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

Our Family Cemetery

Our family cemetery…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

I never will forget that day. I had gone out to my parent’s home to visit them for a while and I asked Momma where Daddy was. “He’s up on the mountain,” she said in a voice I knew wasn’t her normal tone of voice. It was like she didn’t want to say where Daddy was.
“Up on the mountain?” I asked. “What’s he doing up on the mountain?”  I continued, not knowing what the answer was going to be.
“He’s clearing off a graveyard. A place where he wants to be buried at,” Momma said with a hurt look in her eyes that I had only seen once before. The time when she gave me the news that Pap Paw Burkhart had died.
“Is Daddy sick Momma?” I asked again afraid of her next answer.
“No, I don’t think so. If he is sick, he’s not told me,” Momma said as she stared at the mountain where Dad was working. “He’s getting old. You know he turned 70 back in March,” Momma went on straining her eyes as she walked to the back door to maybe catch a glimpse of him to make sure he was okay on the mountain.
Right then, it hit me. My parents were both growing old and they were facing the fact that all of us must face late in our lives. We are but a short time on this earth and then death will close the final curtain on all of us.
I didn’t know what to say to Momma as I walked up beside her at the large sliding glass door she stood before. I put my arms around her and told her I would go check on him. She smiled back and nodded without saying another word.
The walk to the mountain seemed like one of the longest journeys I had ever taken. My feet moved slowly and my legs felt heavy. A thousands thoughts raced through my mind as I made my way up the hill to where I could hear someone hacking away with an ax.
I could never figure out what I was going to say when I got there. I stopped for a moment and asked my self, “What do you ask your father when you know he’s working on a place that will be his final resting place?” I couldn’t come up with a good answer. So on I trudged in the warm spring air.
I stopped again as I topped the hill to where I could now see my father who had already been joined by my brother Gary. The first thing I thought as I surveyed the spot where the morning sun’s rays were just peaking through the forest canopy was, “It is a beautiful place. Dad sure picked a peaceful looking spot.” Those thoughts made the final 100 yards a little easier.
“What on earth are you two doing?” I asked not wanting him to know I had already spoken to Momma.
“We’re working on our family graveyard. This is the place where I want to be buried at when I die.” Dad said, taking time to wipe his forehead with a white handkerchief he pulled from his rear pocket.
Not wanting him to see the pain I was hiding deep inside I quickly answered, “Well I guess I had better help you. ‘Cause this will also be the place where I will be buried too.”
Most of the work had already been done by the time I got there but I was glad just to be there with them working on what would be our family cemetery. When we finished the place looked amazing.
I had never thought much about the fact that Daddy was getting old before that day. And the possibility of him dying was a hard to come to grip with. That day was almost 20 years ago.
Now both of my parents have passed on into eternity. Their headstones sit at the center of the neatly groomed family cemetery. Momma’s brother Lloyd is also buried in the cemetery. It was also the place he wanted to be. After all, Lloyd was like a son to Momma and Daddy.
An American flag flies at the corner of the plot as a tribute to my dad, a soldier of WWII. A chain link fence lines the cemetery edge. Inside the cemetery are other plots marked off with rope of their chosen spots for some of my siblings.
Before Dad died just looking at the empty cemetery made me sad. If I walked to the woods at the house I didn’t even want to walk close to it. I avoided it when I could. I didn’t even want to think about death and dying because it always made me feel depressed.
Now, after losing both parents death, it is a little easier to think about. After all, it’s something all of us must face when our time here on earth is over.
I’m glad Daddy and Momma choose to be buried in the cemetery on our family land. That little piece of property was home to all of us for so many years. For there too, when my work here on earth is done, is the place where I wish to rest beside them.

