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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Always Confront Political Ignorance

Yesterday, November 28, 2017, I had an appliance repairman in my home working on my washing machine.  He has been in my house on several occasions over the last few years since it seems that the relatively expensive, high tech, front loading washer we bought a few years ago seems to eat software and other parts regularly.  Until yesterday, he had never broached any political subjects and that might be due to the fact that he and his brother recently took over the business from his former partner and the founder of the business upon his retirement.  But as he was working on the washer, we talked about many random subjects just as we always had before.  But during the the course of the conversation, he made the statement that "the problem with this country is that all the big corporations think there is nothing in the world except the left wing people".  Just as I always do in such cases with anyone, anytime, anywhere, I confronted his error in logic.  I responded "no, the problem with the country is that we have a Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate illegally occupying the White House".  

Freeway Carpets, El Paso, Texas, Photo By Roger D. Hicks

That response obviously was not the answer the man had been expecting but I have to give him credit.  He took it well as I proceeded to go on to inform him that in my opinion TRAITOR Trump is just that and nothing more, a TRAITOR, and that nearly everyone close to him is also a TRAITOR.  I went on to tell him about the long and ever growing list of evidence and documented incidents of illicit contacts between TRAITOR Trump, his Right Wing Radical minions, and various Russian operatives.  We also talked about the recent timeline of events in the Robert Mueller investigation and how the road is being paved to indict, convict, impeach, and imprison not only TRAITOR Trump but the great majority of his flunkies.  I reminded him that Russia and Putin seem to have begun to groom TRAITOR Trump for his current status as a Russian operative sometime in the 1980's with the onset being linked to the original deal to allow a TRAITOR Trump Tower in Moscow.  I have to admit that I failed to inform the repairman of the number of Russian covert operatives who mysteriously died immediately after the 2016 US Presidential Election in what seems to be an attempt to prevent any of the operatives who had contact with TRAITOR Trump from living to potentially defect and testify against the scheme, Vladimir Putin, and TRAITOR Trump.  

Freeway Carpets, El Paso, Texas, Photo By Roger D. Hicks

I also neglected to advise him of a recent article from Bill Moyers on his website in which he interviewed attorney Steve Harper, one of the top court room performers in the world of big time criminal law, about the rapidly moving events related to the Mueller investigation and the potential outcomes of that investigation.  I also informed the repairman of several legitimate sources of news which could help to relieve him of some of naivete and provide him with actual news instead of the fake news he had been receiving from a variety of Right Wing Radical Repugnican sources.  Additionally, I told him about several of the well informed people I know who would also be willing to assist him in relieving him of his factual void.  I told him about four people I had met on my recent southwestern vacation.  Those people included a carpet store owner in El Paso, Texas, who uses his outdoor marketing sign on a daily basis to post messages about the crimes of TRAITOR Trump and the Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate which he directs.  In that group is also a retired associate superintendent of schools in Austin, Texas, and her retired teacher/chef husband who work daily to assist in the effort to have Traitor Trump held responsible for all his crimes, past, present, and future.  Additionally, the group includes a retired engineer with a plethora of international business experience who lives in a gated community in Arizona and runs a business testing golf equipment for manufacturers and once got out of the car of an acquaintance more than thirty miles from his own vehicle because the acquaintance insisted on repeatedly defending TRAITOR Trump.  The last of the people on this list of which I advised the repairman is a retired plumbing contractor in the Baton Rouge area who started telling me of his knowledge of the crimes of TRAITOR Trump literally as soon as I entered his home.  I also informed the repairman of two men I know who between them spent nearly fifty years in the US Army, both with long time high level security clearances, who work daily to inform the world of the crimes of TRAITOR Trump.  The man did state that he would check out some of the honest media sources of which I informed him including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic.  He might do as he said and check the sources.  He might not.  But, based on the information I gave him, he can never again say that he has not been told the truth about the danger in which American Democracy exists today.  

