A rabbi and a politician walk into a town hall meeting …
February 3, 2016
I dozed off tonight while reading a book and missed the first hour of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates’ appearance at the Nebraska town hall meeting.
I woke up and turned on the TV just as Hillary Clinton was being introduced and I watched and listened for more than half an hour before I had to make one of my frequent rest stops in my bathroom. I was already awake so I decided to sit here at the computer and discuss my reaction to one of the questions and her response.
A rabbi asked former Secretary of State Clinton a question which I will try to condense for purposes of what I’m writing. The question was how she would go about moderating the ego inherent in winning and holding such a powerful position with the humility that some citizens expect.
Her answer was appropriate but I don’t remember what she said because she talked for quite a while, as candidates are wont to do when they have an audience, and my short-term memory isn’t very good these days. Also, if you watch and listen to politicians you will have noticed that they use a lot of words, none of which amount to an actual commitment to a position. They leave plenty of room to act in ways we didn’t expect when we voted for them. But those three sentences are not what this is about.
I pondered the question and candidate Clinton’s answer and something dawned on me, something which perhaps dawned on you much sooner. It may have dawned on me years ago but managed to get filed away in hidden brain drawers that I no longer can access.
The power that can exaggerate the ego really isn’t a power inherent in the person who wields it. It is power that comes with a position, not power that the person brings into a position. People who exercise power in elected offices, therefore, are wielding power that we have given them. It is the power of the office, not of the person. I think most people who hold office forget that. They start believing that they hold a personal power. They tend to forget that they represent us, not rule us.
I’ve seen that phenomenon in government employees in top positions. The “adoration” they get when they go into the field and interact with lower-level employees, or the obeisance when they visit private companies which have received funding through the government office can inflate their heads and make them feel very powerful. They must be in for a letdown when they leave office and realize that no one really gives a damn about them anymore.
I know that no presidential candidate can say things like this but just once I would love to hear one steal a quote from my book. It is a quote of something Bill Ryan said to an uppity person trying to decide if Bill was worthy of being shown into the boss’s office. She finally got around to asking who he was and Bill replied, “I’m Bill Ryan, just as common as cat shit.”
If you are concerned about your ego, about getting too big for your britches, if you’ll just remember what Bill said and apply it to yourself, ego stops being an issue.
THINGS I THOUGHT ABOUT
Feb. 1, 2016
I drove to Paducah today (Feb. 1, 2016) to get signed up as a patient at the VA Medical Clinic in case I happen to need any more in-patient hospital treatments. On the drive there and while I sat in the waiting room (by the way, my name was called just a few minutes after the scheduled appointment) I thought about some things.
One of them is my fixed income. We didn’t get social security raises this year because of the formula tying the raises to some inflation index. Apparently there was no inflation. That made me think maybe my health insurance didn’t go up a little more than $40 a month; I must have been looking at some wrong numbers.
And I guess my car insurance and home insurance didn’t go up either.
I’m going to recheck some of those other things I thought were more expensive but must not have been or my social security payment would have gone up. I’m sure glad that it is just a figment of my imagination that I’m paying more.
Another thing I spent a little time pondering was how to say February. All of the folks around here, including yours truly, say feb-u-ary (or maybe we say feb-a-wary; my hearing isn’t good enough to pick up the slight difference). Is the R silent? Should we be pronouncing it feb-ru-ary? When I came home I looked it up. The correct way is feb-ru-ary but as a tip of the hat to those of us who can’t pronounce that R, it is also okay to say feb-u-ary. Case solved. Rather than waste any additional time thinking about things like that I’ll just call it January 32, 33, 34 etc., up through 28 or 29, depending on how many extra days are needed, and just avoid feb-a-wary altogether.
Final thought was an idea for an analogy or simile or metaphor, whichever it is. I can’t remember which is which.
Anyway, I went into Walmart. I thought that the next time I had to use some colorful way of expressing that something doesn’t occur often I would say, “It’s as rare as an available handicapped parking space at Walmart.”
I thought of another one of those expressions, whatever the correct name is, a few months ago and I believe I may have mentioned it here: "As rare as a highway sign without bullet holes in Ballard County.”
The wider gauge is better
Jan. 24, 2016
The narrow-gauge railroads didn’t make it in this country. Some were built to serve industrial purposes and, I believe, at least one was built out West.
Even though standard gauge was the choice in this country, I’ve noticed that some rest stops and stores have gone to narrow gauge in the last couple of years. Narrow gauge, not in railroads but in toilet paper.
Has anyone else noticed this?
