Wednesday, 21 September 2011 12:14
When television came to the Miller house in the early 60’s not many of our neighbors had ever seen “the talking box”. Our house suddenly became the most popular place to visit for everyone who wanted to see the new invention that we now call TV.
I know it’s hard to imagine now but for us to see people inside a piece of furniture and to hear these people talking it was almost unbelievable. I remember my Pap Paw Burkhart giving the TV a good looking it over from front to back and all around trying to figure out how this could be possible. I remember him saying, “Well if that don’t beat all I’ve ever seen.”
Westerns dominated the TV in prime time. Some of my favorites back then were Wagon Train, The Virginian, Laramie, High Chaparral, Big Valley, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Zorro, Bat Masterson, The Tall Man, Riverboat, and Laredo.
We only got NBC channel 6 out of Knoxville at home so we never got to watch Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, or Wild, Wild West. They were on CBS and ABC. But we did get, in my opinion, the best TV western of all time, Bonanza.
Bonanza first aired from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973. The show chronicled the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by the thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the eldest was the urbane architect Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric, “Hoss” (Dan Blocker); and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or “Little Joe” (Michael Landon). The family’s cook was the Chinese immigrant, Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung).
The family lived on a thousand-square-mile ranch called Ponderosa on the shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. The nearest town to the Ponderosa was Virginia City, where the Cartwrights would go to converse with Sheriff Roy Coffee (played by veteran actor Ray Teal), or his deputy Clem Foster (Bing Russell). Greene, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were billed equally.
Bonanza was considered an atypical western for its time, as the core of the storylines dealt less about the range but more with Ben and his three dissimilar sons, how they cared for one another, their neighbors, and just causes. After seven seasons Adam Cartwright left the show. The Cartwrights were then joined by “Candy” Canaday (David Canary.
When we played cowboys as kids I always like to be ‘Little Joe’ Cartwright. I thought he was the coolest of all the western cowboys. Plus, he always got the girl. Little Joe’s horse, Cochise, was a black and white pinto. When I rode my pony I always pretended like I was riding Cochise with my “Fanner 50” six-shooter pistol by my side out to bring in the bad men. Not many people know that Little Joe’s middle name was Francis.
I remember once we were all sitting in front of the TV and all eyes glued on a Bonanza show when one of the cowboys pointed a gun straight at the screen and fired his Colt pistol. My step-Grandmother, Cindy, screamed as the shot rang out loud and grabbed her small kids up and ran to another room. I think she thought that she could actually hit someone with one of his stray bullets. It was quite a while before we could talk her into coming back into the room because she was so scared.
Another one of our neighbors, Clayton Mills, would also come out as often as he could to watch TV. He also loved Bonanza. Clayton most times brought his dad Thomas with him to watch the show.
Clayton’s favorite Cartwright was also “Little Joe”. One week as Joe was riding into town he was shot at by another gun slinging cowboy. Thomas was worried when he saw Joe fall off his horse. “Did they kill “Little Joe”, he asked out loud.
Clayton shook his head as he told Thomas, “No, “Little Joe” is the ‘main player’ Daddy. Him never gets killed! He’ll get back up! Don’t worry!”
In May 1972, Dan Blocker, “Hoss”, died suddenly from a post-operative blood clot to the lungs, following surgery to remove a diseased gall bladder. Lorne Greene, “Ben”, died in 1987 at age 72. Michael Landon, “Little Joe”, died of pancreatic cancer in July 1991 at the age of 54. Pernell Roberts, “Adam”, died of pancreatic cancer on Jan 24, 2010 at age 81.
Bonanza become the first series ever to wind up in the Top Five for nine consecutive seasons (a record that stood for decades) and thus established itself as the single biggest hit television series of the 1960s. It remained high on the Nielsen ratings until 1971, when it finally fell out of the top ten.
Bonanza will always be my most favorite TV western show of all times.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 12:19
Wednesday, 14 September 2011 14:01
If it was a noise in the night that awoke me from a deep sleep and I was scared, all I had to do was pull the cover up real tight and I would automatically feel safer.
Most times when scared, I would stay hidden from the world under the cover until I had to come up for fresh air. Then, the only part I would expose would be my lips breathing in the fresh air I so desperately needed. But, somehow I still felt safe.
Even after watching a scary movie on TV, I would feel somehow there was no way the person or monster could get to me as long as I made it to my bed.
I felt like bullets or knives couldn’t penetrate the thin blanket of cotton. It was like my cover was made of some super component that nothing could penetrate.
I remember one night in particular when I felt like the cover was surely the only place that would save me from something really bad.
I ended up at our house alone that night. I don’t really recall the circumstances of why I was the only one home, but that’s how it happened.
I was watching a scary movie on TV, alone in a big empty house. Those two things, scary movies and alone, just don’t go together good when you’re a small kid.
The movie I was watching was named, “Sorry, Wrong Number.” It told a story of Leona Stevenson, played by Barbara Stanwyck, who was sick and confined to her bed.
Leona is an alluring, wealthy, and irritating hypochondriac whose psychosomatic illness had her bedridden. Leona's only lifeline to the world was the telephone, which she used to excess. One evening, Leona impatiently tried to locate her henpecked husband Henry, played by Burt Lancaster, who was late in coming home. However, when phone lines cross, she overhears two thugs plotting a murder.
Desperate to thwart the crime, Leona begins a series of calls--to the operator, to the police, and others—trying to figure out the identity of the victim. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Leona, Henry was having problems of his own—he had become involved in a swindle and was being blackmailed. The film followed Leona, trapped in her lush apartment, as she tried to prevent an innocent woman from being murdered.
After a number of phone calls, the terrorized Leona begins to piece together the mystery. Her uneducated husband, who worked for her wealthy father, turns out to be not all he seems. Finally, to her horror, Leona realized the voice on the phone was that of her husband’s and she was the intended victim.
Her phone rang as the thug calls her house to see if she is home. She answers the phone and the killer asks, “Who is this?”
She nervously said, “Leona”.
Then the killer said, “Sorry, wrong number”, and hung up.
I was deep into the movie when our phone suddenly rang. I was nervous, to say the least, when I picked up the receiver to the phone and said hello. The voice on the line was that of a man and he asked, “Who is this?” just like the killer had done in the movie.
My voice trembled as I said, “Ro-Rodney”. Then, I shook in my pants after the voice on the line answered, “Sorry, wrong number!” and he hung up he phone.
I was scared to death. My heart began to beat a hundred miles an hour. I didn’t know what to do. Who knew I was alone in the house and what show I was watching, I thought to myself. I didn’t wait around any longer. I ran to the only place I felt would be safe; in my bed, under the cover.
In my haste I forgot to turn off the TV. As I lay in my bed with the cover over my head I kept hearing the phone ring. I wondered, Was it on TV or was it the mysterious man phoning back? I heard voices, footsteps, doors open and shut, and screams as my mind tried to separate what was on TV and what was real.
Luckily, it was long before my parents made it home. I was never happier to see my Momma and Daddy and they were just in time. I was starting to sweat and my air was getting a little thin under the covers. Plus, I needed to go to the bathroom. Moments like that will scare the pee out of you.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 14:03
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
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