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

Whizzers & Clackers

I got call last week from a very nice lady about my recent story on ‘Strings’. Her name was Helen Day of Crane Creek. She was telling me how much she enjoyed my stories and went on to ask me why I didn’t write anything in my story about a ‘whizzer’?
Well to tell you the truth, I had to ask her just what was a ‘whizzer’? It didn’t take long before I knew exactly what she was talking about. So let me tell you about our conversation.
Helen told me, “A ‘whizzer’ is where you take a string and thread it through two holes in a big coat button and tie the string’s ends together in a loop. Next, place the string over your ‘hooked’ first (or fore) finger on each hand. Then, you start swinging the button in a circular motion to ‘wind’ the strings two sides together over and over again twirling the button around and around. After that just spread you hands apart and the button will whirl over and over again each time you spread and contract your hands”
I told Helen, “Your not going to believe me but I just forgot to put it in. I thought about it lying in bed one night, but when it got to writing my story, I forgot to put it in.”
It was perpetual motion over and over as the button spin faster and faster when we spread and contracted our hands. It also made a humming sound as the big button reached blinding speeds.
I didn’t know that they were called a ‘whizzer’ even though that toy was one of my favorites. I think we called the toy a ‘hummer’ (But that name would never work today, would it).
I also remembered another toy after I wrote my last story that involved a string. It was in the late 60’s or early 70’s when someone in our family bought a toy called ‘Clackers’.
Clackers were nothing more that two solid, thick glass (or later on, hard plastic) balls tied to each end of a heavy duty nylon string about two feet long. By holding the middle of the string and moving the forearm and hand in a constant up-and-down motion the thick glass balls to collide first at the bottom (below the hand) and, when enough bounce was achieved, the top (above the hand) as the bounced back and forth.
Once you got the rhythm of the motion going, the collision of the balls striking each other made a loud “clacking” noise thus the name. The faster you moved your forearm and hand up and down the faster and louder the annoying noise would get.
I remember lots of bruises on my forearms and hand that were caused the heavy glass balls until I got the hang of it. I also remember once getting hit in the head with one of them and believe me; it left a knot on my head big enough for a calf to suck on!
Many a parent was driven to profanity by this nerve-racking noise, but that was only the start of the ‘Clackers’ problems.
Not long after that, Momma found out on evening news that the Clackers had another danger, a hidden one. When the Clackers were smacked together long enough and hard enough those thick glass balls would shatter, sending glass shrapnel everywhere.
After hearing that, Momma said that the Clackers had to go and Daddy was glad to oblige her.
I can still see the Clackers’ balls swapping end over end as they flew through the air and wrap around a limb in the top of that big oak tree behind our house. I told Daddy he sure was good with those Clackers and asked if he had been playing with them while we weren’t watching.
He then asked me “Why?”
I laughed told him, “Well, judging from the way you threw those balls. You threw those just like David, from the Bible, when he killed Goliath with his sling.”
I was reminded again by the way he looked at me that Daddy didn’t have a good sense of humor sometimes. On my way back to the house I considered myself lucky that I didn’t get a red butt to go along with that big knot on my head.
Yep, just when Clackers got interesting, the press caused the toy company to cease production. Clackers then forever moved into the realm of schoolyard rumor and urban legend.
Clackers did make a comeback later in the 90’s but they were of the safer (in other words, more boring) plastic kind that didn’t have the bounce or the noise that the glass ones had and they fizzled out fast.
I would really like to have a set of the old glass ones if someone has a pair lying around their house somewhere. I just want to see if I still got the rhythm.

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Fun with string

Who today would ever think that a simple string could entertain a kid. Well, nobody today. I’m sure of that. But back in the days when I was young, little things like a string were special. When you got a hold of good string it was a treasure and not to be thrown away.

