Wednesday, 07 September 2011 12:21
The older I get, the more often my mind seems to wander back to the days of my childhood. I am thankful for that and I hope I never loose my ability to remember those special times.
Just last week, when our morning temperatures dropped to the 50’s, the smell of autumn was once again in the air taking me back on another trip down memory lane. It’s hard to explain the smell but I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets the same sensation.
To me, it’s a combination of the coolness of the air and the fresh “harvest” smell that triggers my senses. The smells of our seasons all have a distinct smell to me. And that’s one of the great things about living in the country. City people just wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about.
The smell of autumn reminded me of digging potatoes, gathering corn from the field, butchering hogs for our winter meat, and hunting. These things were most important if a family wanted to make it through the upcoming cold, snowy winter.
In our family you could never have too many potatoes. We always grew several hundred pounds to “put-up” for winter. We never had a cellar or a basement in our house so we stored ours in a potato hole dug in one of our barn stalls. The potato hole was “bedded” and “lined” with straw then covered with a few inches of soil to protect them from freezing during the cold winter nights.
Potatoes were served some way or another at almost every meal. We had fried potatoes in pure lard for breakfast long before they were called hash browns. We never knew what a French fry was.
We wrapped our potatoes in aluminum foil and placed them under our fireplace for baking long before they were served in almost every restaurant as a side item. I loved the taste of the baked dark-brown skin on a hot potato basted in real homemade butter.
But my favorite way Momma prepared potatoes was mashed. She never had a mixer to whip them up. She mashed hers by hand. They weren’t exactly smooth like most today. Hers had chunks of potatoes scattered throughout. Then she would pour in buttermilk, salt, pepper, and at least a stick of real butter. Believe me, it didn’t get any better than that.
We waited until the first frost to gather corn from the field to feed our livestock through the winter. The cold frost killed most of the bugs that might be harboring in the ears.
We used a wooden sled with runners hued from small logs. Wooden slats from the sawmill were used to build up the sides of the sled.
Our mule pulled the sled stopping every few feet as we pulled the ears from the stalks. We filled the sled from each side as it was pulled through the cornfield tossing corn into it from every direction. It was like shooting basketball.
When the sled was full we took it to the barn and emptied it into our corncrib. During the winter we tossed corn into the livestock stalls through a small window in the crib. Sometimes we shot rats near the crib with our BB guns to keep them from eating the corn.
Cool weather also meant butchering two or more hogs for meat. Dad would use a .22 rifle with a carefully placed shot to kill the hog. Momma would have the cast iron kettle full of hot boiling water ready to scald the hair on the hog before scrapping. You needed a sharp butcher knife to remove it easily and Dad was good at sharpening up the knives.
The meat was cut up into hams, shoulders, pork loins, ribs, and middlings for bacon. They were then hung in our smokehouse and cured or salted down to preserve them. I always loved the smell of the smokehouse.
Momma would take the hogs skin and bake it in the kitchen stove to make pork skins or pork rinds. The skin was also used to waterproof our brogan shoes by rubbing them down with the fat.
The extra fat from the hog was also cooked up in the big kettle to make lye soap. The lean parts of the trimmings would make cracklings. Pap Paw Miller cooked the hog’s head and made the best souse meat I have ever tasted. Nothing was wasted.
The cool mornings of autumn also meant squirrel and rabbit hunting. We only had one shotgun when I was a kid and that was a .20 gauge Iver Johnson single barrel. We had to take turns hunting or at being the shooter. That old gun sure killed a lot of game.
Yep, things have changed a lot since I was a child. Hardly anyone raises a garden anymore. Raising livestock is another thing of the past. And even I don’t hunt squirrel or rabbit as much as I use to since we now have deer almost everywhere.
But one thing hasn’t changed. Autumn will always smell like autumn. No matter how old I get when the crispness of fall fills the air it always takes me back. Back to the time of my youth and the many fond memories of my family getting ready for another long, hard, cold winter.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 September 2011 12:22
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 12:13
By: Rodney Miller
Snipe huntin’ was a tradition that was passed on from generation to generation in southeastern Kentucky. My Pap Paw hunted ‘em, my Daddy hunted ‘em and of course I hunted ‘em but none of us every caught one.
The “mystical” snipe bird only could be caught at night and they were very fast, I was told. To hunt snipe I was told I needed a coffee sack or, as some of you know it by, “a burlap sack”to hold open to trap the snipe in. Then, I was taught the call needed to encourage a snipe to run in the direction of me with my open coffee sack waiting on the unsuspecting snipe.
