift.
We would take our vehicles or anyone else’s that was crazy enough to let us drive them across Paw Paw road and enter the parkway. When we reached the wide dirt road it was peddle to the metal. We wanted to see how fast we could go before reaching the foot of the long hill. Speeds, I’m ashamed to say now, most times were above 100!
We loved to squeal the tires on the dirt road without fear of someone telling our parents on us. We did donuts until the car disappeared in a cloud of dust. We would reach high speeds and lock up the brakes just to hear the screaming of the tires.
We did lots of crazy things when I was a kid or should I say a young man but back then because we never saw much danger in the risks we took. Now I look back and see that we were so lucky to escape most dangers with only scratches or a few stitches.
I remember one weekend in particular when one of those times occurred. Ronnie and I and a couple of our friends were out in an old International pickup truck Daddy had bought and we were taking turns putting it through the mill.
Although the old truck had a 6-cylinder and a 3-speed transmission it was still wheels that provided lots of excitement, especially downhill. That weekend we were taking turns at the wheel giving the old International all it would take.
Everyone was having a ball and it was Ronnie’s time as captain of the wheel. We were flying along at a high rate of speed when he thought he would spice things up a bit. Ronnie started cutting the wheel back and forth across the wide dirt road.
The suddenly, the truck went wildly out of control. We were sliding sideways at over 70 mph and headed straight off the road and over an embankment with the laughing turning to screams of fear.
The steering seemed useless no matter how hard he cut the steering wheel the truck seemed to have a mind of it’s on. And the truck was winning.
Ronnie then hit the brakes hard but again it wasn’t going to stop. Suddenly I looked up and we were headed into a large stack of bales of straw that were piled up on the side of the roadway to cover the grass seed to keep it moist the crews were sowing. We must have hit the straw over 50 mph.
When we did the straw came crashing down upon us but the soft bales absorbed most of the shock from the crash. We were lucky. That pile of straw was the only one on the side of the parkway for many miles and we just managed to hit it.
We were all shook up but okay other than a few scratches and bruises. I was afraid to look at the truck expecting it to be destroyed. Slowly we pushed our way out of the doors moving the bales of straw and uncovering the truck. Again we were lucky. The International only had a bend or two in the front end.
We straightened out the bends as good as we could with our hands and backed the truck from the pile and headed home. We had had enough of the daredevil stunts for one day.
Daddy never noticed the bends or he might have seen them and never asked knowing that boys will boys when it comes to driving. But that day we knew we had been very lucky.
Not long after that the blacktop was laid down and a fence went up to keep unauthorized entry to the parkway. But for a short time that summer, the “Dirt Demons” had a ball on that deserted stretch of roadway.
We learned valuable driving lessons, both on and (nearly) off the road that would last us for a lifetime. I’m just glad we never got hurt and that Momma and Daddy never found out about the crazy things we did. Daddy would have given us a good reason, in his special way, to never want to get on that road until it was finished again.
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 12:22
Decoration Day…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
Editors Note: Last week I got a call from TCP World Academy, Public Chartered School, in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a teleconference with Mr. Arnold Cornett, Teacher/Instructor, and Mrs. Evans, Founder, Superintendent, and School Principal. TCP World Academy is one of the “Top Ten” Chartered Schools in Ohio.
Mr. Cornett has been reading my stories to his class each week and the students wanted to interview me and find out more about my upbringing, my family, and my stories. The interview lasted almost an hour and I really appreciated their interest and questions about my stories. I hope to do this again as it was very rewarding, on my part, to have students and faculty interested in “A Boy’s Memories”. Thank you class, Mr. Cornett, and Mrs. Evans. I really enjoyed the phone call.
Decoration Day, not to be confused with Memorial Day, in the Appalachian Mountains goes back a long ways. The practice, which usually took place in late spring or early summer, involved families visiting graves of loved ones to clean, repair and decorate them with flowers.
