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Friday, June 29, 2018

The DNA Of Writing In, Of, And For Appalachia

A few weeks ago I met a young writer in my local area who has already self-published one novel in a series  about an Appalachian mining family of about 1918 to 1925 or so.  They are working on a second novel in the series and, despite the best of religious based intentions, knows very little of Appalachian literature, sociology, culture, or history.  I recently read the first draft of that second novel, set in Harlan County in the coal mine organizing era and made some suggestions about the work, the author's intentions, and the need to know our subject matter if we hope to be successful as writers.  I actually wrote about 2,500 words in discussion of the manuscript, my responses to it, and my suggestions for a better book.  I will use the skeletal structure of that piece of writing in this blog post about writing in Appalachia.  A day or so after I sent the written response to that author, I saw a shared post of a short article from Appalachian author Chris Offutt  entitled "Why I Always Write About Appalachia" which I also sent to this young writer since some of our ideas about writing in Appalachia coincide.  

In my discussion of the young author's manuscript, I used a technique commonly used in the mental health and counseling fields called “Sandwiching”.  What this phrase means is that when we have some negative information to impart to anyone we also impart positive information and we “Sandwich” the negative between an opening and a closing segment of the discussion. That is supposed to lessen the strong emotional responses to the negative. I have always found in pursuing two collegiate degrees and another from an institution known as the Indiana College of Auctioneers that the teachers and professors who were able to teach me the most used some technique either base on or closely related to "Sandwiching" even if that particular teacher or professor had never heard of "Sandwiching" 
I have always thought that in the best books I have read in my life that plot is a lot like the double helix spiral structure of human DNA as discovered by Drs. Crick and Watson.  The double helix spiral of DNA is a twisting spiral of two long strands which wrap around each other and twist from one end to the other much like a pair of snakes or two strands of ribbon. Along each of these strands, there are chromosomes and genes for the entire length of the spiral which serve to make up the entire contents of the DNA structure.  An above average plot also works in much the same way.  In the plot we have parallel plots and subplots which progress for the length of the novel.  Along each of these “strands” of plot and subplot we also have characters, characterizations, key pieces of information, human interactions between characters, individual and group actions, and other elements and portrayals which advance the major plot or subplots throughout the length of a novel.  Perhaps the two greatest examples of such novels are “War And Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and “Grapes Of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.  Less well-developed but still wonderful novels are “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy and “East Of Eden” by Steinbeck.  Much shorter, but equally wonderful novels, little masterpieces, are “Of Mice And Men” by Steinbeck and “One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  They have a smaller double helix, a more direct plot with much less subplot, and far fewer strands of events, people, and characterizations along the way.  But they are also genuine masterpieces and among the greatest literature in the world. I have always believed that if Steinbeck and Tolstoy had only written "War And Peace", "Anna Karenina", "The Grapes Of Wrath", or "Of Mice And Men", both of them would have gone down in history as great writers. The majority of novels are not at this level.  I also believe that if we want to become not good but better than average writers trying to be great, we need to read the works of the absolute best writers all the time.  I try frequently, and I believe that every would-be writer should try, to read the works of the writers who have either won or been nominated for the greatest literary prizes in the world: the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Hugo Award, the Man-Booker Prize, the Caldecott Medal, and the Newberry Medal.  As we read these books, we should also attempt to emulate the best elements of the work of these people.  I also recommend that people read the lesser known works of the same authors, not just their prize-winning masterpieces.  It is a wonderful way to learn about personal development of great writers. 