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Pampers vs. Facebook

Pampers vs. Facebook…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

I was carrying my grandchild to the car the other morning and it got me thinking. I thought how in the world did we ever survive as kids in the 50’s and 60’s as I stared at my wife’s back seat taken up by a booster seat on one side and a car seat on the other.  I never knew what a car seat was until late in my life.
I also carried the diaper bag in my hand. Not any regular diaper bag but a “designer” diaper bag. Inside the bag was three baby bottles half full of distilled water with safety caps over the nipples. In another container with three separated compartments was the dry baby formula to mix in the water inside the bottles to make milk for the baby. I thought that was a long way away from my mother’s breast milk that I was raised on.
In another compartment of the diaper bag were pampers. Which I must admit they’re much easier than having to wash the cloth diapers I had to wear. Plus, they’re much more attractive with all kinds of cartoon characters covering them. I’ll bet it would have been much more fun to poop on Scooby Doo than in a plain white diaper. How did we ever make it without pampers?
On the other side of the bag was a packet of baby wipes. The people who invented these must somewhere down the line found out what I learned with my kids, “Poop comes off easier with a soft moist cloth. And the best part is they’re disposable. No washing needed and much nicer on the bottom than a cold wet washcloth.
Inside my daughter’s house everything is locked up tighter than Fort Knox. All of the cabinet drawers have safety latches to keep young kids out. Doors like you see in the movies with several latches and locks that must be twisted, turned and unhooked to open. When I grew up we never even had a front door that locked and we stilled survived.
We never had any childproof medicine bottles either. That I think was a great invention but now with my stiff fingers sometimes I find them almost adult proof also. There wasn’t much need for those when I was young. The only medicine you could find at our house was coal oil, Bayer aspirin, black salve, Alka Seltzer, Ex-lax, Betty Rose Liniment, merthiolate, mercurochrome and rubbing alcohol. If that stuff couldn’t fix you up, nothing could.
We never had seat belts, air bags, or air conditioners in our cars either. I remember when riding in the back of a pickup bed was the best way to cool off on a hot day. Today they take you to jail for that.
The only water we got back then was from a spring or a well bucket. We all drank out of the same dipper in the water bucket too.
I remember when I worked at IGA in the late 70’s a man came to the store one afternoon wanting to sell water. I said, “You’re kidding me, aren’t you? There ain’t no way people would pay for water. It’s free, as much as you want right out of the facet.”
The guy from Highbridge Water looked at me and said, “They’re already buying it in Lexington!”
I told him, “City people might pay for drinking water but it will never catch on here in Clay Conty. People here are smarter than that.”
I found out a few years later people would pay big money later on for water, more sometimes than what a can of pop or beer cost. Who could have ever figured that one out?
When we did get a pop as a kid, many times two or more of us drank from the same pop bottle. And it didn’t kill us. The only time I didn’t like to share a pop with someone else was when peanuts had been poured into the pop. Back then it was a something a lot of people did.
We never had email, Facebook, X-boxes, Nintendo’s or 300 channels on the TV when I grew up. We did have neighbors and friends and we went outside and visited with them. Their doors were not locked either so most times we walked right in unannounced.
Sometimes I left the house and was gone all day to the woods. I played on grapevines, walked on stilts, threw acorns and mud balls. One thing I know for sure, we were never bored. And another thing, not many people back then were overweight.
If we fell and got hurt at a neighbors house we never thought about getting a lawsuit against them. If we got in trouble at school my parents didn’t get mad at the teacher. They thanked her for teaching us right from wrong and making us understand there was punishment when we did wrong. Plus, when we got home Daddy would “second” the punishment to make sure we got the message.
We rode bicycles without helmets, pads or sometimes, even shoes. We rode on mules and ponies without saddles or bridles. That stuff was for sissies.
We spent hours on a sage grass hill riding cardboard boxes like sleighs. We rode in the creek in car tops.  You could wade in almost any creek bare-foot. Now you would need steel-toe shoes.
Times sure have changed, some for the better, but a lot for the worse. I love whoever invented pampers and baby wipes. I hate Internet and Facebook. They consume far too much family time.