After the work and decoration was complete a religious service usually followed and then a dinner on the ground. The service sometimes consisted of reading special verses from the Bible and singing old mountain hymns specially chosen for the occasion. Most times it would be a song that the deceased had chosen to be sung for them on Decoration Day after their passing.
The day chosen for the work on the graveyard usually started in early morning while the air was still cool from the night. Family members would meet at a set time at the graveyard with work clothes on with hoes, rakes and trimmers in hand for the task ahead.
The early start would give the family time to get the job done before the sun got high and hot in the summer sky. Lots of times leaves and limbs blown in from the long cold winter were littered about the graveyard. Faded silk flowers from last year were now pale and tattered from the long months in the sun on our last visit.
There were always plenty of tears that fell upon the graves as we worked no matter how long ago the loved one had been in the cold ground. Some say that time heals but Momma always said that time just made it a little easier to live with. The hurting will always be there.
The decorating of the gravesite usually consisted of a few silk flowers sitting in golden colored vases carefully placed on the site. Sometimes the flowers were set in styrofoam crosses or hearts and leaned up against the headstones or mounted on skinny metal frames.
The visit to the graveyard was almost always longer than planned. Momma and Daddy would point out graves of my family members who had long passed. I could trace them back to six generations and never leave the small area in the Herd Cemetery at Sibert. Not many families can do that, I thought.
Each year on our visit to the graveyard Momma would cry as she touched the photo of her mother mounted to her headstone that had been broken by vandals many years ago. Momma had an idea who did it but never revealed to me the name. I thought it was an awful dirty deed for someone to do that to my grandmother’s stone.
Daddy showed me the locations of the headstones of our family from the Miller and Sibert side of our ancestral tree. The Siberts settled the small town that the cemetery overlooks that now bears their name. Years ago Sibert was a thriving community but time and poverty has now taken a toll on its once proud status.
The home place of Sibert’s founder, Dan Sibert, fell victim to what was suspected to be arson’s fire only a couple of years ago. The old home was almost 200 years old.
The Sibert Cemetery, located just across Paw Paw road from the Herd Cemetery, isn’t far from the location of the old Dan Sibert home place in a tanglement of grown up shrubs and vines. Not many people even know it’s there because of the overgrowth.
I have made up my mind to try to help get the Sibert Cemetery cleaned up once again. If anyone is interested in helping, please contact me. I think our ancestors deserve better than what they now have as their final resting place.
Another cemetery that needs attention is one of the oldest in the county. It’s at the mouth of Paces Creek on the right side going up the creek. I visited it for the first time a couple of months ago and some of the gravestones were in disarray. Some were completely flat on the ground and others were leaning terribly.
This is the gravesite of General T.T. Garrard and other prominent founders of our county. I think we need to get together and work on this graveyard also. Let’s keep Decoration Day a mountain tradition that we practice, not just preach.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 03:07
“We’re going to need a bigger trap!”....a boy’s memories.
By: Rodney Miller
“They’ve been at it again!” I heard my Mom’s voice on the phone. “And this time, it means war!”
“Who are you talking about?” I asked not knowing why she was so mad.
“Some how mice have gotten in the house and I can’t do a thing with them. Every night they’re into something else and enough is enough! Last night, one even knocked over a glass in the sink and broke it” Mom said.
I told her I would come up and bring her a few mice traps and inspect the crime scene. She told me “Hurry!”
Mom had never been scared of mice, spiders, or even snakes. But one thing she wouldn’t put up with was a mouse in the house. She had been taught long ago that mice and rats carry a lot of diseases. She wanted them dead and the quicker the better.
I stopped at the local Wal-Mart and bought a package of traps and a small jar of peanut butter for bait. It stays on the trap longer, it has a good smell, and mice can’t resist it.
When I arrived at her house she was on her knees looking for a place they might have a nest. She also told me from what they were eating, and the “mess” they were leaving, they had to be rats. One had even gotten into her trashcan, turned it over and pulled out some leftover chicken she had thrown away. I agreed, “To turn over the trashcan, would take a pretty big rat.”
