Wednesday, 28 March 2012 12:40
“Raw Head and Bloody Bones” …a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
Long before there was Jason of Friday The 13th, before Michael Myers of Halloween, or before Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street, there were two more evil characters named, Raw Head and Bloody Bones.
My Mother had told the story many times, but I never tired of hearing it again and again. It was a tale of the two most bloodthirsty, horrible creatures you could ever imagine, and they ate little children who were bad.
They lived up in the attic of her Aunt Bertha’s house at Hima. Many times Mom would take us along to Aunt Bertha and Uncle Lonnie’s to visit. One look up at the ceiling in the living room and you would see the red stains that only could have been made by a feast on many, mean little boys and girls.
Raw Head and Bloody Bones didn’t eat good kids. They were much too tender. They only liked bad kids, who were a lot tougher. They liked the way mean kids tasted. And because their meat was tougher, it lasted longer. It was told, the more mean kids they ate, the meaner they got.
Needless to say, when we were at Aunt Bertha’s house we were all little angels. We had heard the story of Raw Head and Bloody Bones and knew better than to be anything but angels.
Mom said when she was a small girl, she didn’t believe the story of the two monsters that lived in the attic. That was until the night she and her sister Ruth were to stay all night at Bertha’s house. It was a night she would never forget.
Mom’s Aunt and Uncle were big cut-ups. They were always playing pranks. That night, they out did themselves.
There were two beds in the one tiny bedroom, one for Aunt Bertha and Uncle Lonnie and one for Momma and her sister Ruth to sleep in. They didn’t have electric back then so at bedtime an old coal oil lamp was used to make the way to the bedroom after supper. In the dim light of the coal oil lamp, the plan was about to fall into place.
When all were in bed for the night, Uncle Lonnie would remind the kids once again of the story of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. Every so often, he would stop and the girls would hear a rattle. Uncle Lonnie would ask, “What was that?”
Mom and Ruth pulled the cover up, just a little closer around them, praying that they hadn’t heard the noise they just had. Maybe, they had only heard a mouse. Maybe it wasn’t anything at all just their mind playing tricks on them.
Again, as the room got quieter, they could hear the noise, like the sound of a chain. Lonnie said, “Maybe it’s Raw Head and Bloody Bones and they want to tell us something!” Again they heard the chain-like rattle.
“Are you trying to tell us something? For yes, rattle once, for no, rattle twice!” Uncle Lonnie asked. Clang went the noise! Yes, it seemed Raw Head and Bloody Bones were ready to talk.
The flickering light from the lamp made the red stains on the ceiling dance and come alive, as if blood was oozing from above. Closer the girls got, now holding hands under the cover afraid of what Uncle Lonnie was going to ask next.
“Are you Raw Head or Bloody Bones?” he nervously asked “ Rattle once for Raw Head, or twice for Bloody Bones.” Two clangs followed.
“Do you want to talk to Juanita or Ruth? Rattle once for Juanita or twice for Ruth.” Lonnie softly whispered as he labored to catch his breath as if scared himself. One clang followed.
“Don’t ask Bloody Bones anything else Uncle Lonnie!” Juanita begged, but still the questions and answers followed.
“Bloody Bones, has Juanita been a good little girl?” he asked this time. One clang sounded. You could hear a sigh of relief from the sister’s bed.
“Well then, has Ruth been a good little girl?” Lonnie asked puzzled. This time, two clangs sounded. You could hear the two small girls gasping for air as the blanket now was completely over their heads.
“Are you h-u-n-g-r-y Bloody Bones?” Lonnie slowly managed to get out. One loud rattle sounded.
That wasn’t the sound the sisters wanted to hear. Screams filled the room as the two little girls quickly ran to the bedside of their Aunt Bertha, jumping under the covers as Uncle Lonnie began laughing uncontrollably.
Little did Momma and Ruth know that just before bedtime, Uncle Lonnie had rigged up a string from the headboard of the bed, up the wall to a bent nail, across the ceiling to another bent nail, then down to a ring of skeleton keys hanging behind a cast iron skillet hanging on the opposite wall. When the string was pulled from Uncle Lonnie’s bed, it would clang on the backside of the skillet and make the scary rattling sounds.
The stains on the ceiling weren’t anything but stains left from a leaky roof. Mom didn’t tell us that until we were much older. When we were young, seven small kids could be hard to handle sometimes. It made us a little more aware of how we acted when we visited Aunt Bertha and Uncle Lonnie’s.
The story brought the two sisters closer, each always wanting to be the protector of the other. They shared a bond that not even two scary monsters could break. A family’s love is stronger than that.
Momma told the story many times of Raw Head and Bloody Bones. We even pulled the prank ourselves a few times when we had friends staying over and wanted a good laugh.
As I re-tell the story today, it’s another one of the ways I keep my Momma’s memory alive and the strong love she had for her family.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 12:49
Pickin’ my brain…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
My parents and grandparents had a saying for everything back when I was young. I didn’t need an explanation for any of them. I knew what they were talking about because we used them almost every day. But today, most have been lost to time.