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Riding the Rails

Riding the rails… a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

On the way home from school that week years ago, we had watched the funny looking rail car as the railroad crew worked on the tracks. With a downward push of a wooden handle at the center of the repair vehicle, the rail car would move up or down the track. As one worker pushed down on his end it raised the opposite end where another man pushed it back down. The pumping action made the wheels turn and it moved along effortlessly along the cold steel rail.
I had never seen anything quite like that little little gizmo but it sure looked like fun. Years later, in the movie “ ‘O Brother”, I saw a similar car again as the movie opened with a blind man pumping the wooden handle up and down as he sang a song. He didn’t need his eyes to see where he was going because the rail guided him to the next station. The only trouble I thought, what will happen if he meets a train?
Every day that week, I stopped for a few minutes, watching the men as they worked the rail up Paw Paw and Yeager. I asked one of the men “Where did you get that thing?” He laughed and replied, “I rode it here from Corbin.” I didn’t believe him but I figured a person could ride it as far as the tracks went and I had heard they went all they way from Louisville to Nashville. I thought, I sure would like to have me a railcar like that one.
Well, on the way home from school Friday, my brothers and me noticed the men weren’t around and the buggy was sitting on the tracks all by its self. We ran up to it and slowly walked around it, looking it over real good. Ronnie then climbed aboard and all of us followed. The wooden platform sitting over the four heavy steel wheels was big enough for everyone and then some. Slowly, we made our way to the center where the wooden pump was. I looked at Ronnie and he looked at me with a big smile as we both reached for the handles.
It was hard to push up and down by ourselves, those men, I thought, must have been really strong. But with the help of Anthony and Jessie Lewis, the little car began to move. We found out quick that the faster we pumped the handle, the faster it went. And the faster it went the more we loved it.
Soon we were sailing along the rails at a pretty good speed. For a brake the buggy had a steel handle that when inserted into a slot you could stop the car by applying pressure to the handle. Boy, this was the greatest invention since Kool-aid, I thought.
Living along a railroad track we all knew that the rail switch at Yeager had to be thrown in the opposite direction if we were to ride on up Paw Paw but the ride was shorter that way, so up Yeager we went pumping and laughing, having the time of our lives. Another thing we noticed was the farther up Yeager we went, the harder it was to pump because it was up hill.
We began to get tired and stopped for a while to rest when the inclined slope of the rail made the rail car began to reverse back down the track towards Paw Paw. “All aboard!”  I yelled and everyone jumped back on the flat bed of the car. The farther we traveled out of the holler, the faster the little car went. Doug, Jessie’s brother, got the idea that we didn’t need the brake handle and threw it off the car. That was a big mistake! Because now, how are we going to stop this run away railcar?
Most onboard the car were laughing and loving the speed at which the little flat-bed car was making. We crossed Paw Paw‘s graveled road at about 25 mph and luckily we didn’t meet a car. As we made our way down the long stretch towards Sibert, I began to worry because now we must have been doing 35 mph. The laughing then turned to screaming, as everyone realized there was no way to stop it.
Doug jumped off laughing and did about 5 or 6 somersaults before stopping, cut, bruised and now crying. No one wanted to jump after that. We were really moving as we passed the Kentucky Mountain Coal Co. tipple.  Just a little farther and we would be crossing Highway 80 and more traffic with no way to stop.  We hit Sibert and now everyone’s eyes were on the highway crossing, praying that there would be no vehicles coming when we crossed the highway. 
“Hang on!” Ronnie said as we crossed the blacktop at about 40mph. Again, Lady Luck was with us as we crossed unscathed. As we got closer to Hima the car began to slow down and eventually we came to a stop behind the Horse Creek Grade School. It was a ride I will never forget.
Ronnie, Anthony, Jessie and I took hold of the wooden pumping handle one more time and began the trek of over a mile back up Paw Paw.  When we came to the place where we had taken the railcar from, we stopped and scotched a wheel with wooden wedge. What we did was dangerous, to say the least, but in another way it was one of excitement and exhilaration.
The next day was Saturday and you would have thought we had had enough after nearly getting killed the day before, but not us. We were up early that day and right back to the little railcar. This time we brought a wooden hoe handle from home so that we would have brakes. We pumped her up the hollow time after time but never without that brake handle, I made sure of that.
We were brave, but not stupid. Some even called me a chicken but I told them, “I had rather be a live chicken, than a dead duck.” We all had a good laugh.
After that weekend the rail workers came and took the little buggy away forever and we never saw it again. But that weekend was one that I will remember forever, thanks to L & N and their little wooden pump-car.

