Search This Blog

Monday, November 28, 2011

Santa Claus Don't Drive No D9 Dozer

Stop The War On Appalachian Environmentalism

Over the last several years, a concerted program to wipe out all efforts at environmentalism by native Appalachians has been waged by the coal operators of the region under the title "Stop The War On Coal".  Using a public relations campaign built strongly on fear and sensationalism, they have inculcated a belief in the region that the Obama Administration is dedicated to wiping every coal burning utility as well as every coal miner off the map.  They hold giant rallies with coal company money and put pressure on every citizen to agree with their propaganda. They breed unreasonable fear in all coal related employees that their jobs will suddenly vanish into thin air. 

They have hired Stella Parton, the sister of superstar Dolly Parton, as a kind of minimally talented troubadour to sing their praises in less than perfect harmony.  They have also facilitated, and perhaps paid for, the recording of an album by Stella Parton of coal mining songs.  At every Stop The War On Coal rally, they bring Stella Parton in free of charge along with every politician they can find to take their position. And at the same time they work to breed fear of unemployment in working miners, they work to eliminate every coal mining job they can via technology and heavier and heavier earth moving equipment. The mantra of coal operators for at least the last 25 years has been to produce one more ton per day with one less man or woman employee. 

I recently attended a small art show by a relatively new photographer and woodworker and found that several of the photos had been labeled in the brochure as having been shot "on a beautifully reclaimed job site".  This is an indicator that the campaign is working.  Language, as it evolves, is a clear indicator of how the general public thinks.  If a strip mine becomes a "job site", the general public does not realize the damage being done on strip mines every day.  Acid runoff is still acid runoff.  Overburden pouring down mountainsides is still poorly controlled overburden.  Boulders which sometimes roll, bounce, or fly off poorly managed strip mines, damage property, and endanger human life are still clear violations of state and federal mining and blasting laws and regulations.  Mountain top removal is still destruction of land, wildlife, timber, and water resources in the name of corporate greed.  No matter how the names get changed to lessen their psychological impact the damage of these practices remains the same. 

These publicity and paranoia campaigns are very similar to the campaign by  the National Rifle Association to create paranoia about possible, but highly unlikely, changes in firearms laws.  Millions and millions of corporate dollars are spent to breed fear in the working class in order to support restraints on the legislative process and stymie legislation which would reduce environmental damage or take a bite out of crime.  These publicity and paranoia campaigns are also historically rooted in the corporate activity which paid the Baldwin Felts Agency for hundreds of gun thugs in the coal fields to crush organizing efforts of the United Mine Workers of America in the 1920's.  These campaigns are simply better dressed and less obvious continuations of the earlier campaigns to control workers and citizens and to induce those citizens to support egregious destruction of land all across the coal fields of Appalachia.

But the bottom line remains, Santa Claus Don't Drive No D9 Dozer.

Merry Christmas!!! 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More Appalachian Christmas Memories

With Christmas coming on rapidly, I have written one post about Christmas in Appalachia and have continued to think about aspects of the Christmases of my past.  I listen to radio station WSGS-FM 101.1 nearly every day.  As Christmas nears, they begin playing brief nostalgic tape from their 60 years on the air.  A big part of those clips is the work of former owner Ernest Sparkman.  As a child, I ran home from school nearly every day after Thanksgiving to listen to Ernest Sparkman play Santa Claus and read letters from the school children of Eastern Kentucky, North Eastern Tennessee, and Western Virginia.  He had a Santa Claus laugh which was infectious even if it was less than perfect.  WSGS has always had a broadcast tower on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain near Hazard which is one of the highest points in Kentucky.  That combined with their 100,000 watts of power allowed them to boom a signal over chunks of 4 or 5 states in Appalachia.  So children within a couple of hundred miles would listen to Ernest Sparkman and write heartfelt letters to Santa.  The station can still be found on the Internet at  They are well worth listening to still today. Their eclectic mix of classic country, bluegrass, and old time mountain music is, in many ways, a reflection of Appalachia itself.  And they play more Christmas Bluegrass than any other station I know.

Ernest Sparkman at WSGS Radio. Photo by WSGS.

