Wednesday, 23 May 2012 12:22
Decoration Day…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
Editors Note: Last week I got a call from TCP World Academy, Public Chartered School, in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a teleconference with Mr. Arnold Cornett, Teacher/Instructor, and Mrs. Evans, Founder, Superintendent, and School Principal. TCP World Academy is one of the “Top Ten” Chartered Schools in Ohio.
Mr. Cornett has been reading my stories to his class each week and the students wanted to interview me and find out more about my upbringing, my family, and my stories. The interview lasted almost an hour and I really appreciated their interest and questions about my stories. I hope to do this again as it was very rewarding, on my part, to have students and faculty interested in “A Boy’s Memories”. Thank you class, Mr. Cornett, and Mrs. Evans. I really enjoyed the phone call.
Decoration Day, not to be confused with Memorial Day, in the Appalachian Mountains goes back a long ways. The practice, which usually took place in late spring or early summer, involved families visiting graves of loved ones to clean, repair and decorate them with flowers.
After the work and decoration was complete a religious service usually followed and then a dinner on the ground. The service sometimes consisted of reading special verses from the Bible and singing old mountain hymns specially chosen for the occasion. Most times it would be a song that the deceased had chosen to be sung for them on Decoration Day after their passing.
The day chosen for the work on the graveyard usually started in early morning while the air was still cool from the night. Family members would meet at a set time at the graveyard with work clothes on with hoes, rakes and trimmers in hand for the task ahead.
The early start would give the family time to get the job done before the sun got high and hot in the summer sky. Lots of times leaves and limbs blown in from the long cold winter were littered about the graveyard. Faded silk flowers from last year were now pale and tattered from the long months in the sun on our last visit.
There were always plenty of tears that fell upon the graves as we worked no matter how long ago the loved one had been in the cold ground. Some say that time heals but Momma always said that time just made it a little easier to live with. The hurting will always be there.
The decorating of the gravesite usually consisted of a few silk flowers sitting in golden colored vases carefully placed on the site. Sometimes the flowers were set in styrofoam crosses or hearts and leaned up against the headstones or mounted on skinny metal frames.
The visit to the graveyard was almost always longer than planned. Momma and Daddy would point out graves of my family members who had long passed. I could trace them back to six generations and never leave the small area in the Herd Cemetery at Sibert. Not many families can do that, I thought.
Each year on our visit to the graveyard Momma would cry as she touched the photo of her mother mounted to her headstone that had been broken by vandals many years ago. Momma had an idea who did it but never revealed to me the name. I thought it was an awful dirty deed for someone to do that to my grandmother’s stone.
Daddy showed me the locations of the headstones of our family from the Miller and Sibert side of our ancestral tree. The Siberts settled the small town that the cemetery overlooks that now bears their name. Years ago Sibert was a thriving community but time and poverty has now taken a toll on its once proud status.
The home place of Sibert’s founder, Dan Sibert, fell victim to what was suspected to be arson’s fire only a couple of years ago. The old home was almost 200 years old.
The Sibert Cemetery, located just across Paw Paw road from the Herd Cemetery, isn’t far from the location of the old Dan Sibert home place in a tanglement of grown up shrubs and vines. Not many people even know it’s there because of the overgrowth.
I have made up my mind to try to help get the Sibert Cemetery cleaned up once again. If anyone is interested in helping, please contact me. I think our ancestors deserve better than what they now have as their final resting place.
Another cemetery that needs attention is one of the oldest in the county. It’s at the mouth of Paces Creek on the right side going up the creek. I visited it for the first time a couple of months ago and some of the gravestones were in disarray. Some were completely flat on the ground and others were leaning terribly.
This is the gravesite of General T.T. Garrard and other prominent founders of our county. I think we need to get together and work on this graveyard also. Let’s keep Decoration Day a mountain tradition that we practice, not just preach.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 03:07
“We’re going to need a bigger trap!”....a boy’s memories.
By: Rodney Miller
“They’ve been at it again!” I heard my Mom’s voice on the phone. “And this time, it means war!”
“Who are you talking about?” I asked not knowing why she was so mad.
“Some how mice have gotten in the house and I can’t do a thing with them. Every night they’re into something else and enough is enough! Last night, one even knocked over a glass in the sink and broke it” Mom said.
I told her I would come up and bring her a few mice traps and inspect the crime scene. She told me “Hurry!”
