Among the families in our part of Kentucky it is common for the grandfather,
often called PawPaw by the grandchildren, to tell stories to the children and
to anyone else who will listen. These are sometimes handed down family
stories, sometimes local folklore, and sometimes loosely based on actual
occurrences in community life. Here are a few of ours:
Once a neighbor woman asked Grandma Hopper why she didn't let her children go
down to play in Potts creek with the other children in the neighborhood.
Grandma replied, "I won't let any of my kids go near the water until they
learn to swim. It's too dangerous!"
After Grandma Harlan's death Aunt Edna was left to live in the house alone.
Once in the early fall I asked her if she had bought her heating coal for the
winter. "I bought one ton.", she said. "But it'll take me four or five tons
to get through the winter."
"Why then,", I asked, "didn't you just buy enough to last until spring?"
"Why, I might die before spring," she exclaimed, "and not need that much."
When I was a small boy I would ride to town with my dad once or twice a week
to get farm supplies or parts. On the way to town was a small house where a
large family lived. I was not yet a teenager, and so, did not understand the
ways of teen aged boys. I noticed each time we went by this house that one of
the boys would be sitting in the old car parked in front of the house. I know
now that they simply went out there to get away from the family and listen to
the car radio. Then, though, I asked my dad, "Why is one of the boys always
sitting in that old car."
"Why, because", said Dad, "that their family is so large that they won't
all fit in that house at once, and so, they have to take turns sitting in the
Charlie lives on our farm and is sort of a foreman and all around farm helper.
He and I build quite a lot of fences on occasion and put a lot of wooden posts
in holes in the ground. We dig the post holes about two feet deep and twelve
feet apart. It's hard work.
This summer some oil speculators came around and paid me for rights to drill a
hole to explore for oil in the back field up next to Sewell mountain. In a
couple of weeks they brought in a drilling rig and in four days had drilled a
hole about eight inches in diameter 1,875 feet into the ground. They hit lots
of rock and no oil.
Charlie looked at the hole and said, "You know, if we were to cut that up into
two foot lengths, we'd have over 900 fence post holes and that would build a
lot of fence." After discussion for a while Charlie and I decided that if we
ever again leased for oil, we'd have it in the lease that if no oil was hit
the oil men would be required to cut the hole into fence post hole lengths.
I told the oil men that if we didn't hit oil, it would be my fault. "How do
you figure that?", one asked.
"Well, you see", I said, "Charlie and I have worked together for years and we
jointly make decisions like when to mow hay so it doesn't get wet or when to
sow the tobacco beds. If something went wrong and the hay got wet or the
tobacco plants got frost bitten, we'd argue about who made the decision and
was to blame. We finally decided that arguing about blame was foolish and
that from then on we'd just take turns taking the blame. A cow died the other
day and Charlie took the blame, so it's my turn next."
Charlie said, "If I can't catch the sick calf to treat it, then it isn't sick
enough to need treatment anyway."
Charlie needed help stripping tobacco in the fall one year, so he hired three
women who were temporarily laid off from their jobs at the local garment
factory. Charlie told them that he would pay them by the hour. The day they
arrived was a cool, windy, rainy fall day and Charlie and the women went to
the barn about a mile back in the fields at the foot of Sewell mountain. We
had the barn hanging full of tobacco, so they made a table to strip tobacco in
the main hallway. Since the barn hallway was open the wind passed down the
length of it. Charlie said that as long as you kept working it wasn't too
uncomfortable but if you got still for very long it became downright cold.
Noon came and Charlie told the women to quit for lunch. So Charlie and the
three women sat down in the barn with their backs to the barn wall to eat the
brown bag lunches they had brought with them. Since it was cold everyone ate
fast and they were finished in about ten minutes. Charlie was anxious to get
back to work because it would be warmer working. So he got up and said,
"Let's get back to stripping tobacco." "No", said the women, "at the shirt
factory we always get an hour for lunch and we intend to have it."
"So", Charlie said, "they sat there for an hour in the cold while I
stripped tobacco. They knew they weren't getting paid for sitting and they
were cold. But they were entitled to an hour for lunch and they weren't going
to let anyone beat them out of it."