And that is exactly what every American citizen should be doing every time anyone, any time, anywhere attempts to disseminate support for TRAITOR Trump, his lies, his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate members, or any other aspect of their efforts to destroy American Democracy.  Always stand up, speak up, and speak out when the supporters of TRAITOR Trump attempt to spread the disinformation, fake news, and outright lies about the criminal conspiracy currently under investigation by Robert Mueller and his staff.  


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Crum" by Lee Maynard--Book Review

Maynard, Lee: Crum( Morgantown, WV Vandalia Press 2001)

As I said in my recent review of Lee Maynard's book "The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots And Hallucinations In An Imagined Life", I had never read his work, by my deliberate choice, until after his recent death.  Quoted below is my introduction to that first review of a Lee Maynard work:
"Until Lee Maynard's recent death on June 16, 2017, I had never read any of his work.  Maynard was, and will always be, a controversial figure in the world of literature in West Virginia and Appalachia.  His first published work, "Crum", was actually banned from sale at the Tamarack Center in Beckley, WV, due to its perceived extreme negativity to Crum, WV, Maynard's hometown, and to West Virginia and Appalachia in general. Most of the West Virginia and Appalachian writers who have been my mentors and friends also held Maynard in contempt for the same reason.  We rarely, if ever, discussed him or his work.  And generally, to a person, we never bothered to read his work.  I chose to read this book  [The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots And Hallucinations In An Imagined Life] after having read some comments, in a newspaper obituary, from Cat Pleska about Lee Maynard, his death, and his writing.  Cat Pleska and I have never met but are now Internet and E-mail friends and I trust her judgment. I am glad I read the book." My Appalachian Life July 30, 2017

Since reading that first Lee Maynard book, I have become a dedicated reader of his work, while continuing to hold some serious misgivings about some of his actions as a writer, a West Virginian, and an Appalachian.  At his best, Lee Maynard was a powerful and talented writer.  At his worst, from my viewpoint as a native Appalachian writer and protagonist for the Appalachian Culture, Lee Maynard was an inflammatory, abrasive, and insulting writer who sometimes used the bully pulpit which his popularity provided to defame, denigrate, and abuse his native state and Appalachia as whole.  But I was sufficiently impressed by the quality of much of the writing in "The Pale Light of Sunset..." to delve deeper into Maynard's work.  I have now nearly completed reading every book which the man published.  "Crum" was the next book I chose to read after completing "The Pale Light of Sunset...".  Although I have continued to read the body of the man's work after reading "Crum", I must say that if it had been the first of his books I read, I would not have continued in the effort and I might well have not even finished the book.  The opening page describes Crum, the town of Maynard's nativity as a "...sad little town...awaiting each stagnant winter with all the patience, good looks, and energy of a sloth."  The third page describes Kentucky, the land of my nativity, as a "...mysterious land of pig fuckers".  Most native Appalachians who have read such comments about our homeland have a natural and well justified tendency to throw such comments into the burn barrel, whether they came from a recognized writer of  Lee Maynard's stature or from a cousin who was writing back home after making a foothold in the industrial north after fleeing Appalachia.  

In her introduction to "Crum", Meredith Sue Willis states that "The novel, then, makes a remarkable journey from the opening descriptions of barren shacks to a rich human and natural landscape."  She goes on to conclude that "this is a novel about love of place".  I will not concur with Ms. Willis completely in that assessment.  But I have stated elsewhere that I believe in some of the writings which appear in "The Pale Light of Sunset..." that Maynard did love West Virginia and Appalachia.  It is much more difficult to reach that conclusion about him if "Crum" is the first of his writings which the reader encounters.  

My friend and mentor of forty years, P. J. Laska, and I discussed Lee Maynard and his work during my recent visit with Laska at his home in Arizona.  He reminded me of an essay he had written about Lee Maynard and Denise Giardina in 1990 entitled "Saints And Sinners The Either Or Syndrome In Appalachian Fiction" and provided me with a copy of the essay.  In the essay, Laska states: "Crum" has realistic details but they are cut off from any meaningful context."  Laska goes on to say that "Crum" is a one-sided picture of life in Appalachia.  It isolates the comic, the crude, the trashy, the disgusting."  But he goes on to say in that same paragraph that "Crum's details are not false.  The deprivations, the narrowness of experience, the boredom, the crude pleasures that relieve it--these ring true."  And therein lies the conundrum that Lee Maynard presented to the world in general and to native Appalachians in particular.  