Mom had never been scared of mice, spiders, or even snakes. But one thing she wouldn’t put up with was a mouse in the house. She had been taught long ago that mice and rats carry a lot of diseases. She wanted them dead and the quicker the better.
I stopped at the local Wal-Mart and bought a package of traps and a small jar of peanut butter for bait. It stays on the trap longer, it has a good smell, and mice can’t resist it.
When I arrived at her house she was on her knees looking for a place they might have a nest. She also told me from what they were eating, and the “mess” they were leaving, they had to be rats. One had even gotten into her trashcan, turned it over and pulled out some leftover chicken she had thrown away. I agreed, “To turn over the trashcan, would take a pretty big rat.”
We found a place close to the trashcan and as I was baiting the trap, when Mom said “That won’t be enough bait. Instead of peanut butter maybe we should be using fried chicken, they’re kind of partial to the breast!”
I laughed and told her “If they get a taste of this peanut butter they won’t stop until they’ve licked it clean. A whiff of this Jif and they will never go back to chicken.” I baited four traps and placed them all in a good location to catch the thieves.
After a short visit, I told her to let me know in the morning how many we caught. I kissed her cheek and left for the night.
Next morning, good and early, the phone rang. “You’re not going to believe this, Rodney. Last night about 11:30, I was just about to fall asleep and I heard one of the traps throw. I got out of bed and went to the kitchen to get rid of the dead mouse and was met at the kitchen door by the biggest rat I had ever seen!” Mom told me.
“How big was he?” I asked
“Well, I know we’re going to need a bigger trap. This fellow was as big as a small cat!” she went on. “And when he saw me he hissed and showed me a mouth full of teeth. I grabbed the broom and hit him over the head and thought I had killed him. He laid there a while and I went to get the shovel to scoop him up and throw him out, but when I come back in he was gone.”
“And how big did you say again? As big as a small cat? Are you sure you weren’t still half asleep and not dreaming? I might believe as big as a small kitten but a cat that’s hard to believe. ” I asked, believing maybe she was just exaggerating.
“This rat was way bigger than a kitten. Why, he could probably eat a small kitten! And his teeth were like a cross cut saw.” She exclaimed.
Once again, I told her I would be up in a little bit and do a little more investigating.
This time, when I walked in the front door, Mom was armed with a BB gun. I told her a BB gun would only make a rat that big mad. She didn’t laugh, she said “Maybe you’re right, I should get the .22 rifle!”
“No! No! I was only kidding you can’t shoot a rifle in the house!” I yelled.
“Well, I’m not laying down in this house another night until Willard (the rat) is dead!” Mom told me.
After a close inspection of the kitchen area where Willard had been the night before, I was agreeing with her, this wasn’t an ordinary rat. He had been in the garbage can again and gotten flour on his feet and had left unusually big tracks for a rat across the kitchen floor. The trap he had thrown, hadn’t even fazed him. He had merely pulled his head out of it like it wasn’t anything. Maybe I should get the .22, I thought.
I followed his tracks the best I could through the kitchen. Then through the family room to the steps leading upstairs. There I lost his track. It would take a lot of my hunting skills I had learned from my Dad to catch up with him, but I was like a bloodhound on the trail of an escapee, I was close. I could almost smell him.
Mom, was close behind me with her trusty Daisy, cocked and loaded. She had the gun in one hand and a flashlight in the other, it was dark under the two beds upstairs and the closets didn’t have an inside light either. “Shhhhh-Shhhhh!” she whispered, “I hear something in the closet!”
She handed me the flashlight and she steadied her gun against her shoulder with one eye closed for a good aim down the sights. “Open the door and get back. Let Annie Oakley do her job. This time I’ll make sure he’s dead.” She said quietly.
“Ok, Annie, just don’t shoot till you see the white of his eyes!” I answered jokingly.
As I cracked the door open slowly, I began to see a pair of eyes looking back at the both of us. She was right, he was a big one. She asked me to move aside and the crack of the BB gun was answered by a hiss that raised the hair on my neck.
“Hold on Mom!” I asked “I think what we have here isn’t a rat after all. It’s a possum!”
The shot had made the possum “sull-up” and he was gingerly carried by the tail down the stairs and out the front door as we laughed together. “I guess old Willard will live to see another day after all.” I said after sitting him down.