We should also attempt to write about the things we know best and to know the things we write about better than the people who are going to read our work. In his article about writing in Appalachia, Chris Offut concurs indirectly with that idea by saying "My 1992 book of short stories, Kentucky Straight, was the product of my own quest as a young writer for work that depicted the world I knew."  Instinctively, Offut knew that he needed to write about what he knew not what he wished he knew or what he fantasized about.  And that his where this other young writer went awry by trying to write about an area, a people, and a culture about which they knew little.   We should also attempt to write about the things we know best and to know the things we write about better than the people who are going to read our work.  That brings me to the most important words, in my opinion, in “Appalachian Values” by Loyal Jones.  On page10, in the introduction, we find these two simple, but profound sentences. “Whatever work is done in Appalachia must be based on the genuine needs as expressed by mountain people themselves.  Whatever work is done must be done with the recognition that Appalachian Culture is real and functioning.”  Those two sentences are one of the primary reasons I buy that book regularly and give it to people who express a desire to learn about, write about, or support Appalachian Culture.  Every word I write and publish about Appalachia is intended to live up to those two sentences.  In 2005, and again in 2006, myself and Dr. Heather Ambrose, PhD., one of my former professors, published articles through the American Counseling Association which were based strongly in those two sentences.  The first, “Clinical Supervision Of Counselors in Appalachia: A Culturally Appropriate Model” was delivered by us as an oral presentation at the 2005 National Convention of the ACA and published as a chapter in a book called “VISTAS 2005: Compelling Perspectives On Counseling”.  The other article in 2006, “Culturally Appropriate Counseling and Human Services in Appalachia: The Need and How to Address It” was published on the Internet, along with the first article, on the permanent ACA Internet resource site for professional counselors.  Both are frequently cited and quoted in the work of others who write about Appalachia.  Our article on “Culturally Appropriate Counseling And Human Services…” is quoted in a book called “Public Health In Appalachia Essays From The Clinic And The Field” (2014).  That chapter also cites and quotes the work of Loyal Jones in “Appalachian Values”.   Our other article, “Clinical Supervision Of Counselors…” is cited and used as the basis of much of an article called “Appalachia And Human Services” in “The Encyclopedia Of Human Services And Diversity” (2014).  I say all that, not necessarily to blow my own horn, but to impress on you that I know whereof I speak when I talk about the importance of writing about Appalachia and Appalachian people in a culturally appropriate and well-informed manner.  Both our articles are frequently quoted at the collegiate level in course materials and graduate degree level theses and dissertations.  Both are rooted strongly in the text of “Appalachian Values” and are well respected among other Appalachian writers, professors, and students.

When we write about the things, places, issues, and people we know and know best, we produce our best work.  Words flow naturally, smoothly, realistically.  We create characters who are living, breathing people who leap off our pages and our readers can recognize them and believe them.  Our plots flow naturally and the events we create are credible even to readers who also know the things, places, issues, and people we write about.  Chris Offutt addressed this issue of what happens when we write about the things we do not really know and understand in his article cited above by bringing up what I consider to be, and Offut may well also, the worst and most off base alleged "Appalachian" book written since Harry Caudill's "Night Comes To The Cumberlands", "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family And Culture In Crisis" by J. D. Vance.  Offutt is discussing what he refers to as "...false accounts of Appalachian life..." This is what Offutt says about that book and, indirectly about this compulsion of people who write without cultural, historical, and sociological knowledge, especially in the field of Appalachian Studies.  "The most recent addition to these false accounts of Appalachian life is the widely read book Hillbilly Elegy, the author of which grew up in the decaying Rust Belt town of Middletown, Ohio. Nevertheless, he blames his personal difficulties on the culture of Appalachia. The ongoing dismissal [Depiction?] of Appalachians as “lazy, dangerous, and dumb,” is the same method of denying humanity that has been applied to African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and wave upon wave of immigrant to this country."  I had written about the Vance book on this blog on November 2, 2017, at the article linked above in this paragraph.  I had assessed the book in this manner as "a splenetic diatribe about Vance's extended family which he has attempted to pass off as a discussion of the great values he sees in his deeply flawed family while also attempting to attribute the familial flaws to the general culture of which they are a minor part."  Chris Offutt and I are, by no means, the only Appalachian writers who have assessed the Vance book with similar words.  I bring the book up now only to reinforce what I have said earlier about the need for writers, especially Appalachian writers to know what, whom, and where about which we are writing. 

We must understand, as writers, that when we are not writing science fiction or fantasy literature we have a moral obligation to understand our subject matter and to make every attempt to tell the truth.  Appalachia, the land we love, and all its other people deserves no less. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Stereotyping Of Native Appalachians And How To Fight It

On several occasions in this blog, I have written about prejudice toward Appalachia and Appalachian Americans as well as ignorance by many people toward the entire history, geography, literature, music, overall culture, and sociology of Appalachia.  That mass ignorance often extends to even large portions of the native Appalachians.  At least since February 2018, I have been reading the work of native Appalachian author Pearl S. Buck, specifically the "Good Earth" trilogy.  I wrote my first post about Buck and her work in March of 2018 which was a review of her greatest novel, "The Good Earth".  It is an absolute masterpiece and, to a degree, overshadows the other two novels in the trilogy, "Sons" and "A House Divided", although either of them would have been considered a capstone to the careers of many lesser writers.  Although Buck was born in West Virginia and attended college in Virginia, she spent her childhood and much of her entire life in China.  Many students of literature do not even speak of her as having been Appalachian.  But if you read her work closely, you will find many aspects of life in Appalachia which seem to have been transplanted to her work about China such as family graveyards, familism, and paternal control of family units.  I have to admit that I do not know enough about Chinese Culture, which is incredibly diverse and complex, to speculate about it to any degree.  