The conundrum of Lee Maynard leaves the reader, especially the native Appalachian reader, with some serious questions.  Did Lee Maynard love or hate West Virginia and Appalachia?  Did Lee Maynard intentionally denigrate and defame the town of Crum, the state of West Virginia, and Appalachia as whole?  And, for me most importantly, after he achieved fame did Lee Maynard perhaps regret the damage he had done to his homeland?  These are not simple questions to answer.  They do not lend themselves to a quick, brief discussion and an easy fix.  Lee Maynard understood Crum and Mingo County.  He chose to leave them behind and to write a great deal of highly inflammatory material about them.  But he also chose to return to West Virginia every year for the annual conference of West Virginia writers as my friend Edwina Pendarvis, an equally broadly published Appalachian writer,  has reminded me.  In a recent e-mail she said this about Maynard: "I knew him just a little bit because almost every summer for several years he came to the WV Writers conference.  I think he liked WV but wouldn't want to live there!"  He also returned, as he wrote so eloquently about in "The Pale Light Of Sunset...", to the farm of a long time friend to deer hunt and rode his motorcycle on most of those trips.  I will never believe that anyone rode a motorcycle from Santa Fe to West Virginia just to see place they hated.  

But to get back to the real subject of this review, the novel "Crum", let's consider that book alone, on its own merits, strengths, and weaknesses.  It is a novel which has caused the blood of many a native Appalachian to boil.  I am sure that many copies of it have been thrown into either the Tug River or a good, hot fire.  It is also a novel which is frequently listed on long lists of works by Appalachians.  It is now sold in Tamarack, the West Virginia cultural and tourist attraction near Beckley, where it was banned for many years.  That is actually where I bought my copy.  

I was born in Lackey, Knott County Kentucky, about fifteen years after Lee Maynard was born in Crum, Mingo County, West Virginia.  Our birthplaces are only about sixty miles apart.  We grew up in very similar communities and attended very similar high schools.  Based on our personal experiences and educations, we seem to have to reached different conclusions about our homeland.  I might also add that I lived in Logan and Mingo Counties in West Virginia for about five years and worked as a door to door salesman in nearly every inch of Lee Maynard's home environs.  I know Mingo County nearly as well as I know Knott County.  I consider myself to be just as much a West Virginian as I do an Eastern Kentuckian.  They are both soaked deep into my blood, bones, psyche, and soul.  

In the novel "Crum", Lee Maynard insulted both West Virginia and Kentucky in ways that were hurtful, deliberate, and likely not fully founded in facts.  But the novel is still worth reading.  It tells a story that resonates with a significant portion of the populace both in Appalachia and out.  It is a tale of alienation, deprivation, and determination.  Lee Maynard's narrator uses his God given talents to leave Appalachia and seek his healing elsewhere.  Most characters created by native Appalachian writers choose to grit their teeth and either stay at home or return after a brief hiatus elsewhere.  In my opinion, the novel has enough redeeming virtues in its writing to make it worthwhile to read.  But, if you are a native Appalachian, be prepared to see words in print that leave you wishing you had your hands on that rascal.       

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Another More Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner With Family, Saturday, November 25, 2017

Today, Saturday, November 25, 2017, we drove to Prestonsburg, KY, again for a second, more traditional Thanksgiving Dinner with family, most of whom had been at our earlier state park lodge buffet Thanksgiving Dinner.  A couple of faces were different but the attendance was about the same, roughly a dozen.  The meal was at my cousin Judy Terry McGuire's house in Prestonsburg where we seem to get together about once a year.  Judy's husband, Eddie McGuire is an excellent cook and raises a large garden each year, cans and freezes a lot of vegetables, and does an excellent job with a lot of homegrown food.  Most other attendees bring some sort of side dish and it turns into a large, traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, coleslaw, cakes, pies, etc.  This year, with the temperature at midday around the high fifties, anybody who wanted to could spend some time outside while others watched football and talked inside.  