Then to my surprise a shot rang out over my shoulder and Willard never moved again. Mom had picked up her .22 on the way out the door behind me and one carefully placed shot to the head was all she needed.
Needless to say, Mom wasn’t going to waste a good possum. Willard would be a tasty meal the next day surrounded by cooked sweet potatoes. I even thought he tasted a little like chicken.
Now, Mom could lie down and sleep peacefully again.
“Good night, Annie!”
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 12:44
Flowers for Momma… a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
The earliest I can remember a Mother’s Day was when I was very small and going to church at Horse Creek Baptist where the preacher then was Denvis Rush. Every one of us had on our best clothes and Mom had on a pretty white hat she had got at a second-hand store. I hadn’t seen her in a hat much before, and I thought how beautiful she looked.
We walked into the church together after Sunday school like a mother duck leading her ducklings to water. We marched in a row, military style, and were told to be on our best behavior because this was the Lord’s house. We only had to be told once.
In we came with the general, my Dad, up front, then my Mom, and seven kids stair-stepped in size from the oldest, my sister Jackie, to the youngest, my baby sister Darlene, and 5 boys in between.
We all sat together on a pew somewhere in the middle of the church and waited for the Sunday sermon to begin. The choir sang a couple of old Baptist songs, and I don’t recall what they were, but I remember all of us singing along. We were a family that took pride in our voices and when in church we really let ourselves be heard. We didn’t need a hymn book to know the words, they were the same ones we sang every time we got together at home sitting, almost in a circle, with Mom and Dad furnishing the music with their guitars.
After the songs were sung, out came Preacher Rush with a big grin on his face as he looked at a church full of smiling faces. “Today is Mother’s Day, and we have something special for the mother with the most kids here today. A mother is someone special, someone who will love you until the day you die. Someone who gives so much to everyone else and seldom gets enough in return. Well today it’s your day, mothers.” He said as he looked over his flock.
“I want every mother in the congregation to stand for recognition of a job well done.” He went on.
There were so many mothers there that day. Every seat was full. Beside them sat their most precious processions, their children and their husbands. Most had on a new dress, new shoes, or a new hat, if they could afford it. It was their day to shine, and they all wanted to look their best.
“Now, I want everyone to give a big hand for all the mothers.” Preacher said.
Every member of the church gave a thunderous applause. “I want to see who today, of the mothers among us, has the most children with them. I have a big bouquet of flowers for that special lady.” He continued.
“Any mother with less than 3 kids, please sit down.” Preacher shouted. A stir was heard in the crowd of the church as almost half of the mothers sit down.
Now looking over all the mothers still standing he said, “Any mother with less than 4 kids, please sit down.” Again, more of the standing mothers took their seat.
You could hear whispering around the church of who everyone thought would be the last mother standing.
My mother looked at me and just smiled, not knowing if she would get the flowers she so desperately wanted. Last year it had come down to her and one more lady and Mom lost out by one child. There wasn’t a consolation prize, only one bouquet of the most beautiful roses she had ever seen. This year she wanted them so badly.
Preacher started again “Any mother with less than 5 kids, would you please sit down.” That got all the mothers still standing down to three. I was carefully counting the kids sitting by the mothers standing, but it was hard to tell just how many they each had.
“Well then, any mother with less than 6 kids, please sit down.” Preacher said. Another mother took her seat, as I strained my eyes to count the family of the mother still standing with Mom. One, two, three, four, five, six, I whispered to myself. “She has only six, Anthony, we have seven, Mom is going to win!” I almost spoke out loud.
Some of the people around me began to laugh for how excited I was for my mom to finally get the flowers. I crossed my fingers and told all my brothers and sisters to cross theirs, for good luck. I even crossed my legs. This time, it was our time, I hoped.
“Well, we have two beautiful mothers still standing. Let’s see who will win the Mothers Day flowers. If one of you have less than 7 kids, please have a seat.” Preacher went on.
We all looked towards the lady still standing, and she looked back at us smiling, as she slowly took her seat on the pew.
“Yeah! Yeah!” we yelled, a little too loud, but no one seemed to mind. This year the flowers belonged to Mom.
Preacher asked for Mom and Dad, and all seven kids to come forward to be recognized by the congregation for a job well done. Again, we marched like little soldiers to the front behind our parents with grins from ear to ear. That day, was a day I will never forget, it was a proud moment for our family.