I remember the first time I saw my Daddy take a simple string tied in a loop make a “teacup and saucer”. I asked, “How did you do that?”
He then took the string and placed it up my two hands. Slowly Daddy showed me the technique and then, I was hooked. From teacups and saucers to crows-feet and cat’s cradle and then to see-saws and the hardest of all, Jacobs ladder, Daddy showed me all the moves. I carried that string in my pocket or around my neck forever showing everyone I met how Daddy had turned a simple string into a poor boy’s toy.
I also used a string to make my first bow to shoot stickweeds at rabbits, birds, ground squirrels and even a stray dog or two. I never did kill anything, I didn’t really want too. But it was fun to imagine my self as a young brave with a rooster’s tail-feather tied with another string around my head as I hunted the forest around my home.
String was sometimes used a miniature coral to keep up my small plastic horses, cows and pigs. At other times the string would be a barbwire fence to hold off the Germans as they attacked the GI’s of the American Army. The homeboys always won. Just like my Daddy did in World War II.
I once found an arrowhead at Huey Barger’s, a neighbor of ours. I took a string and tied the artifact around my neck as a piece of jewelry. I loved that arrowhead and it hooked me on finding more and more.
We also used string as a telephone. All it took was a couple of Carnation Cream cans with the top cut out smooth. A hole was then put into the other end with a nail. Then, a long string was run through the hole in each and secured by a knot inside the can. When stretched tight enough the sound of our voices could be heard clearly at distances of 50 feet or more. Two string tied to one can became the first party line.
I laughed the other day when I saw the Progresso commercial on TV as the appeared to do the same because I knew it would never carry sound the way they had it.
When I needed a belt to hold up a pair of “passed-down” pants that were too big, a string came in handy. When I broke a shoestring and didn’t have one to replace it with I used a doubled piece of string to make do.
A string tied to a stick would make perfect circles in the clean dirt for a game of marbles or a game of hopscotch. String would sometimes be used between two popsicle sticks as a splint to hold a finger straight after a dislocation or an injury.
I once used a string to tie two lead pencils together to cut my writing time in half. I never did chew gum in class again after writing that five-hundred times.
Dad could measure a string or a rope within an inch or two easily. He taught us that a string held by our thumb and forefinger stretched to our armpit would be close to two-feet in most adults.

I also remember Mamma whittling an old empty sewing thread spool down to make us a yo-yo. She split the spool in half, cut them down to about a half-inch wide and joined them with a small wooden dowel through the hole in the middle. The yo-yo was then wound with a string to make another perfect homemade toy.  
She once even made us tops with the wooden spools from thread. She would take her whittling knife and shape one end of the spools and then cut another wooden stick from a limb to insert all the way through the center hole, sharpening on end to a point. Her tops would spin forever it seemed.
We also made a toy out of a piece of wood about a quarter-inch thick and 8-1/2 inches long. The edges of the wood were then planned down much like an airplane propeller. Then notches were carved into the edges. A hole was place near the end of the piece of wood and a long string was attached.
When this contraption (I can’t remember the real name of what they were called but we called them whirly-birds) was twirled above our heads the vibration made a humming sound like a helicopter.
Mamma taught us how to make stilts. Daddy showed us how to make slingshots. Both were great working with everyday things we could find around the house.
We might not have had a lot of money to buy toys with when we were growing up but with two parents like mine we were never bored. They showed us how to have fun. Real fun that never cost a penny. And for that, I am forever grateful.

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After the glue is gone

\They say that time heals all hearts and if that’s so, I’m still waiting.