But this blog post will focus on one aspect of the book, "A House Divided", which seems to have been taken directly out of Appalachian Culture.  The protagonist of the novel, Wang Yuan, the grandson of Wang Lung, the protagonist of the first novel, "The Good Earth" and the son of Wang The Tiger, the protagonist of the second novel, "Sons", has been living in a generally unnamed foreign country for six years in order to go to school, presumably college, and to escape possible execution by the authorities as a suspected revolutionary.  During this six year period, Wang Yuan's character gradually, via a series of four clearly delineated steps, develops a strong sense of national pride about China and a hatred toward foreigners.  To quote the book, "He walked and talked among these foreigners and saw himself no longer as one Wang Yuan, but he saw himself as his people, and as one who stood for his whole race in a foreign alien land."  When I read that sentence, I was instantly reminded of some of my own experiences in my teenage years when I graduated from high school and ventured out on my own into the greater United States outside my native Kentucky and Appalachia.  I will always remember an occasion when I was on a winter quarter exchange to Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, one of greatest, historically liberal northern colleges which was coeducational from its birth and racially integrated since 1835.  During that period at Oberlin, I met and was "befriended" by a student who had grown up in nearby Cleveland only thirty-five miles away.  This student invited me, one weekend during my stay at Oberlin, to attend a family dinner at his home.  We were required to ride mass transit together to his home and I was required to return to the campus alone via the same means after the meal.  To say the least, I was somewhat unprepared having spent my entire life in Floyd and Knott Counties in Kentucky where mass transit still does not exist even today.  I was also only seventeen years old and markedly untraveled.  But the part of the event which got the best of me was not the return on mass transit but the encounter with his parents themselves.  So help me God, they could not decipher my Knott County accent and, on several occasions during the meal, they would stop me and ask me to say again some word which I thought the entire world must know, and once or twice actually asked me to spell these words.  The home was not extravagant by today's standards but was clearly more fancy than most I had ever seen.  But the part that got to me the most and which I have still not forgotten fifty years later was that I instantly realized that I saw myself as my "people, and as one who stood for [my] whole race in a foreign land".  I was the poor Appalachian boy from Eastern Kentucky who had been brought home by their son for show and tell.  That experience had a formative effect on my subsequent development of my everlastingly strong and unyielding sense of pride, otherness, and identification as an outspoken Appalachian on a mission to protect, defend, perpetuate, and propagate my culture wherever I have gone for the intervening fifty years. It also helped me to reach the commitment to never deliberately lose my Appalachian accent.  But I have to admit that by virtue of travel and extensive education, I have inadvertently lost some of the accent and no think that I sound much like most of the native Knott countians who have lived their entire lives there.  I have never yielded or wavered in those effort to protect, propagate, and defend my culture during my travels from the Mid-Hudson of New York to the deserts of Southern Arizona or from Winnipeg, Ontario, Canada to Nogales, Mexico and South Florida.  I believe that Pearl S. Buck wrote that section of the novel describing Wang Yuan's commitment to his protection and propagation of the Chinese culture from the viewpoints of both a woman born and educated in Appalachia and as a woman who was reared in China and required to come to that "foreign land" of Virginia to be educated.  

