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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Matt Bevin's War Against Appalachian Kentuckians...

...And All Other Kentuckians!


Three times in my lifetime Kentucky voters have made the mistake of electing a Republican governor.  In each case, it has become increasingly more disastrous.  The election of Louis Nunn was survivable and actually led to a period of extended peace from the Republican party.  Louie Nunn served from 1967 to 1971.  He is perpetually known for having raised the state sales tax from 3% to 5% and for many years it was known derisively as Nunn's Nickel.  Eventually, the tax was raised to 6% and Nunn lost some of his notoriety.  The next Republican governor elected was Ernie Fletcher who served from 2003 to 2007.  His administration resulted in multiple indictments of Republican officials which Fletcher managed to quash with executive pardons. These indictments included several members of the state highway department who had apparently been requiring membership in the Republican Party to receive a job in the state highway department. Due to the fact that prosecutors could no longer induce the pardoned officials to testify in court, Fletcher was able to escape by pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor and has wandered out of the public eye into the anonymity he deserves.  Fletcher was succeeded from 2007 to 2015 by Steve Beshear who conducted one of the most effective and progressive administrations in modern Kentucky history.  But in the election of 2015, an electorate of only 20% of registered voters made the tragic mistake of electing another Republican, Matt Bevin, who had lied, switched positions much like a flap jack on a griddle during the campaign, and had been clearly proven to be interested in only his own pursuit of power. This plurality of a very small minority of registered voters chose to elect Bevin over Jack Conway, a very effective attorney general. 
Literally, from the day the election was confirmed, Bevin has waged an economic war against every citizen of Kentucky.  Using the purchase of several elected Democrats in the state house by giving them highly paid state jobs, Bevin made an outright effort to buy the state house and made a political bet that Right Wing Republican candidates could win the special elections to replace the turncoat Democrats Bevin had been able to buy.  Luckily, voters in three of the four districts which were forced to hold special elections because of his efforts, Bevin's designated Republican candidates lost and Democrats maintain control of the state house.  This control of one house of the legislature has prevented a disaster from becoming a total conflagration of right wing legislation. 

From the start of his campaign for the governor's office, Bevin made another political bet that if he could be elected and manage to put enough money into the retirement fund for state employees that the current and retired state workers, a consistently high percentage voting block, would be loyal to him and help him gain further control and a second election as governor.  The outcome of that effort is waiting to be seen.  In a compromise, the Democrat controlled state house, Republican controlled state senate, and Governor Bevin placed about $800,000,000 in the retirement fund.  But almost immediately after the money went into the bank account, Bevin started an effort to remove the board members and replace them with Republicans who would be loyal to him.  It is my suspicion that the real objective all along has been to place the money in the fund, reshape the board to his liking and control, and ultimately to begin an effort to gain control of the fund for some of Bevin's friends on Wall Street which could open the door for massive mismanagement and potential theft via billing of outrageous management fees.

Bevin has also essentially seized control of the board of directors of the Kentucky Horse Park, the most financially successful of the state parks.  His first move in that effort was to remove Jane Beshear, the former first lady from the board.  He also cut the board from 17 to 15 members which is an effort to lower the number of loyalists needed to gain control of the funds available in the Horse Park budget.   
Bevin has also used executive orders to take two actions which have the capacity to actually cost human lives in Appalachia. Very early in his administration, Bevin issued executive orders ceasing all state mandated training of mine foremen and all state mandated inspections of coal mines.  His action was clearly intended as a payback to coal operators who had actively supported his candidacy.  Although coal mining is in serious decline in Kentucky, the logical outcome of these executive orders will be serious decreases in safety in the mines which are operating.  While less miners are working today and therefore less miners are likely to die in total during the Bevin Administration, I have no doubt that the statistical ratio of deaths, injuries, and accidents to man hours worked will rise significantly due to the lack of state inspections and the increasing number of poorly trained mine foremen. 
Bevin also waged a great deal of his campaign on a stated intention to shut down the stated healthcare exchange which Governor Beshear had begun as a function of Obama Care.  The Obama Care program, during the Beshear Administration, had raised the level of insured people in the state to the highest level in history.  Several hundred thousand low income, elderly, minority, and disabled Kentuckians had health care for the first time in their lives.  The state healthcare exchange had been a model for several other states and was a shining example of just how effective and important Obama Care is and can be.  Bevin literally closed down the advertising for the program during the signup month and forced Kentucky citizens to use the federal exchange.  There is little doubt that several thousand Kentuckians, especially the less educated and less technologically adept, will have lost medical coverage which they had been benefitting from for the first time in their lives.  This action by Bevin was a clear cut attack on the poorest in the state as well as many minority citizens. 
Matt Bevin has also begun a steady economic onslaught at state boards, legislative actions, and any other area where significant amounts of money are handled. 