I prefer the standard gauge when it comes to toilet paper. I just measured a roll of the brand I use and learned that it has a width of four inches. I don’t normally take a measuring device with me to stores or rest areas so I can’t say how wide the sheets are on a narrower roll, but they are sufficiently narrower that you don’t have to measure to realize that you have to be more careful each time you use it or you might go past the edge.
Some of those places have gone, as I said, to a narrow-gauge toilet paper. Unfortunately, as I and others aged we discovered that we went to a wider-gauge butt.
Please bring back the standard gauge.
Thoughts on Background Check for Gun Buyers
Jan. 6, 2016
I see lots of posts about how people will not let the government take away their guns. I wouldn't either. But I'm not aware of the government proposing to take my guns away.
I also see people sharing that old bromide, "If you outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns," as if it were a profound, original statement. I remember writing that very line back in the late '60s or early '70s when I was doing quite a bit of outdoor writing (as well as quite a bit of all kinds of writing) at the Cairo Evening Citizen. I thought it was an original, profound statement back then, but I'm sure it was neither.
You could turn it around to "If you don't outlaw guns, more outlaws will have guns," and it would be as vacuous as the original.
I think the second amendment refers to the right to bear arms, not to a right of unrestricted purchase of them. If requiring background checks at gun shows etc., keeps even one firearm out of the hands of someone inclined to use it to kill someone else, the little bit of inconvenience has been justified.
President Obama has not ordered or proposed the taking away of guns. Some people object in a knee-jerk way to all efforts to reduce deaths by firearms. They probably also would object to being called pro-murder or pro-violence, yet they resist every attempt to reduce the killings and woundings. They like to say that such laws won’t work because some people won't obey the law. If that is the criterion for having a law then we might as well cancel laws making murder a crime, and all other laws as well.
No, I'm not willing to give up my guns and since no one has asked me to, that's an easy position to take. I am willing to accept a bit more inconvenience if ever I should decide to purchase another gun. However, the three I already have seem to more than cover any use I might have. My guns don't kill people ... or ducks. Like some folks say, guns don't kill people, people kill people. Yes, someone's finger needs to be on the trigger, so the laws are aimed at the people with fingers. I'm okay with that.
Observations of a Walmart Shopper
December 31, 2015
Closing out the old year – can 2015 actually be an old year? – with some observations from early this afternoon’s stop at Walmart to pick up a few things while I was in Paducah.
I marvel at how some people wait until all their purchases have been rung up and then start searching for the money, which usually lies beneath approximately 23 pounds of other stuff in a purse. The total for their shopping comes to $43.02.
“Just a minute,” he or she says (usually “she” considering that the money lies hidden in the bottom of the purse), “I think I have two pennies.” She does, but it takes several minutes for her to locate them among the flotsam and jetsam in the aforementioned purse. And then I wonder how she managed to have a purse filled with flotsam and jetsam, considering those terms describe things washed off or thrown off ships.
This afternoon I had only a handful of things so I went to the Express Lane for 20 items or less. It’s rare to find that lane open at Walmart so I was pleased to start pushing my cart into the lane. Just before I got there a couple in a regular check-out lane just to the left swerved out of that line and got in front of me in the Express Lane.
They had a cart so filled that they must have been professional balancers. I don’t think anyone other than a pro could have gotten that much stuff into a cart without the top foot or so falling off.
I got a little angry, partly at the couple but mostly at the Kentucky educational system. I assume both of them had finished high school, or grade school at least, but it was obvious that neither could read or count, or maybe both. Or maybe they were just assholes.
When my recent heart catheterization had the side effect of causing limited movement of my lower right leg, Ballard County Clerk Lynn Lane issued me a temporary handicapped parking permit.
Because I have less trouble than many folks with such a permit, I vowed to park in a handicap space only when no other space was available within a reasonable distance.
It was a good thing I took that attitude. It’s rare to find an open handicap space. Walmart has a good number of handicap spaces because so many of its customers have to use electric carts or walkers that have attachments for oxygen bottles, those sorts of things, and they need to be able to park close to the store. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Walmart handicap parking space open. People must park there on a long-term basis.
Parked directly in front of me, about halfway down the parking lot away from the handicap spaces, was a van or utility vehicle with two people in the front seat, in their 20s I would guess. They must have been sitting there with the vehicle running while someone else shopped. The woman, who sat behind the steering wheel, lit up a cigarette. There was a child in a car seat in the back seat. I can’t imagine that anyone could have reached her age without having heard of the dangers to children of secondhand smoke. Maybe she’s one of those who can’t read or count and wind up in the Express Lane with an overloaded shopping cart.
You can learn a lot, and experience a lot of emotions – most of them irritating – by shopping in Walmart.
Taking Christ out of Christmas …
He’s already out of the Constitution
December 25, 2015
There’s a letter to the editor in today’s Paducah Sun urging people to fight those taking Christ out of Christmas. It’s a letter that destroys its own stated position.