Later in the book, Wang Yuan confronts two other young Chinese students whom he feels have belittled the Chinese people and their country in a stage performance before an audience of primarily American students.  During that confrontation, Wang Yuan says, "It is not true love of country to hold one's own up for cause of laughter to a people always too ready for such laughing at us."  Once again, Pearl S. Buck, through this character expressed exactly what I have felt on many occasions as I have seen native Appalachians belittle our people, our culture, and our history.  I have no tolerance for those who do this or for those who, in what they mistakenly describe as pride, call themselves and the rest of us "hillbillies" or "rednecks" with absolutely no knowledge of the true origins of the term "redneck" in that greatest battle of native Appalachians against outside interests at the Battle of Blair Mountain in Logan County West Virginia, or of the creation and propagation of the term "hillbilly" in prejudice, vilification, and belittlement .  Recently, a person I like a great deal and respect for his work in the health care professions brought up the television personality Ernie "The Turtle Man" Brown, Jr. as something or someone to be enjoyed and admired.  Instantly, I informed this man, a nearly lifelong resident of Breathitt County Kentucky, one of the most stringently Appalachian of Kentucky Counties even to this day, that I believe that "The Turtle Man" is just a con artist and idiot making money by making the rest of us Appalachians look like idiots.  I also asked the man I was talking to if he was aware of Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, one of the best documentary film companies in America.  This man, who has spent nearly his entire life in Appalachian Eastern Kentucky only sixty-five miles or so from Whitesburg, Kentucky, and had also never heard of one of their most important films, "Strangers And Kin: A History Of The Hillbilly Image". I told him and I firmly believe that every native of Appalachia should be required to see this film in school before they complete the third grade.  It would also be an excellent idea to require it again in high school.  It is an excellent educational tool about and an indictment of the stereotyping of Appalachian people which has taken place at least since West Virginian sought and achieved statehood in 1863.

Whatever effort and expense might be necessary to fight and end stereotyping of Appalachia and Appalachian people would be money and time well spent for the future of the region.  Appalachian children who were able to grow up without the prevalent sense of inferiority would be more likely to achieve better educations, better careers, and better lives.  Self esteem based on accurate knowledge of their powerful heritage would serve to enhance their sense of self-worth, pride, and self acceptance.  I urge all my readers to find a copy of "Strangers And Kin..." and watch it at least once with your entire family.  Internalize the information it contains and use that information to protect your culture for the rest of your life. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Some Immigrants I Have Known

As I have watched the steadily increasing coercion and terrorism being directed at immigrants by TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump, I have thought frequently that I needed to write this blog post.  Yet I have put it off time after time since January 20, 2017.  Due to current circumstances in American politics, I can no longer procrastinate about this post or this issue.  I will insist on saying that I have not avoided speaking my mind on this topic to anyone when the subject arose and I have always been willing to say that it is my considered opinion that any immigrant who wishes to come to America is worth more to this country than the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.  During the course of their first year in America, nearly all immigrants will pay more in taxes to the US government than TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump has paid in the last twenty years.  Any immigrant who is being forced out of the country by the current illegitimate and TREASONOUS Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate which lives in the White House would be welcome in my home to which I will never invite any Right Wing Radical Repugnican. 

Now that I have prefaced this post about some of the immigrants I have known, I will get down to the meat of the writing about these people who have crossed my trajectory and, almost without exception, enriched my life.  I honesty do not remember clearly the first immigrant I met but I remember stories I heard in childhood from old Appalachian coal miners about the immigrants they worked with in the mines of Eastern Kentucky.  My father, Ballard Hicks, and my maternal grandfather, Woots Hicks, both worked many years in the mines of Floyd County Kentucky and worked with many Italian, Polish, German, Romanian, and Czech immigrants who had often been specifically recruited and brought to the US to work in the mines because the coal companies of the time wanted hard workers who had no connections in the immediate community which meant they had no significant support system other than the coal company and, possibly, other immigrants from their own country.  In the stories I heard miners tell about these immigrants,  I do not remember any particularly disparaging remarks about them from anyone.  I heard numerous stories about how hard they worked, how they often got paid less than American citizens for the same work, and how well they were respected by their American coworkers.  The great majority of these immigrant miners stayed in America for the rest of their lives and most achieved citizenship while working an incredibly difficult job for companies who often used the old statement that "a mule is worth more than a miner.  When a mule dies, you have to buy another mule but you can always hire another miner if one dies." Companies which applied that type of thinking always applied it equally to all their miners whether American citizens or immigrants.  

Many of the descendants of these immigrant miners achieved great things in America based on the values which their parents taught them.  Daniel Mongiardo, descendant of Italian stone masons who were brought to Hazard, KY, by coal companies, became both a doctor and the Lieutenant Governor of the state.  One of my professors in the 1970's was Peter J. Laska, the descendant of Ukranian immigrant coal miners in Northern West Virginia, achieved a Ph.D. degree and was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry.  Peter Laska is one of my closest friends, professional mentors, and role models.  In Logan, West Virginia, I became friends with Monty Stagnoli, the descendant of Italian coal miners who had been brought to Harlan, KY, by coal companies and became a grocery store manager for a major chain.  All of these people achieved more than most of their classmates who were descended from people who had been considered Americans for far more generations.  