Friday, May 20, 2016

One Miner's Death And An Age Old Problem

On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Justin Mize, aged 31, was killed in an accident at the Tinsley Branch Mine in Bell County KY and, as I recall, the story made little impact on the overall news reports of the day.  But then on March 7, 2015, I found an update to the story on the Internet news page of  WKYT-TV 27 with considerably more information about the reason Mr. Mize died and realized instantly that it was a story which deserved to be addressed in a blog post.  It is a story about a type of tragedy in the mining industry which was common in Appalachia before unionization  in the 1920's and which is becoming more common once again in the 21st century nearly a hundred years after these types of tragedies had nearly stopped.  Justin Mize died because he had been induced to enter a 67 foot deep auger hole to retrieve a broken chain from a mining machine.
The WKYT news story quoted the official report about the accident: "Foreman ****  asked the machine operator if he was going to retrieve the chain. When the operator refused, 31-year-old Justin Mize said he would go, even though other miners said it was too dangerous.  The rock fell on Mize seconds after he entered the opening. Workers were able to free him but he died later that day, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration." (WKYT-TV27)

Eventually MSHA concluded the investigation and released their report of the investigation.  The findings of the report clearly placed the blame for  Justin Mize's death on the foreman and mine management.  But the sad fact is that de-unionization of the coal industry and the breeding and nurturing of a strongly anti-union environment among miners as a result of structured programs such as the terribly misnamed "War On Coal" have created a level of employment fear among miners to the point that a miner would agree to enter a highly dangerous situation and place his life at risk at the behest of his foreman and in conflict with the admonitions of several of his coworkers. 

In the intervening time since this tragedy, Kentucky has made the terrible mistake of allowing a small right wing radical segment of the Republican party to elect Matt Bevin as governor.  The voter turnout was less than twenty percent and a far better Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, was defeated.  Almost immediately after his election, Bevin used an executive order to cease requiring state inspections of mines in Kentucky.  In the same executive order, Bevin also ended all requirements for state mandated training of mine foremen.  In the case of the inspections, Bevin's rationalization was that the federal government was already doing mine inspections and further inspections by state inspectors were unnecessary. He used the same rationalization to justify ending the state mandated training for mine foremen. 

A few days after this asinine action by the governor, I bumped into a former coworker and friend in a grocery store and we struck up a conversation which covered a range of topics including politics.  It is pertinent to state that this woman's father was killed in a mining accident in Ohio about twenty years ago when she was a small child.  It is also pertinent that she is a master's level social worker and a former winner of a Kentucky Governor's Scholarship.  She is generally well informed on news issues and coal mining issues.  But when I brought up the recent executive orders from Governor Bevin, she told me she was not aware of it.  This was a surprise to say the least.  But it is an example of how little attention most citizens of Kentucky have been paying to political actions in this state.  And that, my friends, is as great a tragedy as the death of Justin Mize or any other coal miner who dies because he is being coerced to perform a task which is clearly too deadly to be attempted.  This total ignorance of critical and destructive political actions by the citizenry along with their mass refusal to vote in crucial elections allows such Right Wing Radical Repugnicans as Matt Bevin to gain public office and perform asinine and destructive acts because they have no empathy or compassion for the citizens they allegedly "govern".  These executive actions by Governor Bevin will lead to the deaths of other men in unnecessary accidents just as Justin Mize did. 