As I had said in my earlier post about the buffet dinner on Thursday at Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge, I would rather have a traditional family meal with family in a home setting even if I was eating bologna sandwiches.  Actually, I haven't had funeral bologna for while and that might be an interesting twist for a family holiday meal sometime.   How about a menu of funeral bologna, peanut butter, brick cheddar, and other sandwiches with the only rule being that any item brought to the dinner would need to have been available in a small country store in Knott County Kentucky about 1958.  You could maybe add a few roasted or boiled chestnuts, paw paws if you could manage to save a few until late November, an allowance for grocery mix candy, chocolate drops, and sugar stick candy for dessert.  That could generate a lot of old memories and a lot of long winded stories.  I might try that sometime...Kentucky Border Bologna and crackers.  But you can no longer find saltine crackers with all four squares still together for sandwich making instead of the current method of selling them in single squares in a cellophane tube.  Maybe add a few Koolickles.   For those of you who don't know about Koolickles, they are dill pickles soaked for several days in a large jug of your favorite flavor of Kool Aid.  I think this idea could be turned into a good meal for those who remember the old times. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Mildred Haun Conference--Walters State College, Morristown, TN, February 2-3, 2018

The 2018 Mildred Haun Conference will take place at Walters State College in Morristown, TN, on February 2-3, 2018.  The featured author at this year's conference, in addition to Mildred Haun, will be Marie Manilla, whose work I have written about on this blog and also previously published a review of her novel, "T he Patron Saint Of Ugly", in the Appalachian magazine "Now And Then".  Marie Manilla is a native and current resident of Huntington, WV, and the great majority of all her published work focuses on Appalachia with just a wee bit based on Texas which she knows well.  Manilla is often the featured writer at conferences these days which focus on the literature of Appalachia and she well deserves that attention.  

The focus of the conference is titled "Who Tells Our Stories: History, Haints, and Happenings".  I apologize for the fact that I did not mention this conference on this blog before the submission deadline for papers and presentations had passed.  The conference staff are also establishing an online journal this year which will publish the best papers from the conference where they will be available for the foreseeable future.  I will be presenting a paper at the conference on Saturday afternoon, February 3, 2017.  That paper is titled "Mary Dorthula White and Saint Garnet: Saints Or...?"  The paper will examine similarities in and differences between two major female characters, one each of which was created by Haun and Manilla: Mary Dorthula White, the protagonist/narrator of Haun's book, "The Hawk's Done Gone" and Saint Garnet del Vulcano, the protagonist/narrator of Manilla's book, "The Patron Saint Of Ugly".  

If you have not read the work of either of these women, you should spend the money to alleviate that void in your knowledge of Appalachian Literature, especially Appalachian Literature by and about women.  Marie Manilla is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop which has furthered the education of Flannery O'Connor, John Irving, and Wallace Stegner.  It is arguably the best masters degree level creative writing program in the country.  Admission to this program in and of itself is a statement that the applicant has demonstrated talent well above the average. 

Mildred Haun was a 1937 masters degree graduate of Vanderbilt University under the well known writing professors John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson.  Haun only published one book of fiction, the aforesaid "The Hawk's Done Gone", which is one of the finest little books ever produced in the state of Tennessee.  She wrote the stories in the book during her writing classes and never sought to publish another book.  Her masters thesis "Cocke County Ballads And Songs" is widely considered one of the best collections and examinations of the folk songs of Appalachia ever assembled.  The book, "The Hawk's Done Gone", is a unique work in many ways.  It is an outstanding use of Appalachian dialect in a fictional setting.  The dialect used in the book is that of Cocke County Tennessee around the turn of the twentieth century at the time of Mildred Haun's childhood.  It is a shame that she never wrote and published more both in the fields of fiction and non-fiction.  The book also bridges the gap between the novel and a collection of short stories with a central narrator and protagonist in most of the stories and a central cast of recurring characters.  The book does have a rough time line which runs parallel to the narrator's life which further blurs the line between novel and short story collection.  It is a book well worth reading for many reasons.