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The 'new' Horse Creek

The ‘new’ Horse Creek…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

In the fall of 1964 the old Horse Creek Elementary was empty. A new school had been built at the junction of 80 and 421. Several other small schools in the county had also closed their doors to form a much bigger Horse Creek Elementary. The school was beautiful and everything was new and I was entering into the sixth grade.
Driving up to the school I still remember how awestruck I was of the school. The place where we unloaded our new bus was covered to keep us out of the rain. Large wide sidewalks surrounded the school and freshly mowed grass was everywhere. At the old school you couldn’t have found a blade of grass. The schoolyard had been worn barren from the many years of students playing kid games.
The front of the school had large glass windows and the floors looked like they should have been in the White House. The floors shined like a fresh frozen pond in winter. At the old school we only had a concrete floor in the lower part with wooden stairs and wooden floors upstairs. This place was so different, I thought.
We had our “Welcome” meeting in the gymnasium. We were greeted and introduced to the teaching staff in a big ceremony by our principal from the old school, T. C. Gregory. Most every teacher from old Horse Creek was there so I felt right at home.
The gym was a huge room with a stage and ceilings as high as the sky almost. I had never been inside a gym much less one with a basketball court. I thought it was strange that the gym had a goal at each end. I couldn’t keep myself from just staring around at the expanse of it all. A big change from the dusty dirt court we played on at the old school where we were constantly loosing our basketball in the nearby creek.
The gym also had a large curtain that separated it from a place Mr. Gregory called a cafeteria. I found out later it was a place where we would eat our dinner. The cafeteria was filled with tables and surrounded by chairs where students ate their meals together. It was good to also see a couple of familiar faces in the kitchen, Ruth Hacker and Maudie Fisher.
In the meeting Mr. Gregory told us we would have Physical Education classes, “PE for short”, he said. When he said that I wondered to myself, what exactly was physical education? I could only imagine it was one of those talks about growing up between boys and girls that my Daddy had already had with me. “Not again!” I murmured to myself.
But, when he told everyone that we would have to buy a pair of tennis shoes or go barefoot when we were taking PE classes I knew was on the wrong trail.
1964 turned out to be the year I got my first pair of tennis shoes.  Momma went to the Dollar Store and bought each of us a new pair. The shoes only cost a dollar a pair, believe it or not. Boy, have things changed since then. Kids today cry if they don’t have a pair that cost $100.00.
Pearl “Jaybird” White, was my gym teacher and basketball coach on the Horse Creek Knights ball team. He was so proud of the new school and gym. If you got on the floor you had better have on your tennis shoes or you would have to answer to Jay Bird.
Grades 1- 4 made up the “Little” wing and 5 – 8 the “Big” wing. There were two classrooms for every grade. I didn’t like that idea because now my friends from the old school and I were separated into classes with the new students from the other schools.
That year I didn’t much like the class I was assigned to. I wanted to be in the same classroom as my best buddy Charles Webb. I even left my class on the first day and went with him to his but the teacher made me return. I was unhappy to say the least.
One of the most welcomed differences at the new Horse Creek was we had bathrooms and water fountains on each wing. No more outside toilets with that awful smell on a hot summer day. The bathrooms also had private stalls with commodes that flushed and sinks to wash your hands in with big mirrors to freshen-up in.
The water fountains in the halls had a cool drink anytime you wanted it with no cup required. That doesn’t sound like much today but let me tell you back then, that was high cotton for a Horse Creeker.
The new Horse Creek School stood proudly on the hill at the junction for over 40 years until the School Board decided to close it down. It broke my heart to see my school empty. I wondered, “Why Horse Creek?” For the first time in over 100 years there wasn’t a school located on Horse Creek.
The teachers and students were scattered around the county to the other schools. That overloaded Hacker Elementary to where it had to be closed down to make room for the extra kids. Where did they go while the renovation was going on? Back to Horse Creek. It didn’t make any sense at all to me.
The school sat almost empty and was only used for storage until this year when Campbell-Reed started taking their students to the Horse Creek Elementary. Where did they come from? The old Manchester Elementary School in town. If this sounds like a juggling act to you, I would have to agree.
I wonder sometimes about what people call progress. Most of it usually involves tearing down or destroying something that was perfectly all right to start with. The property where the old Horse Creek School stood is now a parking lot for a church. And the new Horse Creek is now home to Campbell-Reed students.
For the past few years I kept hoping that Horse Creek would somehow re-open but now, that hope is dim.
I never have understood the thinking that was involved by closing down “my” school. But one thing is for sure; it sure has left a big hole in a lot of hearts.