But we should discuss the actual immigrants who have been my friends, mentors, professors, coworkers, and, in some cases, heroes and role models.  In the early 1980's, when I was working as a door to door salesman in Logan, WV, I was incredibly lucky to meet a family of immigrants from Afghanistan.  I sold a vacuum cleaner to Mrs. Amena Loynab, the wife of Dr. Noor Loynab, who was practicing medicine in Logan, WV.  I was often brought into their home in Whitman, WV, for supplies or repairs related to that vacuum cleaner.  The home was always spotless and I was always made to feel extremely welcome there.  When I expressed an interest in the Koran, Amena Loynab loaned me her personal Koran wrapped in a bright yellow scarf to protect it.  Every time I ever went to that home, I was invited in, placed at the table and offered food which almost always included the best baklava I have ever eaten.  I always remember that Amena Loynab's aged father, who spoke only Arabic, would be in the house and would always pass through when he realized I was there.  He would always say nothing to me but would give a short stern speech in Arabic to his daughter which I always assumed was a reprimand about allowing a man inside the house when her husband was not present.  But, regardless of whatever he said, I was always brought into the home and treated as a respected guest. Dr. Loynab was then and still is a highly respected physician in Logan who always treated anyone who came through his office door regardless of their poverty or any other negative factors.  I will always cherish the memories I have of this immigrant family.  

In 1992, I was living and working in Lexington, KY, and for about two years on a horse farm which was a profession I had practiced in the 1970's and 1980's for nearly twenty years. I had returned to horse farm work in 1992 temporarily as I was searching for my second job placement in the human services professions.  During that time, I worked with two Mexican immigrant brothers who were some of the best horsemen I have ever known.  They also had a third brother who, as an immigrant, became one of the best, most highly respected and sought after, farriers in Central Kentucky, an area where a second rate blacksmith cannot last a week.  These brothers were friendly, open, honest, compassionate people and I will always remember an occasion when one of them gave me a dozen fresh ears of corn from their personal food supply simply because he wanted to do something nice for my wife and I.  I will always remember these brothers fondly.  

In the early 1990's, my wife Candice began to develop serious neurological symptoms which eventually caused her to spend the last eighteen years in a wheelchair.  We eventually learned from Dr. Joseph Berger, M. D. , the current Associate Chief of the Multiple Sclerosis Division of the University of Pennsylvania and retired Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Kentucky, that he was unable to diagnose the cause of her problems.  Dr. Berger referred us to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where we traveled regularly for nearly five years only to eventually learn that Candice's problems were due to a rare and untreatable genetic anomaly.  But from the first day we arrived at NIH, we were blessed to know and Candice was blessed to be treated by Dr. Elif Arioglu Oral, M. D., a young, brilliant female Muslim physician from Turkey who at the time was on a fellowship at NIH.  Today, she is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Medicine.  She was one of the best, most intelligent, most compassionate, and most honest humans I have ever known. 

When I was working on my Master of Education Degree in Counseling and Human Development at Lindsey Wilson College, from 2002 to 2005, I was blessed to know and learn from Dr. Daya Singh Sandhu, Ph.D.   Dr. Sandhu came to America with degrees from a college in his native India in English and went on to switch from English to Counseling, and, in the process, became one of the most experienced, best respected professors and authors on the topic of mental health counseling in all of America. He went on to earn three further degrees including his doctoral degree after coming to the USA.  He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited at least thirteen books on counseling related subjects most of which were published by the American Counseling Association Press.  He also has published fifty professionally refereed articles in counseling journals and has published at least eighty chapters in professional books edited by others. Dr. Sandhu is an Indian Sikh, a religion which is often misunderstood and villified by Americans who know nothing about it.  But Dr. Sandhu is one of the most compassionate, professional professors I ever had to the good fortune to know.  When I met Dr. Sandhu, he was teaching a course in substance abuse counseling in the masters degree program during his summer vacation from his full time job as Director of the Counseling and Human Development Department at the University of Louisville, a job from which he subsequently retired to join the full time faculty at Lindsey Wilson College.  There were about fifteen of us graduate students in that course.  On the last day of class in that substance abuse counseling course, he took the entire class to lunch at Pizza Hut out of his own pocket.  He was available, professional, compassionate, and served as a mentor to many of us in that graduate cohort.  I will always cherish the time I able to spend under his instruction and mentoring and I firmly believe I was a better counseling professional for the remainder of my years of practice because I knew Dr. Sandhu.  