I also usually listened to WDOC radio in Prestonsburg, KY, which was owned and operated by Gorman Collins who was nearly as unique as Ernest Sparkman.  He also played Santa Claus but covered less geography due to lower wattage and altitude.  When scheduling was perfect, I could listen to both Santa shows each day and wrote nearly identical letters to both Santas.  I do not recall that I ever thought my way through the differing voices, station call letters, etc to wonder why there were two Santas covering Eastern Kentucky.  But those winter afternoon appointments with Santa were a big part of growing up in Eastern Kentucky for thousands of children. I remember that once my letter was chosen as the letter of the day and I received by mail a rubber knife about 4 inches long.  No Santa in the country is giving away knives today, even if they are rubber, I am sure.

I am also reminded of several of my favorite Christmas gifts over the years.  My half brother, Ballard Hicks, Jr., and his family usually came in from the Cleveland area.  He had two sons, Steve and Fred, who were nearly the same age as me.  They usually bought one gift for each of us that was identical.  The one that stands out in my memory was a metal service station and car wash. 

Sears Service Station Circa 1966

I also remember receiving a Daisy BB gun when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  Nearly every boy in the area learned how to shoot at an early age.  We always grew up knowing that you do not point a gun at anything you do not intend to kill. And, you do not kill anything you do not intend to eat.  Overall gun safety was a natural part of growing up at the time.  When I was about 13, I got my first gun for Christmas which was a single shot 20 gauge shotgun which my parents had bought used. 

Money was not wasted even if we did usually have more than most of those around us. I was so excited to have my own gun that my parents let me take it out on the back porch in the dark and fire it into the ground in order to feel the kick. It is odd to know that, on that particular  year, we opened Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, which we generally never did. 
Daisy BB Gun

I also remember the Huffy bicycle with training wheels I got shortly after we moved to Beaver Creek. It was not a Schwin, since they were more expensive.  But, after I finally learned to ride without the training wheels, I loved to ride and often took it up the dirt road which led to the cemetery and rode down as hard and fast as I could.  This resulted in one pretty good cut to a knee.  Rain water had washed sand across the road and I rode into it at a quick clip and the front wheel sank and threw me over the handle bars in a heart beat. 

Huffy Bicycle

But most of Christmas was not about gifts.  It was about family and food.  I have written an earlier post about Thanksgiving and Christmas food.  I will not belabor the food issue again.  But during the holidays, most members of the extended family who lived within easy driving distance would come to visit.  Old men would come to the store to sit around the gas stove and tell stories of the times gone by.  Chestnuts would be roasted on the stove.  Old Christmas was still remembered and talked about.  It was a wonderful time to be growing up in Appalachia from about 1946 to 1966. 

Iver Johnson 20 Gauge Shotgun

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Kingdom Of Yellow Mountain--My Favorite Places In Appalachia

Albert Stewart, Poet, Hero, Teacher, Mentor

Appalachian poet and hero Albert Stewart lived the great majority of his life from birth to death on Yellow Mountain in Knott County Kentucky.  He left to go to college, both as a student and a professor, for a few years.  When he returned in maturity, he never left again and spent a major portion of his energies striving to protect his beloved homeland from development, mining, and highway destruction.  He won most of those battles except for the destruction caused by a four lane highway which split the farm before his death and a nearby mine on land which he did not own.  In preparation for his death, he willed the land to the University of Kentucky for use as a research farm in an effort to perpetually protect the land. 

Over the course of more than twenty years, I would travel to Yellow Mountain to spend time with Al and still stop by the spot from time to time to walk, ruminate, and consider the work Albert Stewart did in his long and productive life as a writer, teacher, magazine editor, environmentalist, and mentor to dozens of young Appalachian writers and artists.  I also had the pleasure of taking another friend, Appalachian Poet and Philosopher P. J. Laska to Yellow Mountain to introduce the two. 

Albert Stewart is buried along with his parents, grandparents, and a few other relatives in a small cemetery on the property on the east side of Kentucky Highway 80.  The old log house in which he spent most of his life still sits on the west side of Kentucky Route 80. Highway 80 is a four lane thoroughfare which split the farm decades ago and represents the one major defeat Al suffered in his effort to protect the land.  Just a half mile or so away is a large coal mine on land which Albert Stewart did not own.  That also represents a loss.  But Al Stewart was able to arrange for the long term protection of most of the family farm.  In that respect, he was more successful than most Appalachian environmentalists have ever been. 