Here’s an excerpt: “Christmas is when baby Jesus was born, and God gave his Son to die on the cross to die for our sins and save us from ours. We better make sure when we vote the person is a Christian. Wake up, America. Things like this are what’s wrong with our country. We as Christians need to start fighting things like this. One way is to boycott businesses that don’t put Merry Christmas on their windows and tell the manager or owner why. Let’s leave Christ in Christmas.”
We can skip the statement that Christmas is when baby Jesus was born. If there was a historic Jesus, it has been made clear by research that he would not have been born on December 25. December 25 apparently was one of those pagan celebrations that the church converted into a Christian observance in an effort to draw and keep pagans.
The real point is that the writer says Christians need to “start fighting” votes for non-Christian candidates and to boycott businesses that don’t put “Merry Christmas” on their windows.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention the Christian religion and, to the contrary, makes it clear that there is no religious qualification for candidates. To insist on such a qualification is an effort to overturn the Constitution.
The notion of boycotting businesses, however, is one that bothers me as least as much as the effort to destroy the Constitution. I believe that many of the people who write such letters and take the same position in other ways frequently do so while standing in long lines on Thanksgiving evening to fight for discounted merchandise inside stores.
They plop their children in front of TV sets to watch animated cartoons about Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which have nothing to do with keeping Christ in Christmas.
The call to boycott makes it clear that this letter writer is one of those for whom spending money at Christmas is the real reason for the season. Going into debt to purchase things you can’t afford has nothing to do with keeping Christ in Christmas.
And it seems to me that the call to boycott is a call to destroy the economic viability of merchants who do not agree with you. I don’t think that is what Jesus would have accepted as keeping Christ in Christmas.
But because Jesus has never spoken to me nor appeared to me as an image in a cloud or on a grilled cheese sandwich, I may be wrong. Even if such an image should appear I’m not sure how I would recognize it as being Jesus. I’m confident no photograph of him was ever taken and I’m not aware of any portraits having been uncovered.
Christmas is an increasingly secular holiday marked by marketing, spending beyond the means of the spenders, and a lemming-like obsession to give and get gifts: any gifts (notice how retailers put out stuff during Christmas that no one would buy the rest of the year). Those are among the primary ways most folks celebrate Christmas. If you are among the few who ignore the “Christmas as profit” aspect of the holiday, then I say more power to you. Observe it in the religious manner you choose. But don’t try to force that on everyone else.
Basketball Bladder and Serenity Pads
December 24, 2015
My cousin Barbara Tilley Moss invited me to her house tonight to have Christmas Eve dinner with various relatives. Barbie – that’s what I call her – grew up in the house where I now live in Monkey’s Eyebrow. She lives now on old Highway 60 next to another cousin, Gary Davis, and his Lawn Tamers business. That’s not too far from the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and Mansfield Auto Parts. Leigh’s Barbecue is also just up the road.
Barbie said I could bring a wrapped gift if I wanted to participate in a Dirty Santa gift swap after we ate.
She had to explain what a Dirty Santa exchange is. Each person who brings a wrapped gift draws a number. The person with the number 1 gets to pick one of the gifts. The person with number 2 can either pick a gift or steal the gift number 1 chose. And so it goes as each person gets a choice between gift or theft. No gift may be chosen more than three times.
After several choices and thefts, I wound up with a bag of 36 Tena Serenity Pads of ultimate absorbency potency, which – according to the package – provide discreet bladder protection and contain the Oda Plus ingredient which helps control odors.
I think some people felt sorry for me but as I was leaving I told Barbie that the time is drawing near when I will appreciate the pads. That’s because I have the condition known as Basketball Bladder.
“What’s Basketball Bladder?” she asked.
I told her, “That’s when you dribble down the floor at top speed (which isn’t all that fast at my age) and hope you reach the goal before time runs out.” Enlarged prostate assures me that the use of pads lies in the near future.
“Besides,” I added, “with the odor control function I can wear one under each arm instead of buying deodorant and put one in each shoe to keep my feet smelling fresh.”
Ahhh, youth is a terrible thing to lose.
Los Angeles or The?
December 22, 2015
I was reminded of this question when I drove through La Center today. For those of you who have never been to Ballard County, La Center is one of the towns in this fine Western Kentucky county. I like to think of it as a suburb of Monkey’s Eyebrow but I’m sure some folks would dispute that.
Notice that I wrote La Center as two words. The “La” part comes from one of those not-Ballard County languages and it means “the.” The Center. Not TheCenter. Folks who named it chose the two-word name because the town is at the center of the county. Some of those folks hoped (as many continue to hope) that the two-word name – one of those words being from a not-Ballard County and even a not-Kentucky and even a not-U.S.A. language – would eventually attract the courthouse and the designation of “county seat” away from Wickliffe.