The older men in the hunting group, who had all hunted the snipe before, taught me the so-called “mating call”. It was part “coo-ing” and part “yak-yak-yaking” we practiced on the evening of my hunt just before dark. I thought it sounded crazy. But what did I know? I had never even seen a snipe before. And these other fellows were what were called “seasoned snipe hunters”.
Later after the calling lesson I was given a coffee sack, a wooden stick to beat the brush with, and was taken to a field where the birds were known to frequent. The older men in the group placed me on a “snipe runway” they called it, with my sack open on the ground. The older hunters would drive the field and push or drive the birds towards me and my open sack.
“When you hear ‘em coming, get the sack ready. When you feel ‘em hit the bottom of the sack, close it off fast before they get out,” I was told.
After dark they placed me in a field where I would surely catch a snipe, they told me. “When to start the calling, listen for their little feet pounding the ground as they try to escape,” the older men told me as they disappeared into the darkness..
After they left it got really quite. One of the older fellows yelled in the distance, “You need to call louder. The snipe can’t hear you.” Man, they sounded awfully far off, I thought.
But anyway, I would do as they requested. I called and I called, at first in a low voice and then louder and louder. I beat my stick against the ground. I called some more but still no snipe. I sounded like a sick, dying snipe I thought, but I was determined to catch one.
I couldn’t hear the older men any more. Their voices had long faded in the now quiet field. I tried my calling again and once I heard something rustle in the weeds not far from me. “Could that have been a snipe that had slipped by?” I asked myself.
My hunt went on for what seemed like an hour or so and I hadn’t heard from any of the other men in quite some time but I continued to call and beat my stick. After another 30 minutes or so I gave up and yelled to the other hunters but no one answered.
On my walk home I kept thinking, “Where did everyone go?” As I made my way down the hill to the house I could hear the older boys laughing as one of them yelled, “Did you catch any snipe?”
“No,” I answered, “But I think I heard one run by.” Everyone busted out laughing loudly.
“You must have heard a rabbit. There ain’t no such thing as a snipe,” one of the yelled back.
I found out later that snipe huntin’ was nothing more that a wild-goose chase. The hunt had only been a well-played prank. It was an old joke that had been pulled on every young boy in the mountains for many years.
Nobody who was tricked ever got really mad. All they wanted to do was pull the prank on somebody else that would fall for the fictitious hunt.
Later in life I found out that there really was a bird in Kentucky called a snipe. It’s a long-billed, long-legged, brown-spotted shorebird usually found around water.
Kentucky actually has a snipe season. Snipe are considered a migratory bird much like doves.
Incidentally, snipe are very difficult to kill even for experienced hunters, so much that the word “sniper” (a term used by the military when referring to a skilled military sharpshooter) is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 August 2011 12:15
Wednesday, 24 August 2011 12:16
I was never bored…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do here in Clay County.” Today to some that may be true. But when I was a kid, I was never bored.
My days were filled with fun, adventure, and excitement. And the good part about that was, most of it never cost me a dime. When I was growing up and a boy got to the age of 5 or 6 one of his first toys was a homemade slingshot. I remember tagging along with my older brothers to the woods in search of the perfect piece of wood to use for my slingshot handle.
The best tree to look for the perfect “Y” was usually found on a dogwood tree. I looked for one that was big enough to make a strong slingshot but not too big to fit my small hand. Plus, it had to fit into my rear pants pocket because a boy never went anywhere without his trusty slingshot. A good slingshot also needed good balance. It had to be as close to a perfect “Y” as could be found. “Both limbs in the slingshot needed be the same size for a straight shooter,” I was told.
After selecting just the right piece of wood the whittling started. The bark was then removed from the arms of the slingshot. Then, two notches were carved into the sides of both arms to hold the “rubbers” that provided the power. The “rubbers” were then cut in strips about 10-12 inches long from an old discarded car inner tube. They were then tied to the arms of the slingshot by stretching the rubber around each and tying them tight with a small piece of wire to secure them to the arms. Next we needed a piece of leather for the “launcher”. Usually it came from an old pair of shoes that had been worn past repair. The tongue of the shoe was the preferred piece but there were never enough of them to go around. So any piece of the leather shoe could work in a pinch. Two small slits were then cut into each side of the launcher and laced with the rubbers from the arm, stretched and tied tight, also. That was it. Your slingshot was now ready for ammunition.
To have an accurate shot a round stone or pebble was needed. Sometimes we even shot “pig-iron” balls found along the train tracks. But the best and most accurate projectile to shoot was a glass marble. We never shot many of them though; we needed them for playing the game of marbles. But if one was chipped or cracked, it was prized as something to be used only when absolute accuracy was needed. We carried our ammunition in our pants pocket. But most of our pockets had holes in them. So to keep from losing all the carefully chosen stones, an old Prince Albert tobacco tin worked out perfectly.