Admittedly, there are far fewer miners working in Kentucky today and total numbers of fatal accidents and fatalities may be lower on their face in the four years to come.  But it can virtually be guaranteed that fatal accidents to man hours worked will be higher with such a governor in office who is willing to ignore the need for mine safety.  Statistically, the deaths per thousand man hours ratio will become higher because of this decision.  While the great majority of responsibility  for these future accidents and deaths will rest on the head of Matt Bevin, a portion of that responsibility also will rest on the heads of all the eligible Kentuckians who refuse to vote in such critical elections.  I will close this post with an axiom which I sadly find myself repeating more and more often these days: BAD POLITICIANS ARE ELECTED BY GOOD PEOPLE WHO DO NOT VOTE!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Kudzu Evening With Poets Hazard Community & Technical College April 28, 2016


Last night, April 28, 2016, my wife Candice and I traveled from our house in West Liberty, KY, to the Hazard Community And Technical College campus in Hazard, KY, for the 2016 version of Kudzu "Evening With Poets".  We went there primarily to see West Virginia author and University of Iowa Writer's Workshop alum Marie Manilla read.  I have become quite enamored of her work after having read her novel, "The Patron Saint Of Ugly" and beginning her short story collection called "Still Life With Plums".  Hazard is only about 65 miles from our house and for us that is a reasonable drive to see an event which interests us both.  Marie Manilla was one of five established women writers in Appalachia who were being featured at the reading.  All had been published in this years edition of Kudzu, the campus literary magazine of HCTC.  The other featured writers were Darnell Arnoult, Shawna Kay Rodenberg, Carrie Mullins, and Marianne Worthington.  All are established writers to one degree or another and all write well, one or two even better.

The evening was a positive event and the writing which was presented was well above average.  All of the aforementioned women have had numerous publications and most have at least one book in print.  This year's edition of "Kudzu" was a special edition focusing on women in Appalachia and achieved its goal.  The magazine also contained writing from Pauletta Hansel, the current and first Poet Laureate of Cincinnati, an alumnus of The Southern Appalachian Circuit Of Antioch College in Beckley, WV.  There was also an entry in the magazine from best selling author Silas House.  If the goal of the magazine was to prove that a "student" publication at a small community college in Eastern Kentucky could gain and publish submissions from older, established regional writers, it was a success.  But, from my point of view, the goal of every student publication at any college should be to publish, promote, and assist in the establishment of long lasting careers for current students who wish to become known as writers.  The edition of "Kudzu" did contain quite a few pieces of writing from current students.  But not a single student was featured as a reader at the event.  To that degree, the event was a failure.  

In my opinion, every literary magazine which purports to be a production of an undergraduate writing or English program should work to make it possible for students to believe they can become the person whose work is published.  Such magazines should work to help those students believe and be perceived as writers.  The way that is done is make the magazine a primarily student based work, as many Appalachian religious believers say, from "kiver to kiver".  Students should be featured at readings, public presentations, and events related to the release of the magazine.  During the course of the evening, I met one young woman who identified herself as a student in a public speaking class who was attending the event for that class.  I saw one introduction of the student who won a "Kudzu" prize for student writers.  That student did not read at the event.  I did see several students serving soft drinks, water, and cookies.  One was sitting at a cash register selling "Kudzu" and the works of the established writers.  And, yes, I did buy copies of both the 2016 and 2015 issues of "Kudzu" as well as a collection of work by one of the established writers.  

I enjoyed the reading.  All of the women who were featured have earned their recognition with years of dedication to their craft.  All of them deserve to be published, regularly, often, and in as many venues as possible.  I do not say anything about this event in order to negatively assess any of the women who were featured.  I was enriched by their presentations.  However, I firmly believe that a "student" magazine should focus on helping students, in every way possible, to become recognized writers and being allowed to read at an event introducing a magazine which contained their work would have been a serious step in that direction.  