We found a place close to the trashcan and as I was baiting the trap, when Mom said “That won’t be enough bait. Instead of peanut butter maybe we should be using fried chicken, they’re kind of partial to the breast!”
I laughed and told her “If they get a taste of this peanut butter they won’t stop until they’ve licked it clean. A whiff of this Jif and they will never go back to chicken.” I baited four traps and placed them all in a good location to catch the thieves.
After a short visit, I told her to let me know in the morning how many we caught. I kissed her cheek and left for the night.
Next morning, good and early, the phone rang. “You’re not going to believe this, Rodney. Last night about 11:30, I was just about to fall asleep and I heard one of the traps throw. I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to get rid of the dead mouse and was met at the kitchen door by the biggest rat I had ever seen!” Mom told me.
“How big was he?” I asked
“Well, I know we’re going to need a bigger trap. This fellow was as big as a small cat!” she went on. “And when he saw me he hissed and showed me a mouth full of teeth. I grabbed the broom and hit him over the head and thought I had killed him. He laid there a while and I went to get the shovel to scoop him up and throw him out, but when I come back in he was gone.”
“And how big did you say again? As big as a small cat? Are you sure you weren’t still half asleep and not dreaming? I might believe as big as a small kitten but a cat that’s hard to believe. ” I asked, believing maybe she was just exaggerating.
“This rat was way bigger than a kitten. Why, he could probably eat a small kitten! And his teeth were like a cross cut saw.” She exclaimed.
Once again, I told her I would be up in a little bit and do a little more investigating.
This time, when I walked in the front door, Mom was armed with a BB gun. I told her a BB gun would only make a rat that big mad. She didn’t laugh, she said “Maybe you’re right, I should get the .22 rifle!”
“No! No! I was only kidding you can’t shoot a rifle in the house!” I yelled.
“Well, I’m not laying down in this house another night until Willard (the rat) is dead!” Mom told me.
After a close inspection of the kitchen area where Willard had been the night before, I was agreeing with her, this wasn’t an ordinary rat. He had been in the garbage can again and gotten flour on his feet and had left unusually big tracks for a rat across the kitchen floor. The trap he had thrown, hadn’t even fazed him. He had merely pulled his head out of it like it wasn’t anything. Maybe I should get the .22, I thought.
I followed his tracks the best I could through the kitchen. Then through the family room to the steps leading upstairs. There I lost his track. It would take a lot of my hunting skills I had learned from my Dad to catch up with him, but I was like a bloodhound on the trail of an escapee, I was close. I could almost smell him.
Mom, was close behind me with her trusty Daisy, cocked and loaded. She had the gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other, it was dark under the two beds upstairs and the closets didn’t have an inside light either. “Shhhhh-Shhhhh!” she whispered, “I hear something in the closet!”
She handed me the flashlight and she steadied her gun against her shoulder with one eye closed for a good aim down the sights. “Open the door and get back. Let Annie Oakley do her job. This time I’ll make sure he’s dead.” She said quietly.
“Ok, Annie, just don’t shoot till you see the white of his eyes!” I answered jokingly.
As I cracked the door open slowly, I began to see a pair of eyes looking back at the both of us. She was right, he was a big one. She asked me to move aside and the crack of the BB gun was answered by a hiss that raised the hair on my neck.
“Hold on Mom!” I asked “I think what we have here isn’t a rat after all. It’s a possum!”
The shot had made the possum “sull-up” and he was gingerly carried by the tail down the stairs and out the front door as we laughed together. “I guess old Willard will live to see another day after all.” I said after sitting him down.
Then to my surprise a shot rang out over my shoulder and Willard never moved again. Mom had picked up her .22 on the way out the door behind me and one carefully placed shot to the head was all she needed.
Needless to say, Mom wasn’t going to waste a good possum. Willard would be a tasty meal the next day surrounded by cooked sweet potatoes. I even thought he tasted a little like chicken.
Now, Mom could lie down and sleep peacefully again.
“Good night, Annie!”
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