I would love to see all of the regular readers of this blog at the conference.  I will also look forward to reading comments on this blog from those of you who have read or will read the works of both Haun and Manilla. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving With Family At A State Park Lodge

Today, my wife Candice and I had Thanksgiving Dinner with ten other members of our extended family at the Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge which has recently been refurbished after a major fire.  There were twelve of us at the dinner which had at least a couple of hundred diners during the time we were there.  Apparently, nobody wants to cook a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner anymore.  We represented three generations of our maternal grandparents' descendants.  There were four of us first cousins there from the seven which were raised by our mothers, sisters Mellie Hicks Hicks and Ellen Hicks Terry. Two of that original seven are now dead.  There were three spouses or significant others of that group, one daughter of my cousin Jack Terry, one daughter of my cousin Greg Terry, and several of Jack's grandchildren.  This was the first time many of us in the family had met Greg's daughter, Shay, who suddenly appeared in his life not long ago after finally learning who he biological father is.  Neither of them had known of the identity or existence of the other until very recently.  That, in and of itself, made it an interesting meal. 

The buffet was served in a large dining room, one of two, which must have seated at least a hundred people.  The staff worked constantly and kept drinks refilled, dirty plates bused, and minor requests for information answered.  I am certain they never received, in that kind of setting, anywhere near what they deserved in tips. The standard 18% for large groups would be in order in that setting.  I tried my best to be reasonable with my tip and so did at least one other in our party.  The setting, twelve people spread along the length of a long table, did not do a lot to benefit conversations.  The tables were a bit too close together and the overall layout of the room made traffic to and from the buffet a bit congested.  Salads, vegetables, and meats were on a steam table along the left side of the room with both sides open for self service.  Desserts were on two tables along the perpendicular  wall on two tables with only one side open for self service.  A staff member was on the right side of the room slicing and serving ham and roast beef from another table with heat lamps.  This setup caused too much traffic across the room, back and forth, and sideways.  

The food was generally acceptable but not outstanding by any measure.  When I got to the turkey to serve for my wife Candice, I found a wet mess of shredded turkey in the bottom of a hotel pan.  There were a couple or three dishes on that steam table which kept eliciting questions among strangers to the tune of "do you know what that is".  The salad makings were a bit too few to make a good salad for the person with vegetarian leanings.  The coleslaw was good and made along a traditional Eastern Kentucky recipe.  The green beans came straight out of an institutional can.  The pies, pecan, peanut butter, and pumpkin, were straight out of a box.  The baked Alaska was good and made on the spot.  The roast beef was far overcooked for my taste without a wink of pink in sight.  The ham was minimally acceptable.  Overall, this was a large restaurant buffet designed to minimally please diners who did not have high expectations without minimizing the potential profit from the occasion.  Nearly every time I have eaten at Jenny Wiley State Park Lodge, which is a frequent choice of some of my relatives who live close to it, I have left once again convinced that most of the other state park lodges in which I have eaten do the job better, especially Natural Bridge State Park Lodge.  I nearly always prefer Natural Bridge to other parks and the setting is usually far more picturesque.  

After the dinner, we hung out for a short time in the lodge lobby talking and split up until this coming Saturday when we will get together for a second dinner at the home of a cousin in Prestonsburg which is a much better idea.  I had told a friend in an e-mail today that I would rather eat bologna sandwiches in a genuine family setting with family than a high class buffet in a restaurant setting anytime.  This dinner convinced me I was correct in that statement.  A home cooked meal with shucked beans, hog jaw, ground hog, squirrels, pinto beans, corn bread, cushaw, and hominy would be far better anytime. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"Feather River" by Paul Foreman--Book Review

Foreman, Paul: Feather River (Austin, Texas Thorp Springs Press 2003)

