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.
What’s your mama’s name child?
May 13, 2015
In an e-mail published on this site on May 4, 2015, George Shadoan mentioned Gladys Haynes and Billy Bob Crice among some other folks who were part of the town when he grew up in Wickliffe, Kentucky, through the 1940s and early 1950s.
Those names triggered the memory of a story my uncle Billy Bob told about his early days in Wickliffe. Billy Bob Crice’s actual name is Ernest Wells Crice. He was given that name on his birth certificate, but has always been called Billy Bob. I know, I know, that’s a little weird but it’s one of those things that sometimes happened in large families.
Gladys Haynes was a fixture as the first grade teacher at Wickliffe back in the days when each town had its own school system. I guess she must have taught for about a hundred years. She taught my father and mother, Billy Bob, me, my sister Jeanne, and maybe my brother Jerry. I don’t know if she taught any of my younger siblings. She was married to Marvin Haynes, but she was always called Miss Haynes, as far as I can remember. I think most of the female teachers were known as “Miss” no matter what their marital status happened to be. That’s just how it was. Or maybe we sometimes called them Miz. It’s hard to say for sure because we speak with a Ballard County accent.
Billy Bob moved to Wickliffe in 1933, just before Christmas. His father had been elected as Ballard County jailer and the family moved into the combination family residence/jail in December. That jail no longer stands.
When Billy Bob went to school, Miss Haynes was his teacher.
As he was new to town and her class, Miss/Mrs./Miz Haynes was trying to get some information.
She asked, “What’s your name?”
He told her his name was Billy Bob.
She checked the roll and didn’t find any Billy Bob listed, probably because he was registered by his actual name, Ernest Wells.
“I don’t see your name,” she said. “What’s your mother’s name?”
“Mammy,” Billy Bob answered.
“No, I mean what’s her real name?”
“Her name is Mammy!” an increasingly frustrated Billy Bob was the only name for her that he knew. His father’s name, of course, was Pappy.
Experienced teacher that she was, Miss Haynes decided to drop the inquisition. It’s not like there were so many children in Wickliffe that she would not be able to learn his name easily.
Besides, back at that time most boys were known by a nickname instead of an actual given name anyway. Those nicknames pretty much followed them all of their lives. And Ballard County has an exceedingly rich heritage of nicknames. (If you look in the “Around Ballard County” category on the left side of this page, you can scroll down and find a story about many of the nicknames.)
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.”