Welcome to Joe's Place at Monkey's Eyebrow, Ky.


What am I?

March 14, 2015

          I’ve been thinking about ways we label people and how people label themselves.

          One of our national controversies today is about whether two people of the same sex should be able to marry each other.

          For that to be a subject of discussion, we must identify individuals by the way they enjoy sex. Heterosexual. Gay. Queer. Lesbian. Bisexual. That’s how we define them and us. That’s how many people define themselves: I am a heterosexual. I am gay. Instead of sexual orientation being descriptive, it becomes a noun, an identifier of who I am. Of who they are.

          Why is that?

          If asked who you are, not many of you would reply, “I am blue eyed.” That’s an adjective to describe you, not a noun to say who you are.

          Is it because sex is such a powerful, hormonal desire that we regard it as more than descriptive? And sometimes we identify by skin color. White. Black. Red. Yellow. Brown. Are we a color?

          I thought about such things yesterday as I drove my daughter to Bowling Green to her appointment with an oral surgeon. It rained the entire trip there, and it rained the entire trip back. Driving in the rain seems to encourage thinking about things otherwise not thought of.

          I, and you, have many descriptive components. I am a citizen of the United States. I am a Kentuckian. If you earn your living by raising crops, you are a farmer. If you fix leaky pipes, you are a plumber. I was a newspaper reporter and editor. I was a soldier and a sailor.

          At first, I decided that the best way to describe myself and yourself is as an amalgam of many different things. But I rejected that idea. An amalgam is a mixture of more than one ingredient, an alloy of two metals for instance. But that’s not how I see us. I see us as beings who add bits of descriptive information as we go. Instead of being a mixture of things, we are more like one thing that has stuck a lot of Post-it notes to ourselves to describe various aspects of what makes us who we are.

          Who am I? What am I?

          That led me to think about the conversation found in the Bible in Exodus 3:14. God is telling Moses that he has a challenging job ahead of him. He has been picked to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

          Moses is not certain how to take on this task. He asks God who should he say sent him. God tells Moses, at least in the King James Version I grew up with, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” I doubt if God spoke King James English but that’s how the Bible reports the statement.

          Some other versions say, “I am Who I am.”

          I have to admit, I’ve never understood what that meant, still don’t.

          I am that I am. If I asked someone who he or she is and the reply was, “I am that I am,” I wouldn’t know what the person was saying to me.

          Popeye the sailorman said something similar in cartoons, when he declared, “I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam.”

          I guess I understand that a little better than “I am that I am.” But maybe either or both of those is a better way to identify ourselves.

          Why can’t we just be people.

          At least the rain has stopped and I can quit thinking about such things.

A dirty business but someone has to do it …And I’m glad I’m not the one who has to

March 9, 2015

          People age and so do houses and the things associated with them.

          My house at Monkey’s Eyebrow is more than a century old. Some of the stuff used to build the house probably is original. Some of it is of more recent vintage.

          The bathroom is newer than some parts of the house, but it has quite a few years on it. The bathroom plumbing – sink, toilet, tub – all is connected by the same set of pipes to a septic tank buried back of the house.

          I had called on Ron’s Septic Tank Service twice since I bought this place.

          Yesterday, it became apparent that I needed to call Ron again. The septic system was sufficiently clogged that the crap … er, the sludge … in the tank backed up into the tub and the toilet, and was gurgling in the sink. It was not a pretty sight and was even a less attractive odor.

          All this happening on a Sunday night, I waited until this morning to get on the phone to Ron’s and plead for the third trip here during the tenure of my ownership. By the way, Ron’s slogan on his website is, “We’re #1 in the #2 business.”

          Ron’s truck pulled up a little before 10 this morning and the two men aboard set to work straightaway. They located the buried tank, dug down to it, and unrolled the suction hose.

          It took a lot of suction and a bit of unclogging pressure, but finally the tub and the toilet drained.

          They told me the pipe from the tank to the house is old, of inferior material and should be replaced soon. That’s a job worth a few hundred dollars. Ideally I would replace the old tank and inlet line with a modern tank and inlet line, and that’s a bunch of hundred dollars more.