I can remember when "Kudzu" was introduced many years ago as a photocopied and stapled collection of work which was nearly all by students.  "Kudzu" is now a fairly slickly produced and presented magazine of quality work.  "Kudzu" has come a long way and I applaud that progress.  But, at the end of a two year community college education, how many of the students who worked to help produce that magazine will have  become recognized as writers to the degree their work deserves?  I suspect that number will be significantly lower than it might if those student writers were allowed and required to stand in front of a crowd and read their  work with a copy of  a magazine in their hands which contained that work, both literary and physical, along with their blood, sweat, and tears gained from producing that magazine.  Where were all the students???

Monday, April 25, 2016

Kentucky Proud Expo Morehead, KY April 16, 2016

My wife, Candice, and I attended a Kentucky Proud Expo in Morehead, KY, on April 16, 2016, primarily because Candice wanted to and I wanted to please her, or at least stay out of trouble.  The Kentucky Proud program is a program of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture which helps small farmers and farm families in the state to market their products.  To some degree, it also appears to be promoting the development of unique and unusual products in Kentucky.  It is, at least in part, a response to the end of the federal tobacco support system which caused many small farmers who had depended for years on tobacco to stop growing tobacco and to either leave agriculture all together or to seek other means of generating income on small family farms.  A secondary part of the Kentucky Proud program is the Appalachia Proud program which, according to their website, "celebrates the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of eastern Kentucky while at the same time honoring its traditions".  Based on one day of exposure to the program, I don't buy into the sales pitch entirely or perhaps even much at all.  I have, for many years, been a believer that Appalachia and Appalachian Kentucky have been far better off when most of the rest of the world leaves us alone.  I have also seen far too many examples of people and organizations which came to the region with the best of intentions and proved absolutely that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  But I have to admit that my overall impression of the Kentucky Proud Expo was primarily positive. 

We spent about two hours in the Morehead Convention Center at the expo talking to exhibitors, sampling foods, viewing products, and buying a few.  We met a few truly unique and interesting people doing, or attempting to do, some worthwhile and productive work on small farms in Kentucky and Appalachian Kentucky.  But, as a dyed in the wool native Appalachian, I was not convinced that several of the these people were Appalachians or even Kentuckians.  It struck me that, as has been happening here for at least a hundred years, we have attracted a few individuals who might have fallen or been thrown off the edge of the world somewhere else.  California is not the only location with a tendency to attract strange wanderers.  

For more than three years (March 1989 to July 1992), I worked for Vision Quest, the controversial, for profit juvenile delinquency program.  For most of that time, I was the advance scout for the East Coast Wagon Trains.  That job required me to locate campsites for two wagon trains each comprised of 75 juveniles, 35 staff, 50 head of horses and mules, and a plethora of vehicles, mobile offices and trailers.  It was my responsibility to find a constant string of camp sites of 5 acres or more where this conglomeration could camp for up to 4 days at a time free of charge.  During my time there, I traveled with the wagon trains from Okeechobee, Florida, to Hudson, Michigan, to Okeechobee, to Peebles, Ohio, to Okeechobee, to South Carolina, a total of more than 7,000 miles before I left the job.  As a result, I was a great deal of various kinds of agriculture in a dozen states.  Yet, at the Kentucky Proud Expo, I ran into a couple of things I had never seen and found them quite interesting.  

Two of the most interesting things we saw involved raising yaks and selling yak products in Menifee County KY, and raising alpacas and selling alpaca products in Boyd County KY.  We met the owners of Silver Run Ranch Alpacas and found them to be quite interesting.  They make and sell a variety of alpaca products on a farm in Boyd County KY.  The operation is run by two brothers who also have outside jobs.  But they raise alpacas and sell alpaca apparel which is beautiful, soft, warm, and colorful. They are interesting to talk to, informative, and friendly.  I had been exposed to llamas once in northwestern Pennsylvania but never to alpacas.  We were offered the opportunity to visit at some point and see the operation and we definitely will do that.  Their website can be found at: Silver Run Ranch Alpacas Due to the information we were provided at the expo, I would never recommend anyone to just show up unannounced.  Contact them first if you ever intend to ask for a visit.  