Neighbor, Lillie Johnson, said that she didn't enjoy her visit to Disney World
because there were so many people there speaking foreign languages. She knew
they were talking about her. Otherwise, why wouldn't they have just spoken in
English? As she said, "They are not of our kind."
A young man named Earl worked on the farm for a while several years ago. At
that time we would clean out fencerows and wood lots in the spring and fall
and cut the trees into firewood length. We would then stack the firewood and
sell it in the winter. Anytime a winter storm was predicted we would get
several calls from people who had suddenly noticed that they were about out of
wood and needed an urgent delivery before the snow flew. I would take the
orders by phone and get the directions for delivery and Earl would load the
truck, deliver the wood and collect the money.
One day I sent Earl with a load of wood to a house in the Nolan subdivision in
town. A few minutes after he left I got a call from a local lawyer. He,
too, wanted a load of firewood. I explained that the truck was now making a
delivery but that I would send him a load as soon as it returned.
About twenty minutes later the lawyer called back. "How'd you do that?", he
"What?", I replied.
"Why, deliver that wood so soon. As I hung up the
phone from talking to you a few minutes ago, your truck pulled into my
driveway and the young man said that he had a load of wood for me that you had
After he returned Earl and I figured out that he had misunderstood the
instructions and had gone to the wrong street in the subdivision and to the
third brick house on that street. It turned out to be the lawyer's house and
he was just placing his wood order as Earl pulled into his driveway. After
that we had a reputation for prompt service for quite some time.
Earl was never one to put stuff away. One day he watered the hogs and left
the water hose stretched from the water faucet across the dirt farm road to
the hog pen. Later that morning I told Earl to go disk the tobacco ground.
He hitched the disk to the tractor and tore off down the farm road toward the
tobacco field. He didn't see the hose until he had run the disk over it and
cut it into about 16, eight inch lengths.
That made Earl so mad that he stopped the tractor, got off, and spent the
next five minutes kicking the disk. I guess the disk was kind of stupid to
have run over that hose.
One day after Earl had made a mistake he commented, "What I don't know would
fill a book."
"Maybe even two books.", I allowed.
Charlie said he knew a number of young men who went to Nashville, "looking for
work, afraid they'd find it."
Charlie's teen aged grandson, Hank, wanted to work to make some spending money
so Charlie gave him several odd jobs around the farm to do. The dirt had
settled above a water line we had installed leaving a hole about the size of a
couple of five gallon buckets. Charlie told Hank to fill in the hole so no
one would stick a leg into it or drive into it. Later that day Charlie
checked the job. He said, "Hank did a good job filling in the hole, but when
I looked around there was another hole the same size in the old tobacco bed
nearby." It seems Hank got the dirt to fill one hole by digging another
Cecil and his cousin Silas lived in our neighborhood. Cece and Si decided
that they'd go off to truck driving school in Cincinnati so they could learn
to make a better living for themselves.
One day the instructor asked Cece a hypothetical question. He asked, "Cecil,
suppose you are driving your heavily loaded semi and you have started down a
long hill. You push on your brakes and find you have none. You look at the
bottom of the hill and see an intersection and a railroad track. A train is
coming and a school bus full of children is approaching the intersection.
Your truck is gaining speed and you can't stop. What will you do?"
Cece looked properly horrified. Then he answered, "I guess I'd reach over
into the sleeper and wake up Si."
"Why would you do that?", the instructor wondered.
"Well sir", Cece said, "Si ain't never seen no really bad wreck!"
Si met a girl in Cincinnati and decided to marry her. A local man warned him,
"Si, don't you know she's made love to most of the men in Cincinnati."
"Well, that's not too bad.", Si allowed, "After all, Cincinnati ain't no
really big town."
After returning to Albany, Si went to town one day to buy a chain for his
chain saw. He went into Herschel Cross' Grocery and Hardware store and asked
Mr. Cross the price of a chain. When told the price was eight dollars, he
said, "That's too high! Jim Smith across the street priced it to me for seven
"Well", said Mr. Cross, "Why didn't you just buy it from him then?"