          When your life drags along in an old farmhouse, you know you will run into these kind of problems. Problems, however, are offset by the joy I experience as I live out my remaining years here at Monkey’s Eyebrow. Meanwhile, Ol’ Ron and I will probably have to go through thick and thin together another time or two.


Frozen in at Monkey’s Eyebrow

Feb. 24, 2015

          I’m sure this isn’t the first time I’ve seen such conditions, but I can’t remember the other times. It appears that the ground is covered with snow, but there’s no movement of snowflakes. That’s because everything is topped with ice. It really looks odd when the sun peeks out from time to time and reflects off the icy surface.

          My Chesapeake Bay retrievers love to romp in snow but even they appear confused when they step outside onto the hard surface. Their feet don’t sink in at all. It’s almost like they’re walking on top of snow. They expect to sink in at least toe deep.

          I’m not really snowbound. I have a Jeep Cherokee so I can get around even when there’s snow, but I don’t like walking out to the Jeep. I would prefer not to slip on the ice and break a bone trying to get there.

          The snow fell a few days ago. There was a lot of it, at least a lot of it compared to what we normally would get in these parts. We had somewhere between eight inches and a foot of it. Then there was a freezing rain that put a hard, slick surface on the snow. Then some regular rain fell but not enough to melt the snow, and when the temperatures dropped down into the teens, we got more ice. Most of the ice is still there.

          I was surprised a couple of days after the big snowfall to look outside (through the window) and see a blue Ford tractor with a blade attached to it, going around my driveway. Judging by the driver’s reddish beard and long hair I decided it was Richard Pippin from down the road, doing a good deed for neighbors. And that’s who it was. I know mine wasn’t the only driveway he cleared. That’s one of the benefits of living the country life in a place like Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky. Good neighbors.

          Back several years ago, the folks who lived around here lived something like a communal life. They pitched in to help put out crops and get in crops. Most of that generation of farmers is gone now. They raised families on smaller farms. This one, owned by Herman and Pod Tilley, was 100 acres and between milk and tobacco, corn and soybeans, the Tilleys – Pod was one of my mother’s sisters – lived a good life. There’s not that sort of community cooperation now. Instead of 100 acres, farmers plant and harvest 2,000 or 3,000 acres, much of the acreage rented from the landowners and spread out in different places. The farmer and an employee or two can handle most of the work by using the huge and very expensive farm equipment available now. When Herman first started farming here he had a team of mules or maybe one mule and one horse. A farmer couldn’t manage much more than a hundred acres then, and even then he needed the help of his neighbors, and they needed his help.

          The Pippins were great friends and neighbors of Herman and Pod. There was almost a sense of kin continuity to look out and see Richard Pippin plowing away the snow, some three generations later.

          I am heating the house by burning wood in a cast iron fireplace insert that Herman installed here several years ago. I thought I had enough firewood stored in the barn to last two or three years. It didn’t even make it through this winter. I had to buy a cord of wood about a week ago. I called Betty Pippin to see if she had any she could sell me. Her husband, Billy, now deceased, used to try to keep three or four years’ worth of firewood stored. But Betty told me she had burned up every stick of wood and was now using gas logs. Not only did she burn out of wood, but the work of carrying it in got to be too much. We found someone in West Paducah who still had some wood available. Most of the people we called had already sold out.

          I like backing up to the fireplace and feeling the warmth on my back side. It remind me of that old stove in Bill Ryan’s service station in Wickliffe and of the little potbellied stove in my grandmother Culver’s home, where she and her brother Russell Jones burned coal. Those old stoves would glow red with heat, but if you got a couple of feet away you didn’t feel it.

          I normally don’t listen to the weather reports on TV because I can read the forecasts anytime I want by going to the internet and checking out Beau Dodson’s report or the report on the National Weather Service’s site.