We also met Gregor Dike and Linda Smith-Dike who operate Zhi-ba Shing-ga Tibetan Yaks in Menifee County KY.  They raise yaks and sell yak based apparel and, through another organization, they also sell some yak meat.  I assume it is necessary for them to sell their yaks for slaughter to an FDA approved operation which then butchers and markets the meat.  Both Candice and I love to experience new foods and new experiences.  I can't wait to get an opportunity to eat yak.  They are also willing to have visitor with the expected guidelines of advance approval and scheduling.  They can be found online at:  Zhi-ba Shing-ga Tibetan Yaks  I do have to say that I was disappointed to hear they do not milk their yaks or sell yak milk products.  After having read several books and articles over the years from mountain climbers and other visitors to Tibet, I have always wanted to try yak butter tea.  I must admit that many people I have read who had the experience did not care for it. But I still love to try new things and yak butter tea along with durian is on my list of the things others hate that I am dying to try.  I am sure will try to make a trip to the yak farm before summer is over.  

Candice and I would not presume to call ourselves read foodies but we are very broad ranging in our tastes, love to cook and eat, and, I repeat myself, love to seek out and experience all things new and interesting.  Candice had found the expo on the Internet and wanted to go to see new foods, recipes, and Kentucky products.  She bought two bars of soap from a place called Hidden Holler Soap Studio.  She has tried the lavender already and found it acceptable but not overwhelmingly positive. She says it doesn't really have a great smell but does seem to make her hair fell fuller. She also bought a bar of coconut oil soap and will try it later.  She also bought a jar of Ale 8 One based salsa from a place called Forgotten Foods Farm in Olive Hill.  We just tried the salsa last night with tortilla chips and Candice says she likes it enough to buy it again.  I found it too mild and too sweet.  This seems to be a good time to say that I am not a food critic and don't necessarily strive to be one.  I do enjoy a wide variety of foods, cook from time to time, watch a lot of food based television, and always seek new food experiences.  But I know what I like, have a fairly well developed palate, and can generally discuss food intelligently and explain succinctly why I do or do not like a particular item.  As a lifetime aficionado of Ale 8 One, this was not the best use to which the soft drink has ever been applied. I could not resist the opportunity to buy a half pint jar of what Forgotten Foods Farm was selling under the name paw paw jam.  I have written about my love of paw paw's on this blog in the past.  That post can be found at Paw Paw Post  I brought the jar home and even Candice couldn't wait to try it.  We made two slices of toast that night and cracked open the paw paw jam.  To my surprise there was absolutely no taste or smell of paw paw's in it.  As anyone who has ever eaten paw paw's can tell you, the two most distinctive qualities of a paw paw are the flavor and the smell.  To that degree, they rival another of my old time favorites, the plum granny.  The ingredients of the jam were listed as paw paw pulp, sugar, pectin, and citric acid.  The ingredient list might just as well have been similar to one of those on a jar of something innocuous and cheap found at your local discount foods store and carrying a brand name you don't recognize and don't want to remember.  They might just as well have read "sugar, dextrose, fructose, cane syrup, and artificial flavors and colors".  The best part of the paw paw jam experience was the eager, child like anticipation of believing I had just found a treasure I had imagined since childhood, another wonderful use of my favorite native fruit of Appalachia.  I suppose balloons are made to burst.  Dreams are made to die.  Illusions and delusions are made to live forever and grow just like Topsy. But, at least, I still have  a very nice half pint jar in which to save my change in order to pay for my next little educational experience. 

We also stopped, but failed to get a business card from, a couple who make and sell hot sauces from a variety of peppers they raise in their back yard garden.  I screwed up my courage and sampled what they say is their version of hot sauce made from the infamous ghost pepper.  Before I tried it, they assured me it was mild enough to not be lethal.  I have gradually developed a taste for more and more hot foods although I will always consider it an insult to a cook to ask for hot sauce in a restaurant.  I like hot food up to about the point I start to sweat, hiccup, tear, and develop a mild nasal drip.  I have to admit that when I heard "Ghost Pepper" I was fearful.   My fears were unfounded.  If it was truly made from ghost peppers, they had sufficiently diluted the capsaicin to prevent possible damage to the innocent and unsuspecting.  I tried a small sample on a neutral cracker and only developed mild hiccups, a bit of a nasal drip, and no sweating or tearing.  The adventure fell a bit short of the anticipation.  