Holidays are the toughest for me now it seems. Thanksgiving and Christmas just aren’t the same anymore.
When my Momma and Daddy were alive every holiday meant a house full of family. So many that there was barely enough room at the two big tables.
 I realize now that my parents were the glue that held the rest of the family together. And after they passed my family was broken off into seven different individual pieces.
I know that I’m not the only person around that has gone through these feelings.  The story has been told for generations and it will be retold for many more. I just didn’t know how hard it would be.
When I was young I never thought much about mortality. Or maybe, I just didn’t want to think about it. I never thought my parents would ever get old, much less die. But time doesn’t stop for anyone. And I’ve found out lately, that the older I get, the faster time goes by.
Lately, I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who is that old person staring back at me? He sure looks a lot like my Daddy.” And then I start to think, “Where does time go?”
Then I walk outside my front door and stare through the quiet, deadness of daybreak. I used to love my alone time as a kid but now, not so much. My step has slowed quiet a bit. A fall might break a bone. My muscles ache more and more from my aging years and it takes longer now just to get my feet moving. I realize now, I am much like my father and my grandfather before him.
But everything isn’t gloom, I’m glad to say. In the past three years my two children have blessed Margy and me with three beautiful grandchildren. And boy, are they a handful! I had always heard my Momma and Daddy tell of how strong a grandparents love for grandkids were but I never knew how strong that could be. Now, I know.
It seems my bones and muscles don’t ache as much when I look into their gleaming eyes. At least, not until I get home and realize I’ve overdone it again by playing horsey, pitching them up in the air or just chasing after them all over the house. I’m sure you know how small kids loved to be chased.
But you know what, I go back day after day and do the same things over and over again. Grandchildren will make you do that. Their laughter and smiles more than pay the price for the pain I will feel afterwards.
I wish my parents would have had a chance to meet my three little angels. I can just hear my mother saying, “Bless their little hearts”. Momma said that a lot because she loved kids. I guess that would be an understatement knowing the size of our family.
Boy you should have seen us packed into my parent’s home on Christmas Day. The grandkids and great-grandkids were like a herd of wild horses running through the house. The older kids would be trying to control them but it was no use. I remember it never seemed to bother Momma. She would never say a word.
The older kids would be dressed in their best clothes for that special day and the women of the family would be showing off their new jewelry or new clothes. I remember once Daddy got Momma a new Aigner leather coat. She screamed like a teenager as she opened up her present. She barely took it off that Christmas day. She would say later, it was the best present Daddy ever got her.
Yep, the holidays sure seemed a lot happier and merrier to me when our big family was together at one house, sitting at one table with Daddy at the head and Momma beside him. They were the glue that held us all together.
We all over ate every year swearing to never do it again as we sat in the living room talking, singing or playing set-back or rummy in the kitchen after the dinner table was cleaned off. The winner always stayed up with losers rotating to challenge them again.
Holidays are just not that way anymore. Everyone now is just too busy. And the sad thing is, I don’t think holidays will ever be that way again. I’m starting to realize now that I guess it’s just too hard to put the pieces back together after the glue is gone.

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Jackie 'Dempsey'