          But my son Joe Ray Culver, who is living here too, likes to watch the weather on local channel 6, the WPSD station out of Paducah which has a tower in the field directly north of my property. I’m usually in the vicinity so I hear the forecasts. I’m probably the only person who is bothered by such things, but I can’t help it: I want to yell when the local TV weather prognosticators talk about “record cold temperatures.” Temperatures are neither cold nor hot; they can be low or high. They measure the heat. That would he like saying a runner ran a record long miles. He ran a long distance, measured by miles. I think it’s accurate to say we are having record low temperatures because thermometers are marked in a scale from low to high, but it’s not okay to say cold temperatures. Okay, I’ll admit that’s picky but I’m sorry, it bothers me.

          Speaking of forecasts, the weather reporters make snow and heat and wind and rain seem almost terrifying with their constant warnings. I’m almost as afraid now of weather reports as I am of terrorists. I really don’t need to watch video clips of cars and trucks sliding into each other. If I’m in one of those cars or trucks, I’ll know pretty quickly that I’m sliding into another vehicle or it’s sliding into me. If I’m at home watching TV I probably don’t need to watch total strangers playing ice hockey with vehicles.

          But that’s life in the polar regions of Monkey’s Eyebrow, and I like it. We learn to accept the cold and the hot, the rain and the dry, the good and the not-so- good as being part of life. And we learn to appreciate good neighbors who do good deeds like showing up to scrape the snow off the driveway so we can get out to the highway if we need to go somewhere. Fortunately, retired folks don’t really need to get out and go somewhere very often. Having heard the terrifying weather predictions, we relieved all the stores of bread and milk well before the bad weather hit.


Thank you, Shirley Williamson

January 21, 2015

          Shirley Williamson was one of the two teachers who had the greatest influence on me at Wickliffe Elementary School.

          I received a package from her yesterday, which contained two books and an art print map of Kentucky, along with a note and a note to Lethie, telling her how to cook ducks. One of the books was Judy Magee’s, “Ballard’s Brave Boys.” The other was, “Match Wits with Mensa.” I plan to read half of that one so I can become at least a half-wit.

          I wrote this note to thank her:

Dear Mrs. Williamson,

          Thank you for the books and the art print showing Kentucky counties. I will treat them with great respect because they are gifts from you.

          There is no issue about getting tired of eating ducks. I haven’t shot enough to make a good meal. Mostly I still hunt because I like sitting outdoors in a duck blind, watching ducks, geese (mostly snow and white-fronted geese these days as there are very few Canada geese who make it this far south in this milder climate), woodpeckers and bald eagles. I also like to give my Chesapeake Bay retriever, named Pod after one of mother’s sisters, a chance to retrieve after the almost daily training sessions she has to endure all year. If a misguided duck happens to fly close enough to the blind to shoot, I hope one of the other hunters (usually Danny and Tommy Ryan) shoots it.

          Like most things that we run into as we get older, your letter and your gifts triggered some nostalgic moments and good memories. I time-traveled back several years to those great days in Wickliffe Elementary School. Most of our teachers were good but two in particular rank among the major influences in my life.

          One was Christine Travis. I loved to write stuff starting as soon as I learned to make letters and form them into words. That happened to some extent in first grade under Gladys Haynes and in second grade under Miss Pearl. It was Mrs. Travis (sixth grade or seventh grade) who really pushed me to write, and she hung onto many things I wrote.

          You were the other. I’m sure many of us were influenced by you. You exposed us to thoughts and experiences that went beyond what we grew up sharing as kids in Wickliffe. You opened doors that invited us to think in new ways about new things.

          One particular set of lessons that helped me were those that re-taught us to print as an alternative to cursive writing; mine was almost unreadable. I’m not sure but you may have been the teacher who encouraged use of fountain pens. I became adept at printing very fast with my fountain pen. It may have been a Sheaffer; I don’t remember the brand but I remember that it had the replaceable ink cartridge.

          Confirming the effectiveness of your training, the next year – my freshman year at the University of Kentucky – a cousin who shared a class I took either missed or skipped several meetings of that class and, before a test, asked to borrow my notes. She was convinced that I had taken notes during class and then copied them because they looked so neat. In fact, they were the notes I had taken as the professor professed.

          Later you taught at Ballard Memorial High School but I never had a class with you at Ballard. You may have become a high school teacher after I finished my four years.