I also bought a container of peanut brittle from a nice couple from Lexington.  It was acceptable but not especially great.  We stopped at a couple of vendors who were selling their own versions of spices since we buy a wide variety of spices and use them regularly.  We were not impressed enough with any of them to buy their wares.  We spent a few minutes talking to a nice woman who made beautiful quilts.  She was displaying a UK pattern and a strawberry pattern.  But she sews them on a machine and I will always prefer those which are totally hand stitched as they were in the days of my youth.  

My overall impression of the Kentucky Proud Expo was positive enough to go to another at some other time and in some other portion of the state since I got the impression many of the vendors set some mileage limit on how far they travel to the expos.  But I remain convinced that many of the vendors and state staff involved fall sufficiently short in their knowledge base about Appalachia that I believe Appalachia Proud is simply another marketing tool. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

P. J. Laska "Morning In America A Poetic Assemblage From The Long Decade"

P. J. Laska “Morning In America A Poetic Assemblage From The Long Decade”
Igneus Press 2016 $8.50 Paperback
              Appalachian poet and philosopher P. J. Laska could not have chosen a better or more appropriate time to release his new book, “Morning In America A Poetic Assemblage From The Long Decade”.  "Morning In America" by P. J. LaskaThe book is, as the subtitle suggests, an assemblage of poetry and Socratic teaching set as an ongoing discussion between his protagonist, Dominic Love, and a friend named Anonymas.  The book’s title hails back to a fine collection of poetry which Laska also published with Igneus Press in 1991.  The earlier book was a collection of powerful, kick like a mule poetry which bewailed the destructive policies of the Reagan Administration.  The new book uses the same kind of philosophically based poetry and the Socratic Method to attempt to educate the world to the current political reversion in a large chunk of the American populace toward such destructive and debilitating politics.  Some of the poetry was contained in the earlier work but much of the text is brand new and just as powerful.
              The poetry is reminiscent of the best work of another native West Virginian, Former Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey, who grew up in the coalfields of Logan County just as P. J. Laska was raised in an immigrant coal mining family in northern West Virginia.  The poetry attacks a problem in ways very similar to Jack Dempsey attacking an opponent in the ring.  Two or three light poetic jabs flick across the attention span of the reader before being followed by a head jarring left hook which delivers a key philosophical and political concept which points out how the American military industrial complex has controlled and manipulated both the American populace and much of the greater world over the years from the Viet Nam War to the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Laska knows just as well as Dempsey how to deliver a critical blow and both learned it in the coalfields of Appalachia.
 The reader should also keep in mind that before Laska became a doctoral level philosopher poet he was a Viet Nam era military analyst and linguist.  Before he was a finalist for a National Book Award in the 1970’s, he learned both Russian and English as a child in a coal mining family of immigrants.  Before P. J. Laska adopted Buddhism as a central pillar of his life, he prepared the host and ceremonial garments in his local Catholic church as an altar boy.  P. J. Laska is a man of the world who has risen from relative poverty to national recognition as a poet, philosopher, critic, essayist, educator, and magazine editor.  This book is the culmination of a lifetime of deep thought on the part of a highly contemplative man who was moved to consider many paradoxes in the world including poverty & wealth, government & citizenship, socialism & oligarchy, as well as good & evil.  In his new book, Laska reminds those of us who forgot and hopes to instruct those who never knew that in many cases oligarchy and evil won. 
The opening poem in the book is a republication of the title piece from “The Day The Eighties Began” which reminds us of the day Ronald Reagan was allowed by organized labor and the American populace to fire the nation’s air traffic controllers, an act which began a slippery slope in American politics and public thought which has continued in the disasters of trickledown economics, the Iraq War and that country’s subsequent fragmentation and the birth of both Al Qaeda and Isis.  It is easy for a devoted reader of poetry to hear this discussion of the work and choose to avoid such directly political poetry.  But keep in mind, this poet was a finalist for a National Book Award with his first book, “D. C. Images And Other Poems”.  He is a fine writer and this is excellent, well-constructed, linguistically artful poetry.  These poems are well deserved candidates for any future anthology of Appalachian or American poetry.  Many of them have been previously competitively selected and published in highly respected magazines.  This author’s personal favorite is the poem “Down And Back” which is set as a story of driving through an Appalachian night, picking up a hitchhiker, and discussing the utterly human consequences of the economics of oligarchy.  A working mother tries to rationalize how she will handle the loss of her Black Lung benefits.  The hitchhiker says it all in the powerful sentence, “You don’t know what you can stand ‘till it comes around”.  And that, my friend, is a sentence which has come out of the mouths of many thousands of Americans who have suffered the consequences of “The Long Decade”. 
Buy this book! Read it closely and slowly! Give yourself time to consider ruminatively all you find in it which provokes such consideration.  Then, when the dust in your head has settled from that last linguistic left hook, go back and read it again. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Knott County High School--My Favorite Places In Appalachia

