Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Until recently I had never read anything by Lillie D. Chaffin even though she was from Pikeville, KY, and had served as Kentucky's Poet Laureate in 1974. She also has an Appalachian Literature award named for her at my Alma Mater, Morehead State University. After having read her children's book, "We Be Warm Till Springtime Comes", I have to admit I had been remiss by not having read her work. I strayed into the book during an expedition to a small antique store which a friend owns where I sometimes buy a few items for my personal collection. On that trip, I bought a few books of Appalachian or Kentucky interest and "We Be Here..." was one of them. It was published in 1980 by Macmillan and illustrated by Lloyd Bloom. The copy I bought was in excellent condition with the dust jacket in nearly perfect shape, still contained the original poster of one of the illustrations by Bloom. It also contained a signed letter and post card from Ms. Chaffin to the previous owner. I would probably have bought the book even if it were not purely Appalachian.
The book is intended for juvenile readers from about the third to sixth grade and is a most genuine Appalachian story about a poor family living in poverty in the mountains in the middle of a hard winter. The family is composed of a mother, a son about ten years old, and a small daughter. The family is facing an increasingly hard winter with no coal or wood to burn for heat. The son makes a decision, over the mother's objections, to go to the coal bank on the hill behind their house to dig for coal to help them survive the winter. This is one of the most genuine and authentic Appalachian stories I have ever read. Although we never burned coal when I was a child, the family farm on which I was raised in Knott County Kentucky contained the remains of two coal banks where previous owners of the land had dug for what is known locally as "house coal".
For those of you who have no knowledge of coal banks, they are small holes dug into a coal seam which is at or near the surface for purposes of gaining access to enough coal to heat a home and fire a cast iron cook stove or "step stove" as most of them were known. But after several years of digging, a coal bank might be as much as hundred feet deep inside a hillside. Few of them ever had a solid roof and roof falls were numerous. I have never dug coal in a coal bank. I was very lucky to have a family who lived somewhat above the level at which many of our neighbors did. But I grew up with and went to school with several children, mostly boys, who had to dig house coal in order to facilitate family survival. I went to high school with three children whose father whom I knew was killed accidentally by a mishandled charge of dynamite during an effort to obtain house coal from a coal bank.
The inherent danger of digging in a coal bank combined with the hard winter and poverty work to make this a very tense book for a young reader. But it is an excellent book for such readers at the same time since it focuses on the boy's self sufficiency, honor, and determination to help his mother and sister survive the winter. His willingness to take a potentially fatal risk to assist his family is the heart of the story. It is wonderful story and well worth reading. I will take the time to find and read more of Lillie D. Chaffin's work and so should you.
Lloyd Bloom's illustrations for the book appear to have been originally rendered in charcoal and present only a few shades of black, white, and grey. In another setting, they might be considered a bit goth. But they do an excellent job of increasing the tension of the book and stressing the dangerous potential of the effort. Go online at a good used book site and find a copy. You will enjoy this book a great deal.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
As we come to this Thanksgiving season, the country is beginning what I am firmly convinced will prove to be one of the darkest, bleakest, most dangerous periods in the history of the country and the world. Without even a plurality, the country has elected, via the electoral college system, literally the most dangerous human on the planet to become president. Hillary Clinton has, as the counting proceeds, more than two million vote lead in the popular vote. But Trump managed to gain an electoral college victory. I have never been one of the misled people who screamed that the electoral college system was a mistake. It is not. Donald Trump is the mistake.