          You became a columnist for the Paducah Sun-Democrat and then you were hired in a position with the state, which led you to Frankfort. Those students who came through the school system after you left missed a chance to be led by a great teacher.

          I had to smile at your letter to Lethie, where you passed along a couple of duck recipes. Your closing paragraph was vintage Shirley Williamson: “Excuse my writing. I can’t see, can’t hear, can’t drive at 85 – but I still smoke, drink and gamble. Happy Trails, Shirley Williamson.

          And Happy Trails right back at you Mrs. Williamson. Even in your states of blindness, deafness and inability to drive, I hope you keep on those trails for many more years.


How to lose your melon and berry appetite

July 31, 2014

          Responding to yesterday’s reminiscence about the good old days when produce sellers would plug a watermelon before you bought it, my friend Tommy Ryan sent a note with a couple of mentions about one of the several “tetched” folks that made Wickliffe their home back in those days.

          I opined that watermelons tasted better in those days, or maybe it was just my taste buds that have changed. Tommy explained the difference.

          “I think what gave it that better flavor was that guys like (name omitted to avoid complaints from any surviving relatives) cleaned his finger nails with that same blade!”

          Tommy, one of Bill Ryan’s two sons, the other being Danny who was my best friend when we were youngsters and teens in Wickliffe, and afterward too until I moved away from Ballard County in 1976, and I exchange e-mails fairly often.

          We also get together a few times during duck season, typically bagging more tall tales and memories than ducks. Some of my favorite hunting days are when I get to share a blind with Tommy and Danny and Mike Miller, who grew up in Wickliffe and eventually became a professor at Murray State.

          The stories we tell and our conversations – some of them profane, a few of them almost profound – make such good times that I almost hate to have the talk interrupted by ducks. Almost. Not quite.

          Tommy shared another memory involving the same “tetched” character mentioned above.

          It seems he knocked on the front door of Bill’s house, where he lived with his wife Mary Ryan and their two sons, and asked Bill if he would like a mess of blackberries.

          “Dad said ok,” Tommy remembers, “but when he returned, he had the berries wrapped in his sweaty long sleeve shirt he had removed from under his overalls. Dad politely told him he decided he didn't ‘want’ the berries!”

          Something about a sweaty shirt worn beneath overalls that will change a fellow’s mind and cost him his appetite.


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.


Good flashback but the years are gone forever

June 9, 2014

          For just a moment – no more than two seconds, maybe just one second – it was as if I passed through a time warp that opened about 45 years into the past. Then – Whoosh – it closed and it was today again.

          Many times I’ve sat and deliberately wallowed in trips into nostalgia, but this was different. Those trips were conscious dredging up of memories. This was more like being back there in time, not just thinking about it.

          I had driven through Cairo and then followed Route 3 to the four-way stop at the intersection with 127, where a right turn leads toward Mounds. Rodney Droge had agreed to tie some bucktail fishing lures. Bucktails used to be available in just about every fishing store in the area, but it’s very hard to find them nowadays. I guess stores would rather sell those rubber or plastic jigs that fall apart after two or three fish. A bucktail will last a long time unless you snag it on some solid object and snap your line. Stores would rather sell things you have to restock more often. They make more money that way.

          I was running early so instead of turning right toward where Rodney lives, I continued on north toward Tamms. Back in the ’60s and ’70s when I was sports editor and managing editor, sometimes photographer, author of two columns, and news reporter for the Cairo Evening Citizen, I also drove a circulation run every afternoon, dropping papers at stores and at homes of carriers who delivered them to subscribers. My regular route went through Tamms, over to Olive Branch, and on up to Thebes, Gale and McClure.

          I haven’t been on that stretch of road since 1974 when I left the paper and went into the Navy.

          Then there was that flash, that moment of time travel, and I was a26 or 27-year-old newspaperman driving a circulation route.

         A short moment, but intense.

         My drive took me past places with familiar names such as Patierdale, Urbandale, Klondike, Unity, Sandusky, Tamms. Familiar names but they were not familiar to see. Too much has changed. Too much decay and places closed and in need of repair. Too many weeds.