I graduated from Knott County High School in 1968.  I entered school there in the fall of 1964 after graduating from Salisbury Elementary on Beaver Creek.  I spent one year as a manager of the basket ball team under Coach James Moore.  As I recall, our freshman class entered with about 110 students and only graduated 58.  But I have always been proud of the fact that our graduating class finally had at least 6 students who received a master's degree or higher in college.  We had an interesting and generally well qualified faculty and Principal Ed Madden was a major factor in the lives of many of his students.  Hubbard Martin, who was near retirement at the time,  primarily taught  mathematics courses but could also teach English and might well have been competent at nearly any course in the somewhat limited curriculum.  He was famous for being able to do long division and multiplication either in his head or at lightning speed on a chalk board. When Hubbard Martin was near death in the University of Kentucky Hospital I was working in Lexington and heard that he was hospitalized.  I visited him in the hospital to thank him for trying to keep me on track.

Burnis Jacobs also taught mathematics and algebra and loved to hunt, especially coon hunting.  It was a common ploy for students who wished to avoid class work to attempt to get Burnis interested in telling a coon hunting story in order to distract him.  Burnis also made a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to start a Boy Scout Troop loosely connected to the school.  It was not successful primarily because most of the boys in the school were from families who were too poor to buy the uniforms and other items necessary to be a good Boy Scout.  Burnis was one of my favorite teachers and got me through Algebra I and II after I had somewhat deliberately failed Algebra I under Hubbard Martin due to my tendency to be a nuisance in class.  His wife, Mary Lois Jacobs, taught English and is still on my Facebook Friends list.

Wallace Niece taught the social science courses and loved to show horses.  He was also somewhat subject to narcolepsy and had been known to fall asleep in class from time to time. I will always remember Wallace Niece discussing the Great Appalachian Migration and imitating a bus station attendant using the station PA system to inform travellers that the "bus is now leaving for Dayton, Detroit, Middletown, and all points north."  Wallace Niece may well have been the first person to make an attempt to impress on me the importance of Appalachia and being Appalachian.  Jean Francis also taught English courses and was in the early years of her career when I was in high school.   

The building was one of those wonderful old WPA cut stone structures built during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It had weaknesses in its design and showed some wear by the time I arrived.  But it had still been built to last a thousand years with ongoing maintenance.  It is a shame it no longer exists.  When Knott County consolidated the high schools in the county with the exceptions of Cordia High School and the Hindman Settlement School, the building was sold at auction and bought by Ed Madden who later sold it to Alice Lloyd College which demolished it to make a parking lot.  That was a terrible waste of a historic building.

If anyone who reads this has old photographs from Knott County High School and is willing to have them added to this post, I would greatly appreciate it.  You can send me an E-mail at and we will arrange to post them with full professional credit to the photographer who shot them.