This list of immigrants I have known and benefited from includes a housewife and mother, two medical doctors,two common laborers in the Thoroughbred horse business, a farrier in the Thoroughbred business where unskilled blacksmiths were quickly shown to the farm gate, a couple of college professors, and all of them were excellent people.  They included Catholics, Muslims, and a Sikh.  I would trust any of that group of immigrants in any situation more than I ever could anyone willing to work for TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.  I would invite them into my home gladly and I never would do the same for anyone who ever worked for the TRAITOR and International Terrorist Trump.  Any and all of those immigrants is more valuable to this country than any person, citizen or not, who is stupid enough to believe the lies coming from the Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate which lives in the White House today.  Any of those immigrants is much more highly developed morally than anyone who would participate in the separation of children from their parents and agree to incarcerate those children in tent cities in the desert.  It is long past time for this country to come to its senses and stop this rapid political, moral, and social degeneration at the hands of a Russian Agent who committed TREASON in order to steal an election. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Recreation And Linguistic Change In Appalachia

As I was taking my daily walk of an hour today in Old Mill Park in West Liberty, KY, I saw a large gathering of either a family or church group in the largest shelter in the park.  A group of several of the people were playing the game of Cornhole under the shelter roof on the concrete floor with what I sincerely hope was a fully regulation set of game apparatus.  They seemed to be having a great time.  I have to admit that I never see a game of Cornhole being played without instantly marveling once again at just how rapidly and strangely language changes in the world in general and the USA in particular.  Upon researching the term Cornhole, I learned that the American Cornhole Association and/or the American Cornhole Organization regulate the game.  One is located in Milford, OH, and I could not find a physical address for the other although I must admit that I have no need for it anyway.  I was also amazed that there are actually strict regulations about what constitutes an official game set up and equipment. There are also strict standards for what is or is not a sanctioned tournament. God help you if you and your friends and family ever participate in an unsanctioned game or tournament with equipment that does not meet the official standards.  Naturally, I wondered who in their right mind would care how near or far they are required to toss a cloth bag full or corn at a hole in a wooden elevated ramp, or how much corn goes in one of those bags, or how large the hole in the wooden ramp might be, or just how large that wooden ramp might be in all its dimensions, or how many bored individuals participate in the game, or whether or not the participants are all within a particular age range or gender, or any other mundane aspect of the game that might suddenly fall outside the official regulations.  I even found more than one lengthy discussion of various competing theories for when the game of cornhole was invented and whether it is a modern American invention or an historical Native American challenge of their athletic abilities.  

Photo of Cornhole Game by

But the reason I always marvel at the recent change in linguistics lies in my memories of how, when, and where I first heard the term "cornhole" and was told as I was given the definition that I must not ever allow a responsible adult to hear me say the word "cornhole".  My Google search of the term also revealed numerous hits of a linguistic nature on the term which I knew in advance it would do.  When I was young and for untold decades before, the official definition of the term "cornhole", as explained by the scholarly Online Slang Dictionary,  was "to be the penetrator during anal intercourse". How on God's green earth did a term with a decades old definition like that which would have to be abhorred, hated, vilified, and feared by God-fearing church members suddenly become a harmless, but somewhat meaningless, game to be played by those same God-fearing church members and their little, innocent descendants?  I am sorry to say that I could not locate a royalty free and socially acceptable photo of the other, more historical definition to include on this post.  

I also always remember, when I see a game of cornhole, an incident at a Northern KY storage auction which I was participating in as a buyer.  The lock was cut off a unit and the most visible item in the unit was a cornhole game.  I have no idea if it met regulation standards.  But, as soon as the door slid up, the auctioneer who was actually conducting the sale and I just could not resist starting a minute or two of word play and patter about the linguistic change in the term which the crowd actually loved except for one or two potential customers who appeared likely to be among those God-fearing church members who wished to buy the unit, take the game home, donate it to the their church, and schedule  a regulation tournament for even the youngest of their soon to be God-fearing descendants. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reading Ace Doubles--A Blast From The Past

Sometimes when my normal load of reading of a political nature combined with a cross section of Appalachian Literature becomes too depressing, in the case of the political literature in light of the current tragic condition of American politics and the ongoing crime spree by TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump, or just too much of a good thing in the case of Appalachian Literature, I will take a clearly demarcated break in my reading material and pick something up which is either completely outside my normal bailiwick or rather light and meaningless.  Recently, I took such a break with an Ace Double edition of two science fiction novellas by Jack Vance called "The Houses Of Iszm" and "Son Of The Tree".  