          I thought the community of Sandusky was about the neatest looking place along the drive. Yards generally were well maintained and it was an attractive part of the drive.

          And it must have been inevitable as I looked at the places that had lost the vibrancy I remembered, I also had to look at myself. I, too, have aged and gone down a little the worse for wear, and even though I try to take as much care as I can, I’m probably too much like the places I drove past: Vibrant in memory, gray with pieces falling off in reality.

          I wish the flashback had lasted a little longer.



Just pay extra shipping and handling

May 21, 2014

          “Call right now and you can get your Gee Whiz Super Deluxe Widget Gadget for one easy payment of just $8.95. But wait! If you call within the next five minutes, we’ll send you an extra Gee Whiz Super Deluxe Widget Gadget at no extra charge. Just pay additional shipping and handling.”

          Before you pick up the phone and order, let me tell you something. First, the gadget probably doesn’t work nearly as well as the demonstration you saw on TV. Second, the shipping and handling will cost you a lot. The price you pay for the first one plus the extra shipping and handling will total more than the company has invested in both gadgets.

          I had a recent experience with shipping charges, but not because of any get-second-one-free offer on TV. I don’t order those things.

          I have a Frigidaire refrigerator. Or maybe it’s a freezer. Actually, it’s both. There’s a switch inside and depending on which way the switch is pointed, it’s either a refrigerator or a freezer.

          The bulb that illuminates the device when the door is opened burned out and I called the Sears parts store to get another one.  I bought the unit from Sears a few years ago. It’s a tiny bulb, bluish in color, not much bigger than a bulb you might find on a Christmas tree.

          It’s an expensive bulb. The invoice shows the bulb price to be $21.85. Tax was $1.85. Shipping was $8.99. Wow! The bulb can’t weigh more than an ounce. They could have wrapped it in bubble wrap, stuck it in an envelope and mailed it to me first class. Instead, they wrapped it in bubble wrap, put it inside a small box and sent it via UPS. There’s no way UPS charged nine dollars to deliver that package. The folks at Sears Parts made a nice little extra bit of money off me for that bulb. I wish they had offered a second one free. Well, maybe not. They would have put both in the same box and paid the same amount to UPS, but they would have charged me an extra $8.99 for shipping.

What! Is that what you meant to say?

Dec. 25, 2013

          I frequently see or hear sentences that sound okay until I really pay attention to what I read or heard.

          Here’s an example.

          I saw an Associated Press in the AOL news feed this morning, reporting that Queen Elizabeth had pardoned Alan Turing, who was instrumental in breaking Germany’s Enigma code in World War II.

          After the war, Turing was convicted for being a homosexual, and his sentence included intrusive surveillance and hormone treatment meant to extinguish his sex drive. He committed suicide two years later.

          It has been said that his theories laid the foundation for the computer age.

          The AP article quotes the author of a book on Turing:

          “ ‘It could be argued and it has been argued that he shortened the war, and that possibly without him the Allies might not have won the war,’ said David Leavitt, the author of a book on Turing’s life and work. ‘That’s highly speculative, but I don't think his contribution can be underestimated. It was immense.’ ”

          If a contribution can’t be underestimated, that means that no matter how little you think it was, it was even less than that. I think Leavitt probably should have said “overestimated.”

          I heard the same misuse of “underestimate” by a reporter on ESPN on October 4, 2013.

          She was reporting about squirrels appearing on various playing fields in golf, football, baseball, etc., and she said, “You can’t underestimate the role these rodents play in sports.”

          Here’s one from the Paducah Sun newspaper’s Jan. 15, 2012 issue:

          “MURRAY — In front of a record sold-out crowd of 8,691 at the CFSB Center, Murray State held onto to its undefeated season a little


          That suggests that the writer knew for certain that the undefeated season would end soon. Would it not have been better to put the period after the word “season” and leave out “a little longer”?

          Here’s another one from the Paducah Sun, this one appearing in the July 1, 2013 issue:

          “About 1 a.m., (I’m leaving out the man’s name), 25, of Benton, was walking east along the side of U.S. 68, between Griggstown Road and McKenzie Park sub-division in the Palma area, when a vehicle struck him. He appeared to die from the injuries, police said.”