Trump has absolutely no political experience and is prone to dangerous, misbegotten, and inflammatory statements that can lead to huge international conflicts when they take place in diplomatic discussions or are quoted in the popular media which the man loves to use to what he perceives as his advantage. Trump has significant indicators of serious mental illness, specifically antisocial personality disorder with megalomania, the uncontrolled and irrational desire for power. Now, he has achieved the ultimate dream of every megalomaniac. He will be sworn in as president of the United States. After having been endorsed by only two world leaders, Kim Jung Un and Vladimir Putin, the world's two worst dictators. There is also significant evidence of an improper relationship between Trump and Putin before the election. Trump was endorsed by only two large newspapers in the entire country as opposed to 56 which endorsed Hillary Clinton. Of all the living former Republican Presidential nominees, none endorsed Trump. Yet, somehow, enough voters fell for his lies to allow him to win. Trump has begun assembling a cabinet which is comprised of a group of people who have nearly universally been participants in prior major Republican failures. His chief White House strategist is a supporter of the worst Right Wing Radical organizations in the world. His nominee for UN Ambassador has absolutely no international experience. His nominee for Secretary of Education is a supporter of charter schools and the destruction of the Department of Education. His nominee for head of the Environmental Protection Agency wants to destroy the agency at a time when global warming is teetering at the point where it will become irreversible. The country is headed into a disastrous time from which we may well not be able to recover.
If I had $100,000 cash with which to build a two bedroom wheelchair accessible house (my wife has been in a wheelchair for more than 18 years) in a safe foreign country I would be gone to Ecuador, New Zealand, Canada, Belize, or some other country where rational government is practiced. I do not believe the USA is safe for the foreseeable future either militarily, economically, or socially. Trump has bred, fostered, nurtured, and encouraged racial, ethnic, and class hatred in a way that no one since Adolph Hitler has done. Trump's campaign was modeled after the methods Hitler used to gain power in Germany. He is remorseless, unprincipled, unethical, and extremely dangerous. The next four years will be a horrible time in America in which the Right Wing Radicals will attempt to dismantle and destroy every good thing which has been produced in the last one hundred years. They will destroy the Affordable Care Act which has provided reasonable health care for millions who never had any before. They will destroy the Environmental Protection Agency which is the only bastion of protection between the populace and the destruction of the planet. They will attempt to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, WIC, the GI Bill, Student Loans, HUD, and a plethora of other programs which comprise much of the difference between a socially productive and progressive nation and an oligarchy which cares nothing for its citizens. They will attempt to "privatize" every aspect of government which contains money. "Privatization" is a code word for turning government funds over to Right Wing bankers and stockbrokers so they can loot the funds with fees and outright larceny.
The most likely positive outcome that come out of this electoral disaster is that the Democratic Party can regain at least one house of congress in two years. But with control of all three branches of government, the most dangerous human on earth has no checks and balances for the next two years. In two years time, irreversible damage will be done to the structure and nature of American government. Worst of all, Donald Trump has no self control and no desire to have any. He is perfectly capable of causing World War 3 without even knowing or admitting how it happened. Nuclear war is a very real possibility with Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un in control of two nuclear nations. Trump is no more rational, intelligent, or ethical and Kim Jung Un. They are very much alike psychologically. Both are highly dangerous, unpredictable, and unstable people. It will be a miracle if we survive the next two years without a major diplomatic disaster which could lead to an unwinable and unsurvivable war.
There is little to look forward to with hope in the next four years. The American electorate has bought a pig in a poke. The pig is fetid and feral. The poke is rotten. There is little to look forward to with hope in America this Thanksgiving Day.
And, just to forestall and foresee those who will ask "don't you have anything to be thankful for", yes, I do still have most of the standard, human desires to be thankful for. I own my own home free and clear. I have a wife who loves me after nearly 25 years of marriage. I have a better than average education which has given me the tools with which to foresee the coming disaster. For today, the very brief, foreseeable future, I live in a Democratic country which will be governed until January 20, 2017, by one of the best Presidents of the last one hundred years who has done a wonderful job in the face of 8 years unreasonable and irrational opposition by the worst congress in American history. And, sadly, I have the judgment to warn the rest of you that a terrible political train is coming down a very dark tunnel. I can see the light on the engine as it roars down the track. Why can't you?