When I was young from about ten or twelve until about the time I graduated from high school, I read a lot of Ace Double books in both science fiction and western formats.  Ace Doubles, for those of you who have never encountered them, were a paperback imprint of Charter Communications which ran from about 1952 to 1978 and published books, usually novellas by a single author in tete-beche format, that is inverted and back to back, and in western, science fiction, mystery, and some general fiction.  The one I found in my collection and read had been published in 1964 and sold for .95cents.  For a young boy in Eastern Kentucky in those days, a dollar could sometimes seem as big as a wagon wheel and being able to get two stories for a single buck was a great thing.  As I was developing a more mature and personalized reading taste and style, I wove my way through several genres including the aforementioned science fiction and westerns, horse stories, dog stories, and some of the less strenuous classics.  I have since noticed that most of the work published under the Ace Double imprint had a tendency to not be top of the mark literature.  Jack Vance who wrote the two novellas I just read was both prolific and successful in the genres of mystery, fantasy, and science fiction winning numerous major awards including two Hugo's, a Nebula, a Jupiter Award, two World Fantasy Awards, and an Edgar.  

To say the least, Jack Vance could write just as could most of the other authors whose work appeared under the Ace Doubles imprint.  Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, and Andre Norton all published work under the imprint and each of them is arguably among the best science fiction authors of all time as is Jack Vance.  John Farr (aka Jack Webb) published under their mystery label.  Louis L'Amour, Nelson Nye, and Brad Ward all published westerns under the Ace Doubles imprint.  Their overall stable of authors across all the genres was talented.  But it also appears that many of them were simply chasing a buck in a tough world where every publication might lead to another and many authors accepted the imprint who might not have if they had been at the top of the public approval charts at the time they signed their contracts.  

Ace Doubles served a legitimate purpose in that period when money was less than free flowing for many Americans and they do have a place in the history of American publishing and literature, especially in the genres of western, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.  I will always remember them fondly and doubtless I will pick others up in the future at some time when I need a break or simply run into them at yard sales, auctions, used book stores, or Little Free Libraries.  So should you, especially if you have never had the pleasure of reading one before. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Common Snapping Turtles And Their Quirks

Newly Hatched Common Snapping Turtle--Photo By Roger D. Hicks
Yesterday, June 9, 2018, while mowing grass in an area of my yard that I sometimes let get a bit rough, and wild, I uncovered a newly hatched, but dead, Common Snapping Turtle.  In more than twenty-five years of living in this house, this is the second occasion on which I have found baby snapping turtles in roughly that same section of the yard.  The first occasion was more than twenty years ago when I found several live, newly hatched Common Snapping Turtles in that area.  As you can see by the photograph above, a newly hatched Common Snapping Turtle is only slightly larger in diameter than a quarter and my wedding band.  At this stage and size, immediately upon hatching they are totally independent and self sufficient. For the first few weeks of their lives they will subsist on insects, worms, and possibly even some vegetation.  But don't let their need to hatch and survive on their own lead you to jump to the conclusion that a female Common Snapping Turtle, or any other female turtle, has no maternal instincts.  

My entire yard looks down on the roof of an abandoned house owned by a neighboring farmer and that house has never been flooded.  My yard sits about thirty or forty vertical feet above the level of Big Spring Branch and White Oak Creek at their confluence.  The edge of my yard is a rocky bluff which overlooks the state highway on which I live.  My driveway drops straight off the edge of the bluff to the highway and I have actually fallen on it once near the top while shoveling snow in winter and slid on my back all the way down its ice covered surface to the highway.  To say the least it is steep and I do not necessarily believe that a female turtle would be likely to travel straight up the paved driveway to the yard which is the only relatively easy way for an animal to make the trip.  Admittedly, there is a bit of a game trail up and over the bluff, through the brush and timber which I let grow there for privacy.  But for a reptile with short little legs and a hard shell that is not a walk in the park or a swift swim on White Oak Creek.  It is a long trudge of at least two hundred feet up a creek bank, across a paved state highway, and up a brushy, rocky bank to lay twenty to forty eggs which she will cover with dirt, grass, and leaves, and never see again.  The effort involved in traveling to my yard, laying and covering eggs, and making the return trip to the creek belies the belief that turtles have no maternal instincts.  The female turtles who have laid eggs in my yard have gone a long way to find a safe, dry place for their nests well above the water line.  We are talking about a reptile which lives primarily in the waters of small creeks and near their shores and I live in a house where I have never bought flood insurance.  In fact, my banks, when I was paying a mortgage, did not require me to have flood insurance.  
Adult Common Snapping Turtle Photo by