I will write further about the school and expand this post as soon as I have some more time.  But let me say the most important thing I can about the school.  We graduated from Knott County High School not Knott County Central.  From time to time I see one of my classmates list the wrong school on their Facebook page and I always remind them to change it.  Our school had a fairly long and positive history before being consolidated and those of us who went to school there should never allow it to be forgotten. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Where Rock Fork Used To Be--My Favorite Places In Appalachia

Rock Fork Knott County Kentucky

At Garrett, KY, which is actually in Floyd County, you will find the mouth of Rock Fork Creek most of which lies in Knott County.  Actually most of what used to be Rock Fork Creek lies in Knott County Kentucky.  In my childhood and youth, Rock Fork Creek was a small creek about five or six miles long which wound away from Garrett, crossed the Knott County line and ended on one of the highest ridges in Knott County lying up against the area that my good friend, Kentucky poet Albert Stewart knew and loved as The Kingdom of Yellow Mountain.  But in the 1970's, the Kentucky Department of Highways decided to convert Kentucky Route 80, a serpentine two lane road, into a four lane highway between Prestonsburg, the county seat of Floyd County, and Hindman, the county seat of Knott County.  Nearly no one who lived in the areas affected wanted to see the road expanded except a few business people and coal operators.  Albert Stewart fought valiantly to stop the road but lost.  It demolished nearly all of Rock Fork that was meaningful and paved it over with only a few house sites and ridges left of what had been one of the most beautiful little creeks in Appalachia.  In many ways, this is a story about road construction which can be told of hundreds of little creeks in the mountains.  But the destruction of Rock Fork and Yellow Mountain was personal to Al Stewart, most of residents of Rock Fork, and to me.  

Rock Fork is and will always be in my memories and my heart.  It is also literally in my DNA.  My great grandfather, Hence Hicks is buried in the Chaffins Family Cemetery beside the Rock Fork Freewill Baptist Church which survived the highway destruction.  Hence Hicks's grave, and those of several other members of my family, are not far from the hillsides where Hence Hicks scratched out with a hoe the $4,100 for which he was murdered in a cornfield in 1935.  My maternal grandfather, Woots Hicks, was born and raised on Rock Fork and so was my mother, Mellie Hicks.  Somewhere on Rock Fork, lost to the sands of time, are the graves of an aunt and uncle who died in childhood.  Their sandstone markers are long gone.  Probably only dust remains of their bodies.  Rock Fork Creek is literally in my DNA.  

In my misspent youth, I became quite close to several people my own age who grew up and lived on Rock Fork.  Several of us were then and still are proud to have been among the first hippies in Eastern Kentucky.  We spent time together, sometimes partied together, railed against injustice together, and formed opinions which still direct our lives today.  Two of the young men who were in that group were Avery Chaffins and Snap Conley who both died in a car wreck at the Mouth of Stone Coal Creek about a mile from the Mouth of Rock Fork Creek as they were returning late one night from a trip to Vicco in Perry County, the closest wet county at the time.  The last time I ever saw Snap Conley alive was within sight of the Rock Fork Freewill Baptist Church where their funeral was held.  They are buried in a little joint Chaffins & Conley Family Cemetery on Rock Fork which the two families began upon their deaths along the line fence of the two little family farms.  During the youth service which was held in the church, with their caskets sitting end to end in front, I sat with Maude Chaffins, the mother of the Chaffins boys who were a part of that group of young hippies.  Maude Chaffins often comes to my mind because she went out of her way to take care of many of us not just her own children.  If you were able to keep your mouth shut and sleep it off, when you made it to Maude's house you knew you were safe for the night.  

Maude had a habit of not always wearing her dentures and leaving them in a coffee cup of Clorox water on the back of her stove.  Snap Conley had a habit of eating and drinking anything he could get his hands on and, since he grew up next door, was always in and out of the Chaffins house.  Many of us will never forget the time he reflexively grabbed the cup holding Maude's dentures and drank Clorox water from it thinking it was coffee or some other edible drink.  

Rock Fork Creek was destroyed by the highway but still technically remains with the four lane highway cutting its way up the entire creek to the ridge into Yellow Mountain.  Only the mountains on the sides of the creek and a few house sites on level ground remain of the Rock Fork that used to be.  But for those of us who lived some portion of our lives there, Rock Fork Creek will forever be in our hearts and minds.  Rock Fork Creek is literally in my DNA.