We practiced by shooting Carnation cream cans or discarded glass bottles set on a fence post or floating in a pond for targets. But if a bird, frog, rabbit, chipmunk or squirrel came in range, he was quickly the new target. Now I’m not going to tell you that lots of game fell to the slingshot but, I will say that it did happen occasionally. And when it did, the kill was shown to all as a bragging of sorts by the lucky shooter.
On trips to the woods in the fall acorns were sometimes used to shoot at one another. There was and endless supply of them. Teams were chosen and separated on the ridges to be hunted down by their opponents. We would hide behind trees, bushes, or rocks and under leaves in the thick forest floor waiting on our unsuspecting enemy. When a person was hit he sat out until one team “killed” all of the members of the other team. Sometimes we would spend all day in the woods playing the game. It’s a wonder that we didn’t blind each other with out games of war.
Again, I can honestly say being bored was something I was surely not as a child. There was always something to do and many places to go and they’re still out there today. But to find them you have to look for them. Let a kid be a kid. Because I can tell you from experience, they’ll grow up faster than you think Take them fishing, hunting, on a walk in the woods or just make them a slingshot. I promise they won’t be bored.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 August 2011 12:23
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:15
By: Rodney Miller
When my oldest sister Jackie married Alfred Lee Smith he brought a new pastime to Paw Paw and the Miller family, fightin’ roosters. I grew up on a farm where we always had chickens for both their eggs and their meat but I had never thought of having chickens just for fightin’. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
Al’s fightin’ chickens weren’t like your normal every day farm chickens. His birds were a breed of game chickens that were raised for one thing only, fightin’ and killin’ other roosters in a cockfight. And if you don’t know already, here are a few things about cockfighting and gamecocks you might find interesting.
Gamecocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. The chickens are given the best of care until they reach a fightin’ age. Their comb and wattle are cut off to keep the other roosters from getting a hold on their heads while in a cockfight.
A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), held in a ring called a cockpit. Roosters are conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The conditioning process (sometimes referred to as a "keep") is designed to, among other things, tame the cock so that he can be handled during a fight. The primary purpose of a keep is to ensure that the bird is physically and mentally fit for its upcoming match, similar to the conditioning a boxer or wrestler goes through. He even fed his roosters a special high energy diet and gave them a daily physical exercise.
Bets were often made on the outcome of the fights. Most of the fights were to the death or until the cocks endured significant physical trauma and the fight had to be stopped.
Al had high dollar chickens with fancy names. He had breeds called Hatch, Kelso, Roundheads, and Greys. His birds, when they fought for money, were equipped with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives, tied to the leg in the area where the bird's natural spur has been partially removed.
We couldn’t afford the fancy spurs (that often cost $100 dollars or more) so we fashioned ours from a coat-hanger wire and sewed them to the leather tongue of an old shoe. Sometimes we fought with the homemade spurs and they worked pretty good but they bent pretty easily. Most times we just sparred roosters with bare heels.
One day Al decided to turn one of his most prized roosters out bare heeled to strut the chicken lot and show our roosters just who was the boss. That was a big mistake. It didn’t take long for our biggest domer-necker to challenge the newcomer.
Al’s bird with his spurs trimmed to a nubbin’ was like a fighter without a weapon. Our domer-necker roosters, on the other hand, had two-three inches of hard, sharp natural spurs. Plus, it didn’t hurt that our domer-necker had about 3 pounds on his lean-mean fightin’ machine.
Al’s roosters could have probably killed our chickens if they had been outfitted with the spurs but without them our domer-neckers clearly had the upper hand.
Al found out our old farm raised chickens were a lot tougher than he gave them credit for. Our roosters weren’t about to tuck tail and run when the “new” cock came courting the hens.
The two warriors carefully studied one another with their neck feathers flared. Then, in and instance, they met in mid air and feathers flew as the large spurs of the domer-necker found their mark time and time again. What Al thought would be an easy victory for the gamecock turned into a mauling by the domer-necker.
After three or four more shuffles by our big rooster, Al’s gamecock tucked tail and run. I laughed and told him, “I think your bird has just chicken’d out!”
Al was mad, to say the least. So mad that he went to our house and got a high-powered rifle and made his way to the chicken lot. I thought he was going to kill his rooster for running scared but instead his sights turned on the champion domer-necker.