"Because he doesn't have any.", replied Si.
"I could sell it to you for six dollars if I didn't have any", said
Mr. Cross, "but since I do have them the price is eight dollars."
For years Cecil drove to Burkesville, a town twenty miles from Albany, once a
week to buy four plugs of chewing tobacco. It sold for a nickel less per plug
in Burkesville than in Albany. He never knew or cared that the two gallons of
gas he used going to Burkesville and back cost him fifty or sixty cents and he
was only saving twenty cents. More important to him was not letting those
Albany merchants cheat him out of that nickel.
After Uncle Herschel married Aunt Martha he noticed that whenever she cooked a
roast she would prepare it by cutting off the end. He asked her why she did
that. "Because", said Aunt Martha, "my mother always cut the end off and she
taught me to do it that way." Uncle Herschel shrugged.
Sometime later Uncle Herschel and Aunt Martha went to her parents' home for
Sunday dinner. When the roast was served Uncle Herschel noticed that the end
had been cut off before it was cooked. Uncle Herschel asked Aunt Martha's
mother why she did that. "Because", she said, "my mother always cut the end
off and she taught me to do it that way." Uncle Herschel shrugged.
At Christmas Uncle Herschel and Aunt Martha were at the home of Aunt Martha's
grandmother. Uncle Herschel was in the kitchen and noticed the grandmother
cutting the end off a roast. Uncle Herschel asked why she did that. She
replied, "When I first got married, we went out and bought utensils to set up
housekeeping. I got a roast pan that was too small. So I've always had to
cut the end off the roast to get it to fit in my pan."
At the barbershop one day the conversation turned to businessmen who had
businesses on the courthouse square in the decades after World War II. One of
these was Mr. Tallent, a cobbler. That's a shoe repairman for you people too
young to know the word, "cobbler". There was a time when people could not
afford to throw away their old shoes and buy new so they had them repaired and
a person could actually make a living repairing shoes.
Anyway, Mr. Tallent always spoke softly and tended to repeat himself. At that
time Fred Shearer from nearby Monticello had just opened a meat market on the
square down the block and across the street from Mr. Tallent's shoe shop. Mr.
Shearer came into Mr. Tallent's shop one day with a loose heel on his shoe and
asked Mr. Tallent to fix it. So Mr. Shearer took off his shoe and Mr. Tallent
nailed the heel back tightly in place.
Mr. Tallent handed the shoe to Mr. Shearer and said, "That'll be a nickel.
That'll be a nickel."
Mr. Shearer stuck his hand into his pocket and suddenly realized that he
didn't have any money with him. He said, "I don't have any money with me.
I'll run across the street to my store and get your nickel."
Mr. Tallent said, "That's fine. Leave the shoe 'til you get the money.
Just leave the shoe 'til you get the money."
Another time Jim Riley, another merchant with a store on the town square, came
into Mr. Tallent's shop to get his broken dog collar repaired. Mr. Tallent
sewed the collar together and said, "That'll be fifty cents. That'll be fifty
Mr. Riley handed him a dollar and Mr. Tallent gave him fifty cents change.
Mr. Riley turned to leave the shop and sticking his hand into his pocket
pulled out the fifty cents. He turned to Mr. Tallent and said, "I didn't
realize I had fifty cents. Here, I'll just give you the fifty cents and you
can return my dollar."
Mr. Tallent did.
Later that day Mr. Tallent must have thought the transaction over because
when he closed his shop that afternoon, he immediately went into Jim Riley's
store mad as a wet hen. He walked up to Jim Riley and said, "You didn't pay
me a cent, didn't pay me a cent."