For me, the trip to Yellow Mountain represents many things.  It helps me to remember one of the most impressive humans I ever knew and to honor that memory.  It helps me to renew and revitalize my commitment to keep working to protect Appalachia and Appalachian culture.  And it gives me some time in a quiet, peaceful (except for the highway noise) place to think, formulate and refine ideas, and to relax from too frequent interactions with a world which has too little knowledge of or respect for the land, the people, the culture of Appalachia.     

There is no place on the planet which better personifies the concept of Appalachian love of place than Yellow Mountain.  Albert Stewart was deeply affected by his life on Yellow Mountain and by the lives there of his ancestors before him. Yellow Mountain was deeply ingrained in his soul and he is deeply ingrained in Yellow Mountain.  His poetry is replete with images, poems, narratives, and people from Yellow Mountain.  For me and others who knew Al, Yellow Mountain is replete with images and memories of Albert Stewart.  They will be intertwined forever in the minds of people who have been fortunate enough to go there. 

You will find Yellow Mountain on Kentucky Highway 80 between Garrett and Hindman.  It is marked by a University of Kentucky sign on the side of the road and the little vacant church and cemetery on the left side of the road.  The old log house sits in the little bottom a few hundred feet from the highway.  Go there; stop; pack a picnic lunch; hike in the woods; take a copy of Al's poetry and read it where most of it was written.  Visit Al's grave and thank him for his work to preserve Appalachia.  Sit on the porch of the little church and think about what you can do to protect the land, the culture, and the people.  Then make a personal commitment to do what you can to make the world and Appalachia a better place before you leave.

Central/Southern Appalachia

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christmas In Appalachia

With Christmas coming up soon, I am reminded of many things which took place at Christmas when I was growing up in Knott County Kentucky in the 1950's and 1960's.  While I grew up with more than most people in the neighborhood, my parents were a long way from rich and did not spend frivolously for anything.  But Christmas was a special time and we had good food, family, visits from relatives and friends, and a few well selected gifts. 

 Salisbury Elementary, where I attended school, had a Christmas party with two one act plays, poems, and songs. A Christmas tree would be found and chopped down a few days before Christmas by the older boys.  It would be hauled into the building and decorated with hand me down ornaments from the teachers and a few parents.  There would be a few lights, tinsel, and other seasonal decorations.  But, to us, it looked like a first class job.  Usually, a few parents, family, and friends of students would come to the show.  It is difficult at best to turn a two room school into a theater and we did not really try.  Students would practice briefly each day after Thanksgiving to prepare for the show.  The one act plays would usually have only 4 or 5 parts and older students along with those with the best memories would usually be selected for the plays.  Older students would recite longer poems since they were harder to remember.  The school would be minimally decorated by the teachers.  On the day of the show, the last day of school before Christmas break, the front room, which housed the first through fourth grades, would be rearranged with a clothesline strung across the room a few feet from the dividing wall.  Sheets would be donated by mothers temporarily and they became the curtains.  Two of the oldest and tallest boys would be selected to draw the curtains.  As many chairs as necessary would be jammed into the remaining space with a respectful clearing left for the pot bellied stove and water bucket. 

A few classic Christmas songs would be sung in faltering but lusty voices.  Children would recite several poems and "Twas The Night Before Christmas" was always a big hit.  Then the plays would be produced with the typical poor quality amateur acting, few if any costumes, and universal approval no matter how bad the overall production might be.  When the plays were over, gifts would be passed out.  We would have drawn names for gifts a week or two before the date.  There would always be a few children whose parents were too poor to allow their children to draw names.  A few others would allow their children to draw names but the gift would be a box of chocolate covered cherries which could be bought for less than fifty cents in those days.  Nearly every child hoped that their name was not drawn by a giver of chocolate covered cherries.  There were also always small gifts for every child from the Caney Creek Community Center at Pippa Passes, KY.  The Community Center was a non-profit organization which had been founded by Alice Lloyd of the college of the the same name.  These gifts would generally be age and gender appropriate but minimal and had been donated by people hundreds of miles away.  Then the Christmas vacation would begin. 