      She was a girl that could fight like a man with a punch like the kick of a mule. I guess, if I had to describe the boxing ability of my oldest sister, that’s what it would be.
     Jackie’s record on that Christmas Day long ago was 4 wins with 0 defeats, all by TKO and all against male boxers. I should know. I was her first victim as she climbed the ladder on her way to become the undisputed champion of the Miller house.
     It was 1960 and Cassius Clay, then known to the world as Mohammad Ali, had just won his gold medal in the summer Olympics. Back then boxing was a big sport. We had begged all year for Dad to tell Santa that we wanted two pair of boxing gloves for Christmas.
     Momma of course, was afraid one of us would get hurt and tried to talk us into asking for something else, but our mind was made up. We wanted those boxing gloves bad.
     So you can imagine the surprise on that Christmas morning when low and behold, Santa had came through. Under the tree, was a box with a tag taped to the wrap that read, “To: The Miller Family, From: Santa”.
     We all fought over who would get to unwrap the box from Santa. With a quick tear of the paper covering the box were the words that read, ”Jack Dempsey Original Boxing Gloves”. The fighting started as soon as the box was opened over who would be the first to get to tie the gloves on.
     Gary and Ronnie, the oldest of my brothers, got the honors. Momma again warned that the gloves were not toys and if someone got mad, then someone would probably get hurt. We all tried to assure her that we were only going to just “spar around” with one another and promised no one would get mad.
     Jackie and me laced up the gloves on our two brothers and the fighters took their corner. A metal pot was brought from the kitchen to serve as a bell along with a tablespoon to use as the striker. Clang, the pot rang out as round one opened.
     At first the boxing was mostly just jabbing and moving as the boys weren’t sure just how it would feel to be punched with the gloves. After a few striking blows to each others bodies, the punching got a little harder as each contestant was now swinging wildly.
     Everything was going great until Gary connected with a hard right to the face of Ronnie. Then, Ronnie retaliated with a haymaker of his own. Dad stepped in just as the bell rang to separate the two fighters. Momma was now more worried than ever and warned Dad that someone was going to get hurt.
     Dad agreed that the two were getting a little too mad at each other and told them that was enough for the first fight and that they needed to cool off awhile. The boys argued over who had won the fight as we untied the gloves and removed them from their hands. Next, it was time for Jackie and me to tie them on.
     As Gary was lacing my gloves up he was telling me that the gloves didn’t hurt that much but I should stay away from Jackie as much as possible. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that. I remembered of a time when we got into a fight with Jackie and it had taken all three of us to hold her down. My plan was to be on my toes and moving fast.
     When the bell clanged, I danced my way around the living room trying to stay as far away from her as possible. Jackie, just took a couple of steps towards me, cut off my exit, and pounded me with some hard, quick punches. I threw in the towel fast.
     Next, Ronnie wanted to take on the champion and I was glad he did. I didn’t want any more of Jackie’s punishment. We laced Ronnie up and he charged at Jackie when the bell sounded.  A couple of seconds later, Ronnie was on the floor looking up and more than glad to get he gloves off too.
     Gary then stepped in determined to show his big sister who was boss of the Miller house. When the metal pot was struck for the third time Gary was a little more cautious than Ronnie had been. Gary had witnessed the power in Jackie right hand and was moving to his right in an attempt to stay away for her.
     Once again Jackie cornered Gary and wailed away on him until Dad stepped in and stopped the fight. The repeated blows had reddened Gary’s face. Gary was madder than a hornet. But, he wasn’t about to let her get away with what she had done and demanded another round. Momma said no but Gary wouldn’t take no for an answer.
     Gary kept on begging for another chance at Jackie as she danced with her gloves in the air as she taunted him about her being the champion. Dad finally said, “Okay, but I don’t want either one of you hurting the other. Both of them agreed but you could tell Gary wanted revenge bad.
     The pot was again struck with the spoon and they both charged like two bulls in an arena with fists flying. Gary was ducking his head and swinging wildly as Jackie placed a hard uppercut to his face. Her glove had met squarely with Gary’s nose as his head snapped back quickly. Blood began to spill onto the floor.
     Momma jumped from the couch, separated the two, and rushed Gary to the kitchen sink to clean his face. “There will be no more boxing in this family,” Momma demanded. “Jamup, get rid of those gloves now!”
     Dad didn’t argue. He never said a word as he untied the gloves from Jackie and Gary and walked to the living room with the gloves in hand. Dad then opened the top door to the potbelly stove in the living room and tossed the gloves into the hot coals. No one said a word or tried to stop him. Momma had spoke and Dad had listened.
     Our tough sister was given the name of Jackie “Dempsey” after that day. And no one argued with her either. After all, she was the champion and we knew it.
     
   

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Daddy's Deer

Daddy said he barely caught a glimpse of the two does as they dashed out of the woods into a green field as he passed by in his truck on that cold November day. Kentucky’s deer season was in its third day and that year had been like all the others before for him, no buck. But Daddy’s luck was about to change.