I mentioned in a post on Facebook earlier this spring that I had saved a presumably female Red Eared Slider turtle on US Highway 460 in Magoffin County Kentucky a few miles from my home.  At the time, I assumed she too was heading somewhere to lay her eggs.  Over the years, I have found many Common Snapping Turtles on highways all across the Eastern United States.  In the majority of those cases, they are females hunting a place to lay eggs.  However, there are times when they will make such moves to find a better food source or to escape a drying water source.  But, the bottom line is this: do not be surprised if you find a female, water dwelling turtle in a spot that is high and dry. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Pinto Bean Cakes, Pickled Beets, Stuffed Peppers

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers, Pinto Bean Cakes, and Pickled Beets Photo by Roger Hicks

A few days ago on June 4, 2018, I put this photo of supper at my house on my Facebook Page, but not because I put photos of my food on Facebook as some people do.  I had put it on my Facebook Page as a test of the list of FB friends I have and got the exact results I was expecting.  I received a total of six likes from my FB friends list of 123 people.  I know that is a small number of FB friends compared to the lists of most other users of FB.  I have constantly pared down my FB friends list ever since the rise of the TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump to illegal and illegitimate power.  I simply do not have any time to waste on any supporter of the worst TRAITOR in the history of the world other than to tell the truth about his crimes once, give them an opportunity to change their minds and public positions and to move on.  I actually unfriended and blocked a former customer for whom I have had several well paid auctions after I had tolerated his support of TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump as long as I could stomach it.  I do not need money that badly and I would still not need money that badly if I was much worse off financially than I am now.  Money is not worth selling your soul to Russia, Vladimir, Putin, and the worst TRAITOR in the history of the world.  When I post a political post from the best news organizations in the world such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post, the same three or four intelligent and committed people will post Likes or comments or share such a post.  It is appalling to me that highly intelligent, well educated people, such as I have on my FB friends list,  either still support this TRAITOR or refuse to join the effort to bring about his necessary and long overdue indictment, impeachment, conviction and imprisonment.  Thank you, John D. Shelton, Heather Ambrose, Misty Baker, Dewayne Mynhier, Rick Karl, and Robert Dupes for fighting in support of America, American Democracy, the 1,500 LOST immigrant children, and the constitutional rights of every American. 

Many Americans, apparently including most of the people on my FB friends list are sticking their heads in the sand just as millions of Germans did in the 1930's as Adolph  Hitler was rising to power and beginning to start World War II and the extermination of 6 Million Jews.  Adolph Hitler, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jung Un, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are the heroes of the TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump and also the worst dictators in the world today.  When TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump visited Duterte in Manila in November of 2017, it was an act which no legitimately elected and qualified president would have ever done. When he met twice privately with Putin, without US handlers or interpreters present, it was also an act that no legitimately elected and qualified president would have ever done.  Due the ongoing crimes of Duterte such as the outright murder of his uncharged, uncovicted, and unsentenced opponents no legitimate president would have ever allowed the wheels of Air Force One to touch down in the Philippines unless a life threatening emergency was taking place on board.  The TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump refuses to pass sanctions against Russia because Vladimir Putin and Russia own him and the information in the Steele Dossier is highly likely to be 100% accurate. The federal indictments of him and all his co-conspirators just keep adding up.  They are already greater in number than in all previous, legitimate administrations of the past combined.  He insists on committing multiple acts of aggression against our closest allies while constantly speaking out in favor of Russia and Putin. He has imposed insane and destructive tariffs against our closest allies while refusing to impose sanctions against Russia for the hacking in support of his fictitious election. All these acts on the part of TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump are part of a Russian plan to destabilize the United States and our closest allies in support of Russia's long term goal of world domination.   It is long past time for TRAITOR & International Terrorist Trump to be held responsible for his crimes.   It is long past time for the rest of you to remove your ostrich heads from the sand, quit emulating the citizens of Germany in the 1930's, quit supporting TREASON, International Terrorism, Fascism, and the destruction of the US reputation abroad and at home.  Stand Up, Speak Up, and Speak Out every day as the fully aware patriots in America are doing.