          If he only “appeared” dead, they probably should have run a couple of tests so they would have known for sure.

          The Knoxville News Sentinel lets people enter comments at the end of stories in the online edition.  On August 21, this comment was among those after a story about Knox County sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones vowing to stack up illegal immigrants like cordwood:

          “Our very own erstwhile J.J. Arpaio vows to show the Obama administration who really is tough on immigrants.”

          I suspect that whoever wrote that comment thinks “erstwhile” is a synonym for “prominent” or “esteemed” or something of that order. It actually means “former” so the writer has declared the Arizona sheriff to be a “former” person.

          On Sept. 17, 2013, my good friend Chet Thornton posted a comment on his Facebook page about the low temperature inside a deli in Oak Ridge, Tenn. This one clearly involves a typographical error instead of lack of knowledge, and it’s funny in its typoerrancy:

          “We went again yesterday... took my Laboratory grade thermometer... it was 64 degrees... we sat in the window where the sun was coming in... best yet. but still cold. We both had the big bowels of chicken chili which was fantastic and very good sandwiches... My wife is addicted to the unsweetened tea…”

          Each to his own taste, but I think I’ll pass on the bowel of chicken chili, thank you.

          I’ve read and heard references several times in sports reporting about something being a team’s or individual’s first since (pick a year). A headline in the sports section of the Paducah Sun on Oct. 25, 2013, reported, “Lady Marshals earn first title since ’09.”

          Usually if sometime is worth describing as the “first since,” that implies it’s been a long time since the prior one. I think the better way to have said this would have been, “Lady Marshals earn second title in four years.”

          There was a story in the Paducah Sun’s Nov. 18, 2013 issue about an accident on a wet road on a windy day, and hydroplaning was involved:

          “Police said (I’ve omitted the man’s name), 58, of Paducah, was driving in the westbound lane when both vehicles collided head-on.”

          Isn’t it odd in describing a head-on accident to report that “both vehicles collided”? I’m trying to imagine a situation where only one of the vehicles collided in a head-on accident. I suggest that the writer might replace “both” with “the.”

          I saw this one yesterday (Dec. 24, 2013) in a headline in the Knoxville News Sentinel:

          “Family of Louisville man slain by deputy waiting for answers.”

          My first reaction was to wonder why a deputy waiting for answers would kill a man’s family, but when I read the first part of the story I realized that the family was waiting for answers after the deputy killed the man.

          Thanks goodness I’ve never made a mistake.



No, I’m not “running” for office

Dec. 15, 2013

          Someone the other day said to me, “I hear you’re running for Ballard County Judge/Executive.”

          I smiled, confessed that I have indeed filed to be a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for Ballard County Judge/Executive. The primary is May 20, 2014.

          I then told the person that I would appreciate his vote in the primary.

          I got to thinking about the conversation later and decided that I probably had not been completely honest.

          Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I “ran” anywhere for anything.

          A few extra years, a few extra pounds, a few extra aches and pains came between me and running. I can’t even remember the last time I jogged anywhere, much less ran.

          Has anyone ever claimed that he or she was “walking for office”?

          Now that would be more my speed.



A good lick with a strop

Dec. 3, 2013

          I know most of the older readers will know what a razor strop is. How many younger readers know?

          Back in the good ol’ days when a shave and a haircut were standard fare at barber shops, there was a strop hanging from every chair.

          A razor strop is a flexible strip of leather or canvas maybe about three inches wide and 18 inches or a couple of feet long. Back in the day of straight razor shaves, barbers would strop the razor before each shave. That consisted of moving the razor in the direction of the spine back and forth along the strop, alternating the direction of the spine with each stroke. There was a rapid back-and-forth movement … whish whish whish, repeated several times.

          All of which leads to this. Bill Ryan had the well-known-in-Wickliffe Chesapeake Bay retriever, Ike. Ike was a great duck dog, and he could do other things as well, such as walk to the post office to get the mail at the back door and then deliver the mail to Bill at the Standard Oil station.