Chocolate Covered Cherries

At home, we would generally have a large Christmas feast which would be very similar to the Thanksgiving dinner I have written about in an earlier posting.  Since my parents owned a small grocery store, we usually had more than our neighbors. But most of our food was still home grown.  Just before Christmas, my parents would bring several items into the store which they did not sell the rest of the year.  There would be a small collection of fresh fruit such as apples, oranges, tangerines, and bananas.  There would also be bagged nuts including mixed nuts, English Walnuts, and Brazil nuts which were more commonly referred to by a racist name based on their physical attributes.  We usually also had local black walnuts, hickory nuts, and hazel nuts gathered from trees on our property. We also often had chestnuts which might have been gathered in the woods or bought from a wholesaler.  Chestnuts would be either boiled or placed on the front of a gas space heater with a slit in one side to prevent explosions.  Other people with wood or coal heat either baked their chestnuts on top of a pot bellied stove or in the front of the hearth. I still love the taste and smell of a roasted chestnut.  My grandparents also had one of the few pecan trees in Eastern Kentucky on their property and, in most years, we had a few pecans as well.  There would also be large wholesale size boxes of a few loose candies which my parents sold by the pound.  These would be chocolate drops, usually referred to by the same racist name as Brazil nuts: "Grocery Mix", a type of mixed vari-colored candies of nearly pure sugar; horehound candy; and stick candies. And of course, there would be a few boxes of chocolate covered cherries. Even though we did not like them at the time, today I often buy the single wrapped chocolate covered cherries at the impulse racks of convenience stores.  I can eat one now and it brings back dozens of memories tied to the holidays when I was a child.   These seasonal treats might be the only thing a few parents would be able to afford for their children.  

Bagged Mixed Nuts

Even if we had not been able to kill a hog at Thanksgiving, we usually had weather cold enough by Christmas and fresh pork was usually a staple at Christmas dinner.  Turkeys might or might not be served and were usually commercial products if they were.  Very few people in my area grew their own turkeys.  Much of the Christmas dinner might be home grown and local recipes prevailed. 

Christmas was also a time when many of the relatives who had migrated to the industrial north would come home for visits.  But the numbers at Christmas were usually lower than at Thanksgiving due to weather concerns.  Also, many of them who had children of their own preferred to stay in their own homes for Christmas.   Gifts were always opened in our house on Christmas morning.  A few people opened theirs on Christmas Eve.  But I was generally told that waiting till  Christmas morning was better since it taught some impulse control and also allowed time for Santa Claus to come.  We usually left out some milk and cake or cookies for Santa until I was old enough to know that he was a fictional character.  In the store, there would always be new Coca Cola Santa advertising each year.  It would usually contain at least one stand up cardboard Santa.  I often wonder how much antique value we burned in the garbage each year by destroying the Coca Cola Santas at the end of the holidays.  

Coca Cola Santa Claus
Christmas in Appalachia was never much like it was depicted by the Waltons.  There were some similarities.  But Christmas at my house on Beaver Creek was unique, fun, rewarding, and a definite family affair.  I wish I could go back to at least one mountain Christmas like they were in the 1950's.  "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night." 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

International Page Views???????

I have noticed over recent weeks and months that numerous page views of this blog have come from foreign countries, especially in Eastern Europe.  I appreciate it anytime anybody reads this information since a major objective of writing it is to keep Appalachian Culture alive.  I have thought at times that most of the foreign page views must be coming from Appalachian military personnel in foreign placements. But I doubt that all of them do.  I would love to see comments from my foreign readers about why they read this blog and what they think of it.  If you are a foreign reader, please send me a short comment on the comments page or an e-mail at 
I would love to hear you comments.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving In Appalachia

I think back to the Thanksgivings I spent at home with my parents and other members of our extended family and numerous positive memories come back.  I grew up next door to my maternal grandparents, Woots and Susie Hicks.  Just down the road, within sight, was the home of my Aunt and Uncle Mabry and Hazel Hicks with their five children.  On down Beaver Creek about five miles in Floyd County was the home of my Aunt and Uncle Corbett and Ellen Terry and their five children.  About three or four miles up Beaver Creek in Knott County was the home of my Aunt and Uncle Edgar and Doris Hall and their two children.  Including myself and my sister, within five miles of my grandparents house, fourteen first  cousins lived.  This meant that many holidays and a lot of other ordinary days were spent with large numbers of the extended family around the tables at my grandparents house.  There were usually two tables: a "Big Table" for the adults and a "Little Table" for the children.  On most occasions, we ate in shifts with the adult males eating first and the women and children eating second. 