Lots of folks, including some who live in La Center, and even some businesses located there, write it as one word, TheCenter. If you drive into town and see the city limits signs, however, you will (or should) notice that the signs boast two words divided by a space.
But that’s not the question of which I was reminded.
There is a convenience store/gas station/restaurant in La (two words) Center which bears the name LA OASIS. I believe that it appeared that way, in all capital letters, under the previous owners. As a result, most people who mention the business call it L.A. Oasis, as if it were somehow involved in the much bigger town where the Los Angeles Lakers play basketball, a nice little town frequently called L.A.
I thought all along that the folks who call it the L.A. Oasis had failed to connect the name of the town, two words La Center, with the name of the business, two words and not two initials and one word, La Oasis. The Oasis. A business in La Center. The Center. Not a business in Los Angeles.
I also noticed among my noticing and wondering as I drove through town that the sign at the Kevil side of the business also shows the name as La (two words) Oasis. The Oasis.
I know it confuses us when people start throwing around those Latin or French or Spanish or Scrabble words instead of good ol’ Kentucky English. Maybe it’s because so many Ballard County residents have lived their entire lives in Ballard County. Maybe it’s because we wonder why anyone would bother using one foreign word and one Kentucky word in the same name.
Or maybe it’s just because I’m the only one who wonders about such important things as this. At least it took my mind off of Donald Trump and ISIS and the almost-on-us Christmas day.
Trading jobs for a wall display
Sept. 11, 2015
Please excuse my cynicism but I see no cause for celebration.
The headline over a story in today’s Paducah Sun tells us, “D.C. wall display showcases key piece of Paducah history.”
Apparently a bunch of folks went to Washington Thursday to watch the unveiling of a wall display about the history of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The display is on a fifth floor wall at the Department of Energy’s headquarters, the Forrestal Building. (By the way, I remember when I was a kid, we called it the Kevil plant.)
The story calls this a highlight of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual trip to D.C.
The story says Sandra Wilson, chamber president, said the display will help keep Paducah on the minds of DOE officials as they pass by it each day. She is quoted, "We're one of only four (DOE site) communities to have a display. I'm so proud that our community has been recognized this way."
Well la de dah. The display will help DOE folks keep Paducah on their mind. Meanwhile, we can drive close enough to see part of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and it will help keep the loss of hundreds of high-paying jobs on our minds.
If you’ve ever been in the Forrestal Building, you’ve probably not gone beyond the first floor. You have to have a pass to get in. You have to take elevators to the higher floors. There are lots of displays on the walls. Most DOE folks walk right past those displays and never look. This new one will be noted only on those rare occasions when a visitor from Paducah happens to make it to the fifth floor. Some DOE official can stop in front of the display and point to it and tell the visitor, “We have recognized only four DOE communities, and yours is one of them.”
I don’t know about Sandra Wilson and the other folks who grinned at the unveiling of the display, but I would rather our area had the jobs and DOE could shove the display … well, wherever they shove irrelevant displays.
Monkey’s Eyebrow shows up in lots of places
Sept. 9, 2015
I’m reading Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher book, “Make Me.”
Reacher has gotten off the train in a town named Mother’s Rest, just to find out how it got that name.
Reacher walks around the town, asking merchants about the name. He gets no definitive answers. The attitude seems to be, as we learn on page 32 (which is how far I’ve gotten into the book so far), “There are weird names all over the country. Why single out Mother’s Rest, in a nation with towns called Why and Whynot, and Accident and Peculiar, and Santa Claus and No Name, and Boring and Cheesequake, and Truth or Consequences, and Monkeys Eyebrow, and Okay and Ordinary, and Pie Town and Toad Suck and Sweet Lips?”
I wish the train had stopped in Monkey’s Eyebrow. Unfortunately, we have no tracks and no train. We don’t even have a stoplight.
An odd place for ducks
August 28, 2015
My daughter Jade Wooten Culver sent me this short note by e-mail. It’s worth at least a smile. Here’s what she wrote:
A coworker went to the beach recently. She was sitting on the balcony one morning with family. She took a picture of the birds out on the water and sent it to her husband with the message, “Looks like the ducks are having their morning meeting.” She said she thought about it for a bit and said to her sister-in-law, “I’ve never seen ducks on salt water before.” Her sister-in-law said, “That’s because they’re pelicans.”
The attraction of reminiscence
August 17, 2015
(Note: This was sent to me by e-mail from George Shadoan, former resident of Wickliffe, Kentucky, who lives in Sarasota, Florida. He is the older brother of the late Will Shadoan. This is the second e-mail from him that I’ve posted here.)