I almost never pass up a book of poetry even if I have no knowledge of the author so long as the price is right which explains why I read and am now writing about "Feather River" by Paul Foreman (1943-2012).  I acquired a copy of the book during my recent long vacation which included Austin, Texas, which was apparently the stomping ground of the author.  A little research has shown me that Paul Foreman was much more important to Texas and the world as an editor and publisher than as a poet.  He was the founder and owner of Thorp Springs Press and did a great deal of work to promote and publish Texas writers including J. Frank Doby of whom I had previously been aware.  I cannot really say, based on reading this one book, that I have been impressed by the writing of Paul Foreman.  He was formally trained as a scientist and a historian.  His poetry reflects that.  Paul Foreman had a penchant for penning poems for his many friends and several of the pieces in this book are inscribed to several of those friends.  He also had a penchant for writing essays about writing, history, and interesting people he had known.  Those essays are sometimes more palatable than his poetry.  For me the high points of the book were an essay about the writer Frank Waters  and a poem about a man Don Foreman who, at least in the poem, appears to have been one of those larger than life figures who tend to impress everyone they meet in a positive manner.

If you are a student of Texas writers and/or Texas poetry, then, by all means, read this book and learn all you can about Paul Foreman.  If you are seeking high quality poetry which will stay in your heart and mind over time, look elsewhere.  I will stop short of saying that reading this book was a waste of time but I will not give it a ringing endorsement. 

Another Thanksgiving With Little To Be Thankful For

One year ago tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day 2016, I wrote a post on this blog entitled "Thanksgiving 2016 So Little To Be Thankful For" . Today, the day before Thanksgiving 2017, I writing another blog post and searching for a few things, anything to be thankful for.  First and foremost, I am thankful that America and world have managed to survive nearly a year with American Democracy in greater danger than it has been since at least 1945.  We are still hanging onto a fragile freedom which has been under direct and relentless attack since November 8, 2016.  Somehow, the TRAITOR Donald Trump and his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate are still in control of the White House despite all their crimes which are common knowledge and those crimes which we still do not have sufficient knowledge about to discuss.  Somehow, the TRAITOR Donald Trump and Kim Jun Un have avoided an armed conflict which will, if it happens, literally destroy the world in a radioactive plague which can only be imagined.  I am thankful that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators are still going about their work and have actually been able to indict three of TRAITOR Trump's henchmen for at least part of their crimes.  We can only hope that their work will continue to its completion and the entire Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate and TRAITOR Trump are indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned for their crimes.  I am thankful that in most of the off year elections which have occurred since November 2016 Democrats and rational, qualified people have been elected.  In Virginia, we saw a widespread win by a diverse group of Democrats all across the spectra of both humanity and state elective offices.  In Oklahoma, we saw several important offices won by intelligent, well qualified Democrats.  There is a great deal of hope in these wins.  Perhaps, the tide has turned that assisted Vladimir Putin and TRAITOR Trump in their seizure of the White House.  However, the Republican Party holds control of all three branches of government at the national level and has shown absolutely no willingness or ability to face the crimes of TRAITOR Trump, Vladimir Putin, and their Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate. 

In Alabama, the Fascist and accused sex offender and pedophile Roy Moore is the Republican nominee for the US Senate and very few members of the US Senate or the Republican Party have shown enough courage to speak out against him and his crimes against both women and children.   The TRAITOR Trump has spoken publicly in support of Roy Moore.  My response to that endorsement of Moore by TRAITOR Trump is this: Ask any detective!  Any time a self-admitted sex offender claims another accused sex offender is innocent it is the best indicator you can find that both are guilty of everything of which they have been accused.  American Democracy is in a terrible state and, as citizens, we have little to be thankful for.  This Thanksgiving Day is a bleak day in America.  Health care, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Education, human rights in general, the Bill of Rights in particular are all under attack from TRAITOR Trump and his Russian Owned Criminal Syndicate.  Our only hope lies in the voting booth, in public protest, and in the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Thanksgiving 2017 is turning out be just as bleak as I predicted it would be one year ago at Thanksgiving 2016.  God Help Us All, both as a country, as individual citizens, and as a world in great danger!