Ka-Boom! The gun went off. Feathers flew out of the opposite side of our big rooster like a shot into a feather pillow. He barely moved from where he stood. The victor was dead in an instant.
No one knew what to say. We all were kind of stunned. I was thinking, “He shouldn’t have to killed our rooster. He should have shot his chicken.”
Al learned several valuable lessons that day.
First of all: Size does matter. His gamecock was just too small to challenge the big domer-necker.
Second: If you’re a chicken, you never fight without your spurs on.
Third: A dominant rooster will fight like crazy when hens go to the winner.
And last: Never fire a shot off around a scared rooster. I think his ‘chicken’ never stopped running. Someone said they seen him a couple days later near Slate City. Said he was headed towards Mexico.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 12:17
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 12:34
In my early years a neighbor of ours, Neva and Thee Riley, had a talking bird. His name was Joe Joe and he was a myna ‘minor’ bird. Joe Joe wasn’t your normal talking bird. He was more like a person because of his extensive vocabulary.
Back then, I had never seen a talking bird before. And if I hadn’t seen and heard him talking like a human, I would never have believed any story about a bird that could actually carry on a conversation the way Joe Joe did.
Neva and Thee lived across the dirt road from Mam Maw and Pap Paw Miller. Momma and Neva were friends even though Neva was quite a few years older than her. Neva was a kind and giving person and Momma loved to visit with her.
Neva’s sister had given Joe Joe to them I think just for companionship. And Momma, well every time she came back from visiting her was telling us about this amazing talking bird that Neva had gotten. The story was almost unbelievable. We begged and begged until finally Momma gave in and took us to see for ourselves Joe Joe, the talking bird.
The first time I saw Joe Joe he was in a birdcage on Neva’s front porch. As I walked up the steps Joe Joe let out a deafening “wolf-whistle” and said “Pretty girl”.
I told Momma, “That bird is crazy! I’m not a girl!”
Momma laughed and said, “He wasn’t talking to you. He was talking to me!” We both laughed as we made our way onto the porch.
Joe Joe quickly said, “My name is Joe Joe. What’s yours?”
I looked at Momma with my eyes and mouth wide open. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I then asked Momma, “Is he talking to me or you?”
I turned to the little bird swinging on the perch and said, “My name is Rodney.”
Joe Joe never missed a beat. He quickly answered and said, “Hello, my name is Joe Joe.”
As we sat down I was amazed with the little bird. It wasn’t long before the bird let out a sound just like the screaming of tires as if someone was burning tires on the road.
I asked, “What was that?”
The bird let out a little laugh and said, “That’s James Miller, James Miller”.
I guess he had heard a hundred times my Uncle James in his new Midnight Blue, 1965 Impala SS-396 taking off wildly as he left the driveway burning rubber. And I guess Neva or Thee must have said a hundred times as James left spinning the tires, “That’s James Miller!”
We would sit awhile and Joe Joe would say something else. Once I remember he let out a sound that sounded exactly like the ringing of an old telephone. The he said, “Hello! Yes, Yes, I know”, pausing between everything he said. Then he finished off his conversation, “Well I think, he will probably go to jail.” I’m sure he was repeating something Thee or Neva had said on the telephone at one time or another about Uncle James.
Sometimes Joe Joe would let out a cough that he picked-up from Thee. Neva said every morning, just after Thee got up, he coughed over and over and Joe Joe had learned how to make the coughing sound. He had it down pat. I’ll swear he sounded just like an old man coughing.
Joe Joe even sang “Old MacDonald” pretty good, especially the. “E, I, E, I, O part. He would sit on his little perch, bobbing his head up and down, whistling at everyone and coughing like he had lung cancer in between his conversation with us. He was the smartest bird in the world, I thought. I left the Riley home a big fan of Joe Joe.
Several months later Neva told Momma she wanted to sell Joe Joe. She told us her nephew had been visiting for an extended time and had the bird cussing like a sailor. Neva said, “Nedda (that was what a lot of people called Momma, short for Juanita), I can’t begin to tell you the words he has taught Joe Joe. People can’t even come to visit because of his black-yarding (which meant cussing).”
She told Momma that she would take $300 dollars for Joe Joe if she wanted him. But $300 dollars was like asking a million dollars to us. We just couldn’t afford the bird. I begged and begged but the price was way out of our range.
I think Neva sold Joe Joe to a friend of hers from Florida. And if my memory is correct, the woman gave her $600 dollars for him. I don’t remember what happened to Joe Joe after that. But I’ll bet he was in sunny Florida entertaining folks just the way he did on Paw Paw, stealing their hearts the way he did ours.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 August 2011 12:35
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