At age 82, the attraction of reminiscence is sometimes overpowering. Today, reading more of your remarkable writing, this was the case for me. I walked again up that one sidewalk up the middle of the road leading to the exciting Wickliffe school, sharing the walk with the little noisy mob of boys and girls playing their way to school.
I again used our telephone party line and wondered whether the central operator listened to the entirety of every conversation. Certainly, if you wanted to know anything that was going on, you just called central.
I would have liked to read more detail about the old post office. For me, it somehow conveyed an atmosphere of official efficiency never captured by the new post office.
I was a little surprised that your description of Roscoe Patterson's place omitted any mention of the thriving blacksmith shop across from both Roscoe's place and the old post office. In those days, probably 1937- 1940, many horse drawn wagons flowed into Wickliffe on Saturday night. (Note from Joe: That was before my time, which probably is why I didn’t mention it.) I haven't the words to capture the romantic images retained in my memory.
And I never hear the song "You've Got Trouble" from "The Music Man" without thinking of Sis Phillips’ pool room in the back where I learned to play the game.
I don't know how your writing affects the young readers, but for this aging former resident, it is great beyond words that I can summon.
Thanks for the effort,
When I fought the navy … and won
July 7, 2015
I’ve taken on a number of causes over the years, fought the good fight, and, as a rule, lost. It’s like the resistible force (me) has met the immovable object (everything else).
But permit me a minute or two to savor a victory over the U.S. navy bureaucracy almost 40 years ago.
Around the end of 1973 or early in 1974, I was managing editor, columnist, photographer at the Cairo Evening Citizen which, at the time, was published five days a week. In effect, I was half of the news staff. The other half was Nancy Cain, wife of the publisher, David Cain.
I was working lots of hours and there was really no opportunity for advancement. When I saw an ad from the navy in the magazine, “Inside Kentucky Sports,” I was intrigued. It appeared that the navy was in great need of people with prior service (I served in the army from 1965 to 1967) and civilian news media experience. At that time I had about eight years’ experience in news media and another couple of years as a public information specialist in the army.
Opportunities to advance based on my performance have always been important to me. The recruiters painted a rosy picture of how the JO (journalist) rating was really wide open, and told me it wouldn’t take someone with my ability long to work his way to a chief petty officer status. I accepted the offer to enlist at an E-5 pay grade, a JO2 (journalist second class).
I’ll shorten the story, even though it would give me great pleasure to describe it blow by blow. The short version is that the navy recruited so many of us through the Direct Procurement Petty Officer (DPPO) program that there was essentially no chance for promotions. Eventually, in fact, it was suggested that we might want to consider changing job specialties if we wanted to re-enlist. Also, my early experiences weren’t all that good because of little things like the records not showing that I had a wife and children who hoped to join me at Guantanamo Bay. They were stranded for as long as it took the navy record keepers to correct the error and send them to Gitmo.
I really liked the people I worked with and I liked my job as editor of the navy’s only land-based daily newspaper. I had some other run-ins along the way as I fought for the opportunity to let our paper cover the base as if it were a real paper and a real community.
I was a frequent writer of letters to naval bigwigs (such as the chief of naval personnel) and to members of congress. I’ll say this for the good people in the higher ranks: They accepted my complaints and attempts to effect change without retribution. But that’s partly because I performed my duties very well. In fact, the public affairs officer in Gitmo described me in a letter to Washington as “probably the best print-type JO2 in the Navy.”
Anyway, when the time was approaching for the navy-wide test for promotions, at first we DPPO petty officers were told that we had not been in service long enough to take the tests. After some complaints, we were allowed to take the test.
When the test results came back, the good folks at navy higher levels said only one person was going to be promoted to petty officer first class. The score needed to qualify for advancement was announced as 265. That’s a very high score. No one who joined the navy through the DPPO program could have made such a score.
My score was 197, which actually was pretty high for someone without much time in service or time in pay grade.
I wrote to some of the higher-ups in Washington and pointed out that a score of 265 was pretty much an announcement that all the rosy pictures the recruiters had painted were about as valuable as finger painting by kids in kindergarten.
I went back to doing my job as before. When the next test cycle came around, the public affairs office’s senior chief petty officer, a very fine man named Charles Schroyer, tried to talk me into taking it but I refused. My position was that the navy had made it very clear that none of us would be promoted and I was not going to play in that game.
A few weeks before that exam and after another letter or two from me, the navy guys issued a new test profile from the previous test in which the passing score had been dropped from 265 to 198.67. You will recall that my score was 197. It seemed to me that the navy was saying, “See, if you had just scored a little more you could have reached that number.” That really hacked me off.