The smile on Mom’s face as Preacher Rush handed her the flowers, was a smile I can still see today, she looked so beautiful in her little white hat.
She proudly carried the flowers home and placed them in a vase in the center of our table along beside her little white hat. She reminded every one of how beautiful they were each time we ate a meal. Mom probably kept them there a little longer than she should have, but even wilted to her they were still special.
This Mother’s Day is the first my family will have to spend without our Mother. It will be a sad time when the only flowers she will receive will be on her grave. But I know she will be looking down from above, in her heavenly home, with her “new” white hat and smiling with that same beautiful smile, so proud of her family.
“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”
Wednesday, 02 May 2012 12:53
Strange moments…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
I’m sure there are those times in most people’s life when something strange has happened and you’ve never forgotten it. I know there are some in mine that have made me stop and say “Wow! Did that really happen?” Here are a few I would like to share with you.
1) It was early spring about 12 years ago when I was on my way to work. I was selling cars at Kain Ford and driving my usual route on old Highway 80 towards London.
I was making my way up the Big Hill, just before the Laurel County line, when about halfway up I rounded a sharp curve and saw a crow standing in the opposite lane. He had landed in the middle of the road and picked up something from the blacktop.
As I got closer I could barely believe my eyes. The crow turned as I got closer and looked me straight in the eye. In the crow’s beak was a smoking cigarette! It looked so natural. Just like he knew what he was doing.
As I got closer the crow simply flew off with his lit cigarette still clenched tightly in his beak leaving behind a faint smoke trail. I laughed almost all the way to work. I kept thinking that I wished I could have gotten a photo of the smoking crow. It would surely have won some kind of a photography award. I thought to myself, I hope he doesn’t inhale! Cigarettes are addictive.
2) Another one of those moments happened when I was a young boy. I was outside my family’s grocery store at Sibert under the hood of my car doing a little mechanic work when I got a weird feeling. A strange sensation came over me. It was like I was looking into the future.
Something told me that a lady, whose name was Dorothy, was going to round the corner of our store and I would somehow know what she was going to say and what my response was to going to be and then her next question and my answer to that one also. I don’t know how to explain it other than the way I have. I guess it was some kind of premonition or as they say dejavu.
I then got the urge to look towards the corner of our store and just like that, suddenly Dorothy appeared. When she started talking I got chill bumps up and down my spine. Word for word the entire conversation carried out exactly the way I had foreseen just minutes earlier. Nothing like that has happened to me since that day but it was truly something I will never forget. Spooky!
3) My next little thing that is forever etched in my mind is a little different. It was again at my Dad’s store at Sibert years ago.
I was outside in the parking lot talking to a friend who was smoking a cigarette. His Dad, who didn’t know his son was smoking, pulled into the parking lot unexpectedly. The boy panicked. He quickly threw the lit cigarette to the ground.
The Dad walked up and asked the son what was it that he was throwing away so fast when he pulled up. “Nothing,” the boy said trying to hide his guilt.
“Well, what’s that?” the Dad asked pointing to the ground.
Both of us looked down and the cigarette was standing straight up, on its filter. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ll bet you could throw down a cigarette a million times and not have it land standing straight up like that. I’ve often wondered if anyone else has every witnessed something like that. Let me know if you have. I’m curious.
4) The forth thing is along the same line as the last one. I was having supper one evening sitting in our family room while watching TV. I had my plate on a TV stand and had poured my Pepsi in a glass of ice. After empting the pop bottle I set it in the floor beside the leg of the TV stand.
I was watching a show on the TV not paying much attention to what I was doing when I knocked the fork from my plate and it fell to the floor. I bent down to pick up my fork but it wasn’t there. I looked all around but the fork was nowhere to be seen. I looked at Margy and said, “I just dropped my fork in the floor and it has disappeared.”
Of course she said, “That’s impossible!”
I thought so too but again I looked and couldn’t see my fork in the floor. I even moved the pop bottle thinking that it might somehow be under it, I guess. But to my surprise when I pick up the pop bottle I noticed the prongs of the fork sticking out of the top of the bottle.
Somehow, the fork had fallen from the table and went straight into the opening of the pop bottle! And this fork didn’t have a narrow straight end on it. I was a fancy flower covered fork three-quarters of an inch wide. I couldn’t believe it.