Parrott Partin was a forestry aide and crew leader from Bell County. One hot
summer day he took a ten man prison crew from the Bell County Forestry Camp to
clean out brush under the electric line leading to Beech Fork fire tower on a
mountain top in Leslie County. That afternoon as I walked out of the office
Parrot and his crew pulled into the parking lot. The prisoners piled out of
the crew truck and gathered around Parrot's pickup. They were still carrying
the double bit axes and brush axes they had been using on the mountainside
that day. I walked by to see what was going on. Inside the truck bed lay a
large rattlesnake literally cut to pieces. The prisoners, mostly from the
streets of Louisville and scared to death of being in the woods, smiled
proudly. "We found this snake on the mountain.", Parrot spoke slowly as was
his way. "You know", he drawled, "rattlesnakes can't hardly stand them axes."
That's the only time I have ever felt sorry for a rattlesnake. It had the
misfortune to be in the path of ten scared hardened criminals all carrying
axes and other cutting tools.
Mattie Riddle was an old mountain woman, a widow, who lived at the back of our
farm up next to Sewell Mountain. She grew tobacco and a garden. When she
didn't have a mule she would pull the plow herself to plow the garden. She
once walked two miles across Sewell mountain before daybreak to buy a couple
of 40 pound pigs. She put the pigs in a burlap sack and carried them the two
miles back across the mountain.
Mattie said that she had noticed all her life that the rows on the outside
of the tobacco patch always had much smaller tobacco than the interior rows
and so they weren't worth much. She said she figured that this year she
would just leave the outside rows off and not set them in plants since they
never did very well anyway.
Mattie and her sister, Lizzie Daniel, had a falling out with Perry Cash back
in the 1930s. Perry Cash owned our farm at that time. Mattie and Lizzie
brought charges against Perry. They said he had been shooting at them. On
the witness stand Cash's attorney asked Lizzie how she knew that Perry was
shooting at them. Lizzie said, "Well I was a hoeing corn and I looked up and
seed the bullet a comin' straight at me. If'n I hadn't ducked, it would've
hit me right betwixt the eyes."
Perry was acquitted.
When Grandma Davis died and the women were going through her house to figure
out what to sell and what to keep, they found a plastic bag containing
hundreds of pieces of string from 1 to 10 or 12 inches in length. Grandma had
neatly labeled the bag, "Pieces of string too short to keep."
My dad said that when he went to Indiana to visit Grandma once he was staying
with her for a few days. One day he decided to go out to visit some friends
of his. When he returned to Grandma's house, she had left on an errand and
all the doors were locked so he couldn't get in. It was no problem though
because he found a sheet of note paper taped to the window of the front door
where he would be sure to see it. The message on the paper said, "Jesse, the
key is in the mailbox".
Mama always stored apples in the top of the springhouse in the fall. She
piled them in sawdust. The warmth of the water from the spring beneath and
the cover provided by the sawdust on top would keep the apples from freezing
during the winter. Every few days she would go to the springhouse to get
apples to cook in desserts and to eat with meals. She would always pick those
apples for meals that didn't look like they would keep much longer, usually
those with rotten spots already beginning, so that they wouldn't rot and be
wasted. The net effect of this was that we spent the whole winter eating
apples that were almost rotten even though there were lots of good apples in
Due to new regulations imposed by the state it became necessary for the local
school board to impose a 3% utility tax on water, gas, and electric usage in
the county. Some people became angry about the tax so the school
superintendent and the school board held a public meeting to explain the
reasons for the tax.
At the meeting a local businessman rose to criticize the tax and the school
board. He said, "These people are trying to pull the wool over your eyes,
folks. They say they are only imposing a 3% tax on us. But anybody knows
that a 3% tax on electric, and a 3% tax on water, and a 3% tax on gas actually
adds up to a 9% tax." As the superintendent told me later, "That guy learned
his math in the local school system, too."
Aunt Mae says that the tomatoes she grew this year were awfully good because
they didn't have any seeds so she will be sure to save seeds from them this
fall so she can grow the same kind next year.
When they told Hazel Jones that a group of Zen Buddhists had bought a farm and
moved into the county, she remarked, "Well, I don't know what a Zen Buddhist
is but as long as they read the King James Version of the Bible they're fine
with me. I won't have anything to do with people who don't read the King
James Version though."
Last names around here can sometimes lead to interesting businesses. Two that
come to mind are the "Breeding Hotel" in Monticello and "Strange Live Bait" in
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