I went to the personnel office and, with the assistance of a petty officer, started going through my records. We discovered that I had not been given credit for my Army Good Conduct medal during the previous exam cycle. That medal counts as … drum roll please … 2 points! My actual score should have been 199, which was .33 more than the passing score the navy had just announced.
At that point, the navy had no other choice. They had to promote me by one pay grade, retroactive to when other promotions went into effect.
Let me say this: With the exception of things resulting from bureaucratic snafus, I enjoyed my service in the navy. They were good people and they did good work for the most part. I still have friends from those days.
There were some other battles, of course, but mostly I lost. It felt really good to win this one.
Joe’s Place not just a website,
It’s a memory exchange
May 4, 2015
(Note: This was sent to me by e-mail from George Shadoan, former resident of Wickliffe, Kentucky, who lives in Sarasota, Florida.)
Let me start by asking you to pass along best wishes to old friend Shirley Williamson with whom I lost contact about half a century ago.
My discovery of your site yesterday was like finding a long lost diary full of forgotten names and memories.
My name is George Shadoan. I graduated from Wickliffe High School in 1951. But the names and events in your writings that are most exciting are those dating from my elementary school years.
God knows how many hours I idled away in Bill Ryan's service station with the characters you resuscitate so well. I congratulate your writing style and stand in awe of your incredible memory. Gladys Haynes indeed. I still remember my first day in her class and how much more some of my fellow students knew. Some of the girls could actually read.
My brother, Will Shadoan, was probably well known to you. My last trip to Wickliffe was in 2010 to deliver the eulogy at his funeral. What I would not give to have the opportunity to relive some of the memories excited by your writing. I would like to ask him if he remembers Billy Bob's heroic throw over the courthouse dome to Bill Weaver's waiting glove.
And to just take all those old half forgotten names and go through them one by one. I had not read or heard of Charlie Pott for over 60 years.
As Bob Hope sang, "Thanks for the memories!"
Not allowed to give a free plug
July 30, 2014
One of the things I like best about this time of year is that melons are ripe around this region.
The standard for a great watermelon is displayed on signs you’ll see propped against pickup trucks where the beds are full of watermelons. The signs read, “Missouri Melons.”
When I was much younger, you could drive across the Cairo Bridge, take a left over the bridge to Missouri and follow the road toward Charleston. There would be flatbed trucks parked along the way loaded with watermelons.
Sometimes people would be there to take your money – a quarter or 50 cents – but other trucks would have a box with a note to drop your money inside the box. It was an honor system. Might not work today.
How did you know if the watermelon was ripe? Well, if there was a person at the truck he would pull out a pocket knife, one of those three-bladed models, and use the thin blade to “plug” the melon. That involved making a triangular cut through the rind, sticking the sharp point of the blade into the rind and then removing the triangle, exposing some of the underlying red melon. It usually was very red, and confirmed that you had made a good choice.
Just as good as a Missouri melon back then were those from Sand Ridge, between Monkey’s Eyebrow and Oscar. It is as the name implies a ridge of sandy soil, the same kind of sandy soil you find in southeast Missouri, ideal for watermelons and cantaloupes.
I don’t think anyone grows melons there now. Robert Turner may have been the last of several who grew them. He gave up a couple of years ago when we had the high backwater that got into his house, and he moved to La Center. He told me that the most he had ever loaded onto a truck in one day was a thousand melons. Figure 15 or 20 pounds per melon and that’s a lot of lifting.
I buy melons these days mostly at the Farmers Market at La Center. I bought some cantaloupes this morning and while there I brought up the subject of plugging melons. They told me they’re not allowed to do that now, some sort of health regulation.
I wish they could. I know how to choose a good cantaloupe. Pick it up, sniff the end where the vine was attached, and if it smells like a cantaloupe it’s going to be a good one.
I don’t know how to pick out a watermelon. You can smell the end all day and still not learn anything about it. Some people thump the melon, but I don’t know what to listen for and, besides, they mostly sound alike to me.
I don’t think I’ve had a melon since I moved back here that tasted as good as the ones when I was a kid. They don’t seem to be as sweet now. Maybe my memories are bad. Maybe my taste buds have changed. Maybe cutting that triangular plug through the rind made them taste better.
The Arivett Family of Monkey’s Eyebrow And Other Settlers of the Area
(Note: This is based on conversations with Evelyn Hook Arivett and Leroy Arivett on May 21, 2010, and on some e-mails from Evelyn and her daughter, Wilma Hook Romatz, who lives in Michigan.)
Ples and Irene Wildharber Arivett and Ples’ brother Brad weren’t the first people to own a business at Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, but their businesses and their presence in the area are inextricably linked to the history of this small community that sports one of the most unusual names in the United States.