Getting the fork out of the bottle wasn’t that easy. The end of the fork was so tight that I’ll bet a hair couldn’t have gone between the fork and the metal fork. It had to have fallen perfectly “dead-on” in the neck of the pop bottle and perfectly straight up.
It was another one of those freak happenings that has forever baffled me. Sometimes, fact is definitely stranger than fiction.
Tuesday, 24 April 2012 23:18
The man behind the plow…a boy’s memories
By: Rodney Miller
After four long months of cold and snowy weather, springtime sure was a welcomed sight in the mountains. Being cooped up in the house all winter sure would give a kid a case of “cabin fever”. But lots of hard work came with the warm weather. We were taught that from an early age.
Back when I was a small boy spring and summer were used to prepare for the next winter. If we didn’t want to go hungry in winter we knew we had to work hard to put up as much food possible. And that meant growing a big garden.
We started early in spring by cleaning and burning off the weeds from our garden spot. All the weeds that were left after the last harvest were cut, raked and piled up to be burned. “The ashes,” Dad said, “will make the garden grow more vegetables.”
After the garden was cleared we went to the barn and cleaned out the stalls of all the manure. This was loaded in a wooden sled and pulled to the garden with our mule to be scattered over the soil. Dad said, “Manure is a natural fertilizer. Plants love it.”
When the garden was dry enough, our mule was hooked to a plow and the ground was turned. Dad would wrap the leather plow lines around his neck as he muscled the plow in straight rows through the soil. A good mule could be guided by voice commands of “gee” and “haw”. A real good mule would walk a straight line through the garden almost with no commands at all.
Plowing the garden with a mule and plow took a lot of time and a lot of muscle. But after it was finished it was a work of art. I loved the way the air smelled around a fresh plowed field. It was one of those smells that reminded me again that winter was over and new life was about to emerge.
After turning the ground Dad smoothed out the furrows with a disc. Then he used two railroad ties nailed together to smooth it out even further. Dad would have the garden looking “like a lettuce bed.”
The entire field was then “laid-off” with another plow to give us the rows to plant the crops in. Garden work was hard working with a mule and plow, but it had to be done.
The first crops we planted were usually cabbage and potatoes. A little frost never hurt the cabbage and the potatoes took two to three weeks just to peek out of the ground so by the time they came up the chance of frost was almost gone.
Dad only raised one kind of potato, Kennebec. If we had potatoes left over from the winter sometimes we used them to plant and they worked just fine. But most times all the potatoes from the previous harvest were gone and a fresh burlap bag of certified seed potatoes were used.
A couple of days before planting the potatoes we all sat around large buckets with our knives in hand cutting the seed potatoes to be planted. A large one would sometimes have several “eyes” on it so it could be halved and quartered up into more planting stock. After finishing the potatoes would be set-aside for two or three days to heal the cut. Dad said this would make the potato hardier when we planted them in the ground.
We planted several long rows of potatoes. It took a lot to feed our large family. Most of the time Momma fried or mashed them but she also used them in many other ways. With leftover mashed potatoes she made one of my favorites, potato cakes. She made hash browns, potato soup and potato salad. She cooked them in vegetable soup. We wrapped them in tin foil and cooked them in our fireplace. Potatoes were served in one way or another at just about every meal.
Dad raised our tomato plants from seed in a large bed. He always raised more than we could use so he sold the plants we didn’t need for extra money. We put out as many as a hundred plants for our use in the garden. Tomatoes were another garden product that we used in many different ways.
Momma and Daddy would can as many quarts of tomato juice as they could. Back then we ate lots of macaroni in tomato juice. It is also another one of my favorite meals. We used the juice in soup, tomato gravy, in slum-gullion and in chili. Plus, we drank large amounts of it as a healthy drink.
Corn and beans were also plentiful in our garden. Those, along with potatoes, were essential foods for most mountain families. We canned as many vegetables as possible for the next winter. It was a never-ending cycle.
Each year when I smell fresh earth turned over in a field it takes me back once again to my childhood. Not to last year or the year before but the early years of my life. Back to a time when the smell of a fresh garden triggered my senses reminding me that winter was finally over once again and a new year had began.
I hope I never lose that sensation. Even today, when I close my eyes and take in a deep breath through my nose of a newly plowed field I can still see my father behind the plow of our old mule, under a warm spring sun, as he prepared the ground for another autumn harvest.
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