While we did not eat a lot of fancy food, we were never hungry and variety was always present.  There was always meat of some kind; and, on a special occasion such as Thanksgiving, there might be two or three kinds of meat.  Chicken and dumplings were generally present at a big family dinner with big, fluffy dumplings which would melt in your mouth.  The best chicken and dumplings always came about when a good laying hen was killed and her uterus, or "egg bag", was emptied in the cooking dumplings to give them that rich golden color which only happens when partially formed eggs and egg yolks are in the broth.  For those who have never eaten chicken and dumplings made this way, you cannot imagine just how much better they are than ordinary dumplings.

 It was also common to have squirrels and gravy in the fall.  There is no better food than squirrel cooked in a pressure cooker with white cream gravy.  My idea of dessert when squirrels are present has always been a squirrel's head.  We always cooked them with the eyes, ears, and nose tip removed. You can eat them intact, but I have never been a fan of that style.  In eating squirrel heads,  you take the head in your fingers and hold it on the plate while you eat the facial muscles.  Then you remove the lower jaw and eat the tongue.  But the piece de resistance is the brain which is removed by cracking the top of the skull with the handle of a butter knife.  Then you pick the bone fragments off and literally suck the brain out.  It is rich, sweet, buttery tasting, and cannot be equaled by most other foods.  Squirrel brain has only one drawback.  It is too small.  Brains from nearly any edible animal are wonderfully tasty food.  Whether it is squirrel, cow, or hog, the brain is one of the best tasting portions. 

Squirrel for Supper

If the weather was cold enough, it was also common to kill a hog during Thanksgiving week.  Fresh pork, especially organ meats, is stupendous at a holiday dinner.  We often sent the heart, lungs or "lights", liver, kidneys, spleen or "melt" to the house as soon as the hog was gutted and that would be our supper after the hog was processed.  We never ate chitterlings and threw them out.  I often wonder what we missed.  There might be a large pot of fresh pork and potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. We also frequently flavored vegetables with small amounts of pork.  The favorite for this use was smoked jowl.  But salt pork was also often used.  In the days when refrigeration was not always available or electricity was unpredictable, salting was often the most effective way to preserve home killed meats.  Hog killing deserves an entire post and, at some time in the future, I hope to get one done.

Hog Killing Time In Appalachia

We also had numerous pots of various homegrown vegetables and my personal favorite was shucked beans.  For the uninitiated, shucked beans are made by sun drying white half runners.  They may be strung and placed on strings with a needle and thread or strung and broken and dried on a sheet either on the roof or the ground.  The sun drying process imparts a flavor to beans that cannot be equaled by any other bean.  It is also interesting that a food dehydrator cannot produce the same flavor.  We often also had homegrown sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes, squash, beets, turnips, carrots, and a variety of greens such as kale, collards, mustard, and turnip greens. Although beet greens are also edible, I do not remember ever eating them at home.  And, if the weather in fall had been fair, we might have some late sweet corn. 

There was  always corn bread, biscuits, and, in later years, commercially produced rolls.  The biscuits were large, fluffy  cathead biscuits about the size of your fist.  The best online recipe for cathead biscuits is found at this URL: 

The variety of food available at a family Thanksgiving dinner was incredible but it always seemed to be eaten.  Desserts were also prolific.  There would be cakes, pies, jello, and salads galore. Pies would generally be covered in homemade meringue made from fresh egg whites and browned to perfection under the broiler in a gas oven. We generally had fresh whole milk and home churned butter.  Today, I still fondly remember churning and after the butter was removed from the churn dipping a coffee cup in for a cup of warm, fresh butter milk.  It is an awesome drink.  Just thinking about a traditional Thanksgiving in Appalachia makes my mouth water. 

Thanksgiving Turkey

It is interesting that I have written this much about Thanksgiving dinner and never mentioned the turkey.  We usually had a turkey baked with sage dressing and a large pan of extra dressing on the side.  I still do not care for dressing without sage in it.  That rich, spicy smell always takes me back home to Beaver Creek no matter where I am when I smell it.  The same holds true for sausage.  We generally made homemade sausage with a strong dash of sage.  Commercial sage sausage does not come close to home made since none of the companies make it strong enough to remind me of home. 

Happy Thanksgiving and Bon Appetit!!!