The name is frequently featured in atlas listings of unusual names; it has been the subject of at least two features on National Public Radio, and is featured in two books by author Mark Usler, who came to Monkey’s Eyebrow on May 21 to launch his new book, Hometown Celebrations.
The Arivett name itself is also a bit unusual in that it is consistently spelled Arivett, but is pronounced three different ways within the same family. Most of the members of the family and the people who live in the area pronounce the name as Everett, but Evelyn Arivett Hook, daughter of Ples and Irene, pronounces it as it’s spelled, Ar-i-vett. Evelyn’s younger brother, Leroy, who lives near Chicago, pronounces it Ar-vett, without the “i” sound.
Evelyn Arivett was born at Monkey’s Eyebrow in 1920, the first of four children born to Ples and Irene. Horace, who ran a store at Bandana and who died in Bandana a few years ago, was next. Then came Leroy, and finally Harold, who lives near Atlanta.
The family’s roots in Monkey’s Eyebrow stretch back into the 1800s.
The Wildharbers and Goodleys, Irene Arivett’s family, came to Ballard County in 1903 from Henderson, Kentucky. Ples Arivett’s sister, Maude, told Evelyn that when their great grandfather, Jesse Beeler, came to Ballard County from Tennessee in the early 1840s it was nothing but wilderness. For many years, he and his children all lived in houses along what is now called Monkey’s Eyebrow Road, or state route 473.
“Maudie was quite a colorful character too,” Wilma Hook Romatz, Evelyn’s daughter, remembers, “chewing snuff and spitting into a Calumet baking powder can. She had coal black dyed hair, and a huge diamond ring and red-painted nails. Her language was equally colorful.”
According to Evelyn, “Aunt Maudie said she heard that her grandpa had a whole trunk full of confederate money and her grandma kept trying to get him to change it. He refused, and lost everything after the Civil War was over.”
John William Arivett, Ples Arivett’s grandfather, was born in Virginia but moved to Ballard County in the 1860s. He lived to be 98 and was married three times. He lived in Wickliffe when he died in 1940.
The business history of Monkey’s Eyebrow goes back to before the Arivetts opened their first business, which was a gristmill. A man whose last name was Ray had Ray’s Store at the bottom of the hill, down in an area which some folks call Old Monkey. Later, Guy Borden ran the store. Ples and Irene Arivett lived in a house near that store, on the south side of the road. There are no buildings there today. The area is covered with trees.
Several families lived in the area. Before the road was paved, the old road made a 90-degree turn to the north, opposite what is now Palmore Road, then it curved back toward the west, behind where Jim and Jean Meadors live now. The Arivett Store and most of the residences were northwest of the Meadors’ house. The buildings are no longer there.
Charley Waldon lived across the field (no paved road then) south of the store in the white house where Imogene Alexander lives now.
A family of Beelers lived down the road. Evelyn’s grandfather, John Wildharber, at one time owned the farm due east of the old road, a farm later owned by a Graves family and then by Herman and Pod Tilley, a part of which is now owned by Joe Culver.
According to Evelyn Hook, Wildharber came here from California, lived here two or three years, and then went back. He played in a band, When he came here he built a box that his bass fiddle would fit into. He put the box on the back of the car and brought it here with him.
The house where Charley Waldon’s family lived – where twin brothers Dot and Tot were born – was previously occupied by a family named Moss. Evelyn remembers playing with their daughter, who was about her age.
Some other families who lived in the area were Redferns, Crabtrees and Yanceys. “And there were Turners who lived down there. They used to sell watermelons. Sand Ridge grew the best watermelons,” Evelyn Hook recalls.
“There used to be some Laniers who lived down there. Judy Magee was a Hayden, and when you go by the game reserve entry there and you go on down to that curve, the Haydens lived in the house just on that curve. That’s where Judy and her sister grew up,” Evelyn said.
There was a small school “right over there in front of where that antenna is,” Evelyn said, pointing to the WPSD TV tower. “There used to be a building that was still there. I don’t know if it still is, I haven’t been down that road for a while. The building was still there even after they built that antenna out there.
“It was called Graves School. I would say 25 or 30 children went there. It had been built for a two-room school but we used only one of the rooms. If it was good weather we’d play outside, but if it was bad we could go in there, in the other room, and play games or whatever.
“The teacher that we had was real good to read to us. We used to have box suppers and she would use the money that we made from the suppers and other activities to buy books and things to entertain the kids. I love books still, and I’m sure I got it from her. Her name was Laura Lee Holt.”