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The Old Horse Creek

The Old Horse Creek…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller

The first 5 years of my schooling was at the old Horse Creek Elementary School located between Sibert and Hima. The only thing there now is a blacktopped parking lot for the new Horse Creek Baptist Church. The school was left empty in the spring of 1964.
A new, more modern school was built about two miles away. I entered the sixth grade at the new school in the fall of ’64. Boy was it different.
We had come a long way it seems in just a few years. In the first two years on my schooling I walked to the two-story concrete block building that I called my school. Then the bus started picking us up and bringing us to school. That in itself was quite an achievement.
In the early years walking to and from school was a two-mile trek each way. But that’s the way it had been done for many years before me. It took us about 30 minutes to get there. On the way other kids joined in to the lines of students making the same journey.
We walked the dirt road to the mouth of Yeager Branch and then we could either walk the dirt road to Sibert or split off and take the railroad tracks to Sibert. Either way it was usually dusty walking the road and dirty from the three tipples that were constantly loading coal onto the coal-cars sitting on the railroad track.
I would take the tracks most of the time. I liked to see if I could walk the rail all the way to Sibert without falling off. Back then my balance was better.  We would sometimes have races running the tracks for long spans before a competitor fell off or just gave up. 
Arriving at school our family would break up with each brother or sister going their separate way. My 1st and 2nd grade classes were downstairs in the old school. Making it to the top floor meant I was now considered a young man. The teachers at old Horse Creek were the cream of the crop. I feel so lucky to have had teach me so much that has molded me into the person I am today.
There are many great memories of my school where I spent the first 5 years of my education. So many, that I decided to share with you, in a few brief lines, a little more about old Horse Creek.
There were no inside bathrooms at the old school. Every kid, when they had to go, had to go outside. We had two outhouses out by the creek. They had to be replaced each time there was a big flood. I often wondered, where did those outhouses end up downstream?
We also never had water fountains. What we did have was a water bucket on a table in the rear of the class with a dipper. Each kid brought his or her own cup for drinking water. I remember one of my favorite cups was an aluminum one that collapsed to a small round circle about a half-inch thick. Pretty smart invention, for the time.
Every teacher had a paddle. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe but teachers were not only allowed to punish kids, most parents encouraged it if a kid stepped out of line. I am a firm believer that if punishment were reinstalled in the school system we would have better kids. Kids today know that teachers cannot punish them so they do as they please. Bad decision!
We started each day with prayer and standing at attention, with our hand over our heart, all joined in with, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I think if you are an American you should make this pledge without thinking you’re going to make someone mad by doing it. My belief is, “If you don’t like America, and what this country was founded on, then get out!” It’s that simple.
We sang all the old songs like: Yankee Doodle, Oh’ Susanna; She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain; Three Blind Mice; A Hunting We Will Go; Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight; Shoo Fly; The Ants Go Marching In; I’m A Little Teapot; Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone; One, Two Buckle My Shoe; Ten Little Indians; Peter Cottontail; Polly Wolly Doodle; Red River Valley; There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea; and who could forget Row, Row, Row Your Boat. I doubt if any of the younger kids today could sing these songs.
At recess we played games of Red Rover, Ring Around the Rosies, London Bridge, The Farmer in the Dell, hopscotch, marbles, whip-crack, kick-the can and the most popular game of all, tag.
The best way to get out of class was volunteering to dust the erasers from the chalkboard, go get a fresh bucket of drinking water, or a much-needed trip to the outhouse. You had to keep one thing in mind about a trip to the outhouse, when you went to the toilet, half the school kids were watching through the big windows. I always thought it was embarrassing to go to the bathroo
There were no computers back then. Everyone had to learn their multiplication tables. Cursive writing was taught in class. We had to know all of the United States locations on a map and their capitols. We had to memorize all the Presidents in order from George Washington to President Lyndon Johnson.
Speaking of Presidents I will never forget the day John Kennedy was assassinated. I was in the fifth grade and on the bus rid home, some kid on the bus shouted something I will never forget, “Roses are Red, Violets are Black, Kennedy would better, with a knife in his back!” How cruel, I thought, to say that about our dead President.
Times have changed so much since those days (and not many for the better I must say!) that it’s scary. But to many, just like me, those were “the good old days” and you know what they say, “… when they’re gone, they’re gone for good”.
I’m just so thankful I got to attend the old Horse Creek Elementary. I wouldn’t trade those memories for nothing. But things were a changing. In the fall of ’64 the new Horse Creek Elementary would open and with it a whole new way in education.

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