Here are some of the old mountain sayings and afterwards an explanation for those who need to know exactly what they meant. I really had fun with this one. I hope you enjoy it.
I haven’t thought of a lot of these sayings ‘in a coon’s age’ (a long time). So for a week I have been ‘pickin’ my brain’ (trying to remember) to think of as many as I could. I guess you could say ‘I’ve been as busy as a bee’ (really busy) or as the old timers might say ‘as busy as a one armed man hanging wall paper’ (super busy).
So if I don’t come up with some of the ones you know ‘don’t get your panties in a wad’ (upset or mad) or ‘go off half-cocked’ (with only some of the facts) thinking that ‘I don’t know my head from a hole in the ground’ (not very intelligent). I’ll do my best to have this article ‘chugged full’ (over-flowing) of the best ones. But I’m sure there will be many more I will omit.
In my old ‘stomping grounds’ (where I was raised) everyone lived and talked the same way. I guess you could say the ‘apple never falls far from the tree’ (being just like your parents). My Momma and Daddy taught me that you earn your way ‘by the sweat of your brow’ (by working hard).
If I weren’t getting my job done quick enough my Daddy would say that I was ‘slower than molasses in January’ (too slow). He might then tell me to ‘use more elbow grease’ (put some muscle into it).
If we were in a hurry to get something done we would ‘give it a lick and a promise’ (just enough to get by with until we had more time to finish the job). If we didn’t finish the job at all we were said to be ‘sorrier than cyarn’ (never did know what that was, but it wasn’t good).
When we came into the house and didn’t close the front door Momma would ask, ‘were you raised in a barn’ (somewhere the door didn’t need closing)? She would say ‘that was a poor excuse’ (trying to explain why we hadn’t closed the door) when we tried to explain why we left the door open.
If we then tried to maybe accuse another ‘guilty bird’ (another person) for the deed she would say ‘if the shoe fits, wear it’ (if you did it, admit it) if she knew we were guilty.
Ever since I was ‘knee high to a grasshopper’ (very young) I was taught that I should never ‘bite off more than I could chew’ (attempt what you can’t accomplish). If I got more than I could eat at the table I was told ‘my eyes were bigger than my stomach’ (wasting food). I was often reminded to never ‘get above my raisin’ (forget where I came from). I am glad to say, I never did.
When I got mad sometimes I ‘flew off the handle’ (got real angry) because I felt like I got ‘the short end of the stick’ (not treated fair). I was often warned to ‘not let my mouth get my butt in trouble’ (say something I would be sorry for later). I was also cautioned to ‘hold my tongue’ (not speak) until I thought things out.
If I got mad and didn’t say anything I would set there ‘like a knot on a log’ (not moving) wanting to give someone a ‘piece of my mind’ (tell them what I really thought). Then at other times I would just speak up and give them a ‘piece of my mind’ or ‘down the road’ (telling it like it was). That was called ‘letting off steam’.
If I was wrong in my accusations I was told I ‘was barking up the wrong tree’. If I didn’t believe a word I heard I would say ‘well that one takes the cake’ (a lie). Or if I was shocked or speechless I might say ‘Well shut my mouth’.
Chickens played a large part of our conversation back then. I was told to ‘never count my chickens before they hatched’ (not know the results first). I was constantly reminded that a smart man would ‘get up with the chickens’ (early, before daylight) and ‘go to bed with the chickens’ (just at sundown). We were expected to be sitting at the breakfast table ‘before the cock crows’ (at daybreak).
If we needed something we couldn’t get or afford we were ‘looking for something that was as scarce as hen’s teeth’. If we were in a big hurry we were said to be ‘running around like a chicken with his head cut off’. I was told ‘a whistling woman and a crowing hen never comes to a very good end’ (to try to be something you’re not).
If a person wasn’t real smart they were said to be ‘dumber than a door-nail’ (really dumb). The really slow were said to be ‘dumber than a coal bucket’ (dumber than a door-nail). Saying that to someone would be an ‘insult to injury’ or ‘rubbing salt in a wound’ (rubbing it in).
But I knew lots of people when I was young whose ‘bread was only half done’ (a little slow) or whose ‘elevator didn’t go to the top floor’ (even slower).
‘I do declare’ (I’m telling you) if you’ve heard most of these sayings we are like ‘two peas in a pod’ (act or think alike). What’s that? You can’t admit it? ‘Cat got your tongue’ (afraid to say)?, ‘Well if that don’t take the cake’ (I’m surprised).
Or maybe, you are afraid to admit it because some people would believe that you are ‘over the hill’ (old) or ‘older than Methuselah’ (really old) and maybe even ‘too old to cut the mustard’ (you know what that means, don’t you). ‘You don’t say’ (Hard to believe)?
Hope you had fun remembering these. I sure had fun writing it ‘more fun than a barrel of monkeys’. ‘Ain’t that the berries’ (something great)!
Wednesday, 07 March 2012 13:41
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.
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 14:13
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.
Wednesday, 22 February 2012 13:48
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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