The Monkey’s Eyebrow children went to high school at Bandana. There were no school buses then, but Howard Owsley, Joe Owsley’s dad, took a two-ton flatbed truck and converted it into a bus. It was closed in, with benches around the walls and a bench down the middle. It also had windows.
“He charged us 10 cents a day,” Evelyn recalls. “He would take us to Bandana and then pick us up at the end of the day. There were 15 or 20 people who rode it. He started at Needmore and drove all around the area picking up children.”
Before he built the gristmill which he and his brother Brad ran, Ples Arivett worked in California twice. He also worked on Dam 53 when it was being built, when Evelyn was about four or five years old. The Arivett family lived at the bottom of the hill then, in a house just past Ray’s Store.
Leroy Arivett recalls that his father would get up very early in the morning and walk the five miles to where they were building the dam. Because he left before daylight, Ples would carry a lantern. Evelyn said he would walk down to where the wildlife refuge is now, cross a lake and go over to where the dam was. Evelyn says she was born in 1920 and that would have been around 1925.
“And then we went to California in 1926,” Evelyn remembers. “My dad and my uncle were working out in the oilfields. I guess the oil company owned houses and rented them to the people who worked for them. We lived out there in a mountainous area and my dad wouldn’t let me go to school because he said you’ll have to ride the bus and there’s all those winding roads. He was afraid for me to ride the bus. So I didn’t go to school until I was seven years old after we moved back.”
They lived in Paducah for about a year or so and Evelyn’s first year of school was in Paducah. After that, she finished grade school at the Graves School at Monkey’s Eyebrow. That school remained active until it was consolidated with Bandana.
She went away to college at Murray State in the fall of 1938 and I didn’t move back.
The Arivetts did some farming in addition to running their businesses. Wilma taped a conversation with her uncle Horace a few years ago when he talked about the time they raised acres of sweet potatoes during the depression, thinking that they could sell them and make a little bit of money. They found it was going to cost more to ship them than they would get, so they brought them back home and ate them all winter. Horace said he still couldn't look at a sweet potato years later.
The Arivetts’ first business enterprise at Monkey’s Eyebrow was a gristmill operated by brothers Ples and Brad. Evelyn says she was always fascinated with the machinery at the mill. They had a tractor chassis in the back part of the mill. It had a big drive shaft that went all the way across and the motor would run an assortment of pulleys and belts. It had a crusher that crushed the corn and there was another grinder that made meal.
“The mill made a lot of meal,” Evelyn says. “My dad usually did that. The Yopp Seed Company in Paducah would buy bags and let my dad fill them up with meal and they would take them back and sell them with Yopp’s name on the bags.”
About a year after they built the grist mill they started putting groceries in the front part. When Evelyn was about 12, in the early 1930s, the Arivetts built a frame building to house the store, separate from the mill.
There was a set of scales between the store and the mill. Farmers would weigh their loaded trucks before the corn was ground. They would weigh them again when the trucks were empty. The difference was the weight of the corn.
Evelyn remembers that the store had about anything that you would want to buy, except meat because there was no electricity to run a cooler to keep meat.
Later, after the Arivett brothers dissolved their partnership, Ples tore down the frame building and built a new store of blocks in the same location as the first store. Those stores were on top of the hill, a location some people call “New Monkey” to distinguish it from the Ray’s Store that stood at the bottom of the hill. With the advent of electricity, that store was able to sell meat.
The Arivetts ran that store until around 1955 when they retired and moved to Bandana, where Horace already had a store.
By the time the uranium enrichment plant was being built near Kevil in the 1950s, there were 14 people living beside or around the Arivetts’ house and store in Monkey’s Eyebrow.
When the state of Kentucky acquired several of the lakes in the area, Ples fixed up rooms to rent to hunters. “He was always looking for ways to make more business,” Evelyn says.
Evelyn moved away in 1938 to go to college at Murray State. She married Harold Hook in 1942, and they lived in McCracken County, but came back to Monkey’s Eyebrow often to visit her family.
She and Harold had a store for about three years in Camelia, where the road from the Paducah Airport intersections with Highway 62.
Ples Arivett died in 1975, and Irene lived until 1999. She was 96 years old.
Comments from readers
Here are some comments from people who have read this article:
Billy Lanier: “The Laniers mentioned in your article were my grandparents, Wallace and Alice Lanier. New Hope Baptist Church sits on land given by my granddaddy.”
Mary Helen Hicks: “The Barnhill family are the ones who lived closer to Monkey’s Eyebrow and raised watermelon, right in front of Mrs. Redfern. Their son is my brother-in-law, married to my youngest sister.”
Ava Magee Siener: “How nice. I go to read about the Arivett family and come across a mention of my mother, Judy Magee.”
Jeanne Culver Thorpe: “This is a great article. I love the genealogy.”