My Daddy grew up much like most of the boys in his generation. They never had a lot of time to do the things that most boys do like fishing and hunting. Daddy was the oldest of eleven siblings and he had to grow up fast.
Times were hard and just living was tough because of the depression that struck in the 30’s. “It was extra hard here” Dad said, “People almost starved to death during that awful time.”
Daddy had to help in every way he could to feed the family. In the 1940 Census, when he was 16, he was listed as a farmer with an income of under $200.00 a year. His dad, Rufus Sr., was a blacksmith with an income of under $300.00 per year.
From farmer, to soldier in WWII, to coal miner and then grocer that was my Daddy’s vocational journey. He raised 7 kids and lots of times many more called our house home. In other words, Daddy didn’t have much time in his entire life to do the things that most men do. Daddy had had a family to feed since his early teenage years.
As he got older, when my brothers and me were at home we did get to go fishing but most of times Daddy wasn’t with us. He was working to make sure we had food on the table. One thing I can tell everyone who reads this story, we never went hungry. Dad made sure of that.
I can only remember a handful of times we got to go hunting with him either. Most of the things I learned about the outdoors was taught to me by my Pap Paw Burkhart. He was a true mountain man.
But as Daddy got older and better off financially, he tried to do the things he missed out on working and raising a family. He loved to fish. He even owned an aluminum boat or two in his lifetime. Nothing fancy, just a 5 or 10 hp gas motor to push the boat when we went fishing to Woods Creek. He loved that place.
Daddy, Mommy and myself made many trips there later in his life after all of my brothers and one of my sisters had married and left home. Those were times I will never forget. I could see that he too loved the outdoors but I guess he never had the time to show it.
Later on, Daddy got bit by the deer hunting bug. All it took was a successful hunt for a group of us at Fort Knox.  There were 24 of us from Horse Creek who all got drawn to hunt there in 1972. The hunt was more than any of us could have hoped for.
There were 4 in our party, Gary my brother, Gilbert Ray my uncle, Tim Sibert my cousin and me all got 8-point bucks. Five of the other hunters in our group got smaller bucks or does. We came home with a truckload of deer. From that day forward Daddy had the itch to kill him a buck.
But he still never had the time to get serious about bagging his deer. He hunted off and on for more than 20 years without any luck. He even went 12 years in a row and didn’t even see a deer. The deer hunting gods never smiled on Daddy it seemed.
He lost interest and never hunted too much after those years not even seeing a deer  thinking he would never get his chance at a big buck. His patience was wearing thin and it got to where he would only hunted for an hour or two on the days when he felt like hunting. All ended the same with a long walk back to his truck empty handed. But little did he know, his luck was about to change.
That fateful morning started out just like all the others. It was a cold Monday morning and I had to work at IGA so that left Daddy to hunt alone at Fogertown. His crippled leg was aching from the cold weather and again he had called it a day after holding out as long as he could stand it. Again, he hadn’t seen a deer.
Back at the truck his aging cold hands could barely get the key in the door to unlock it. He sat for a while as he warmed himself up tucked inside the cab out of the cold air. He finally put his Chevy truck in reverse and backed out of the drive onto the highway. It was 17 miles back to Paw Paw and he wasn’t in a hurry so he scanned the fields through the truck window on the drive back.
Daddy had only gone about 3 miles when he noticed the two does in the open field. He pulled his truck off to the side of the road knowing that sometimes a buck would follow because the rut was in full swing. It didn’t take long for his wishes to come true.
A huge 10-point buck followed the does into the field. The love-struck monster was in hot pursuit of one of the does with his nose to the ground tracking her every move. Daddy knew he would have to act quickly.
He got out of the truck, fumbled through his hunting coat and found three deer-slugs and reloaded his shotgun. He said he was shaking so bad when he threw the gun up to his shoulder that it was hard to stay on the buck’s body with his open-sights. To steady himself he laid the shotgun across the hood of the truck, took his aim and squeezed the trigger.
The buck jumped at the sound of the old .20 gauge. Smoke was still clearing the barrel as the buck crumpled up after running only a few yards. Daddy had finally gotten his buck.
He said later that he stepped off 180 yards to where the deer lay dead. I told him that was a heck of a shot that he had pulled off. And I laughed a little to myself when he told me he had held the bead of the shotgun “… dead on the top of the deer’s back.”
He then told of how he had to drive his truck through the field to the deer to tie a rope to the truck to drag the huge deer out because he was by himself. He said he wouldn’t have gotten the big boy in the truck bed if not for the help of a hunter passing by.
Yep, Daddy had finally gotten his deer. And he thought it was a new world’s record. Well, it was to him. He hauled that deer around the rest of the day with the tailgate down and he had a story for everyone who wanted to listen. He also had him mounted to show later to everyone who came to his house. He was so proud of his buck.
My Daddy hunted a few years after that but he died before getting the opportunity to take another deer. It turned out his first buck was also his last.
After Daddy died Momma gave me the mount. Now, every time I pass the big buck that hangs in my garage I smile a little and reminisce of the day that made my Daddy surely one of the proudest hunters in all of Clay County.

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e-Edition A-Section 8-28-14

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e-Edition B-Section 8-28-14

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