          When it wasn’t duck season and if there wasn’t anything to do, the laid-back Ike sometimes would lie on the station floor and lick himself, an activity Bill described as “stropping his dick.”


Maybe I was day dreaming


August 17, 2013


          I guess because of all the showers we’ve been having, the dampness has encouraged the growth of toadstools or mushrooms in the yard. I don’t know one from the other.

          And even if I did know which was which, I still would not be nibbling on them. That means I’m pretty sure I haven’t tasted any hallucinogenic mushrooms.

          So how to explain what I saw today?

          It was 5:44 p.m. MET (Monkey’s Eyebrow Time). I was sitting out front, listening to the rain and watching little splashes bounce up like geysers off Monkey’s Eyebrow Road.

          From the east came the sound of a vehicle headed west on the road. The sound didn’t have the industrial grumble of a tractor or bigger piece of farm machinery. It didn’t have the roar of the Harleys that pass the house fairly often.

          Usually that narrows it down to a car or a pickup truck.

          But when it came into view, it was none of those. It was a limousine.

          Blink blink double take.

          A limousine. A limousine on Monkey’s Eyebrow Road headed toward … toward what? I don’t know. The Ballard Wildlife Management Area and its unpaved roads? Oscar?

          I’m sure there are lots of reasons a limousine would be on Monkey’s Eyebrow Road. Reasons such as … well, frankly, I can’t think of a single good reason.

          Maybe I was day dreaming or had dozed off and was having a dream.

          I’m pretty sure it didn’t belong here. Anything unusual that belongs here is painted either camouflage or John Deere Green.

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.”

Splish splash. Is that the medicine?

Jan. 16, 2014

          So, I was talking to the kidney specialist two days ago about participating in a medical study.

          Before he came into the room to talk to me, a couple of members of his staff had checked my weight and blood pressure, both of which were higher than they should be.

          The doctor squeezed my ankles a couple of times and listened to my heart.

          Then he said he was prescribing a diuretic.

          “Wait a minute!”  I said. “I think it was my blood pressure that was high, not my bladder pressure.”

          He said the diuretic would help keep the blood pressure down.

          “I’m not really comfortable with this,” I told him. “Because of an enlarged prostate, I pretty well know the location of every men’s room within a two-hour drive of here. On a really good day I may be able to go as much as two hours without having to pee, but on a bad day I sometimes don’t even make it out of the bathroom before I have to turn around and go again.”

          I went on to tell him that I was going to be duck hunting the next day with some good friends, and I wasn’t too happy about what demands the diuretic might make on me while I was standing there in a pair of chest-high waders. It’s bad enough splashing around with water outside the waders, and it’s much worse if the water (or at least some form of liquid) is inside them.

          He was sympathetic to my plight but not sufficiently sympathetic to change his mind. He said it probably wouldn’t be as bad as I thought because taking the medicine should increase my volume, thereby lowering the frequency.

          “I already feel like an easy-listening FM radio station,” I told him. “The volume is down but the frequency is up. I think you’re telling me it will be just the opposite, with the volume up and the frequency down.”

          He said the medicine would be something called Lasix. I thought that sounded like an eye surgery instead of a diuretic but he assured me that all the action would take place some distance south of my eyes.

          I took the prescription to Sutton Drugs in La Center. They’re such nice, efficient folks. I’ve seen people stand in the prescription line at WalMart for what seemed like hours. It’s never taken very long

at Sutton’s.

          You never know when you get a new prescription whether you’ll have to spend your week’s food money to pay for it, or walk out in not much worse financial shape than when you went in.

          So after the prescription was filled and I asked how much, I was not totally unprepared but at least a bit dismayed when she said “Forty eight, ten.” I had hoped it wouldn’t cost quite that much; forty-eight dollars seemed high.

          I got out my debit card to pay her, and she asked if I didn’t have a dollar bill or a couple of quarters. I was puzzled why that would matter, and I told her I was puzzled. She said she didn’t want to have to run a debit card for a forty-eight cents prescription.

          I wish the doctor had prescribed something like a diuretic that improves hearing.