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Growing Up In Louisa... Famous People

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

When I tell people that I grew up in Kentucky they will sometimes ask if I knew so-and-so, usually a person of celebrity from the Bluegrass state. Why not? Shoot, it’s a small area of the globe. Let’s see, besides myself, a native son, even if I was taken to Huntington for the birth, there are folks like Muhammed Ali. He was exactly the same age as me, but from the Louisville area and not from the hills. Besides, I didn’t box or know anyone who did. 

Then there’s our chicken friend, Col. Harland Sanders. I did see him briefly once in Richmond, Virginia, at one of the chicken outlets, but he didn’t see me. The Clooney’s, Rosemary and George are well-known, but I’ve only seen them on film as far as I remember. They tell me Tom Cruise was a Kentuckian, but again I’ve only seen him in celluloid. Same for Johnny Depp, William Shatner, railroader Casey Jones, old John Brown, Jefferson Davis, Mary Todd Lincoln and her husband, (Illinois claims him), and the ole too familiar Charles Manson. Brrh! There’s two Cyrus’s (Billy Ray and daughter), the two Judd’s, and Loretta Lynn. Well I could go on naming names, but what’s the point? I didn’t cross paths with any of them. Yes, the world is definitely smaller than it was, but frankly, I’m not sure I ever saw or greeted any of those more famous folks who came from, or were related to people I knew from the foothills of Lawrence County. 

George Clooney George Clooney Memories are funny things. Even if we could get past the false memories caused by the tricks of time, or an over-reactive imagination, it’s hard to look back to all those years ago to really understand the big picture of how people fit and effect this world. First of all, there are truths and perceptions, which don’t necessarily match. In fairness, when I was growing up, I was usually only privy to quick snapshots of life. Often those pictures were not connected or fully comprehended. People are more complicated than we can ever fully appreciate. 

My high school class only had perhaps eighty kids. Many of us had grown up pretty much together, but a few were added at various points along the way. Yes, I knew them all, but as kids we tended to ‘hang out’ with various groups and therefore know some better than others. I sometimes struggle to pull their faces out of the shadows and rush to the old high school annual to look the person up. Once done, a surge of old memories refresh my mind, filling gaps long forgotten. I then remember those faces and the experiences eroded. In fairness, to ask me after all these years about how well I know someone who has not been part of my life for decades, is bound to bring stutters while my mind frantically sorts through those dusty cerebral files. It’s not you, or my opinion of you. It’s me. My mental file room is a mess.   

In the case of the famous Kentuckians, of course I would be honored to meet them. That is primarily because of the commonality of community and heritage that connect us all. Meanwhile, truth be known, I probably know less about a given musical artists than the person asking. After all, if they know a star was from my area of Kentucky, then they are likely a fan and know a great deal more than me on the subject. As one who has reached the winter of life, my interest is not necessarily the same as may be found in the younger populace. I tend to listen to the classics that play on satellite radio with the purpose of calming my soul. Even the more famous of the local stars escaped my attention back in the day, perhaps because they were not even born when I left for Virginia. Some were from other generations barely connected to mine.      

Fred Vinson Fred Vinson Take my personal non-relationship with the Vinson family. I said it right, non-relationship. Oh, I was privileged to see the Chief Justice in person once or twice, but after all I was just a little child. I think my family knew the Vinson family well, but a snotty-nosed kid like me wasn’t much to notice if you were a big and powerful man. I doubt I ever spoke to him, nor he, me. Once, when I was a teen, my aunt introduced me to his sister when we ran into her at the opening of the first little library. It had just opened in a small outbuilding behind a big house that was later demolished to become the current site the public library enjoys today. One look at that lady and you’d know at once who she was. She looked for the world just like the Honorable Chief Justice, except that she wore a dress instead of a suit or a robe. She was very nice to me and was very friendly. I felt honored to meet her. I’d seen her brother enough on the street and in newsreels, so there would be no mistake picking either of them out in a crowd. I knew other Vinson’s, but have no idea of their respective relationships to His Honor. 

I do remember seeing him at the dedication of the memorial of his birthplace, just behind the church I attended every Sunday. The crowd that day was the largest I had ever seen. I was told that the speakers and dignitaries on the raised platform were famous and important men from Washington and Frankfort. Wow! It was no wonder that the first traffic light in Louisa was installed then, just in time to citify the little town for the distinguished guests. What a day! I think nearly everyone in the county was there, and a few more to boot. There were men with cameras running around taking pictures while the Sheriff’s department was busy rerouting traffic. Remember, there was no bypass in those days. The new traffic light was probably helpful. I don’t think Bernard Nelson was on the force then, or maybe even out of high school, but either way he was surely at the event. Many of you readers were there and have memories of that day, I suspect. 

What about my memory of other famous folk from around there? Well, who knows? I went to school and knew many people with now-Ricky Skaggs Ricky Skaggs famous last names. I knew a number of Cyrus’s from everywhere, but not the two that most of America is familiar with. Harry Richard and Jack were two of my LHS classmates, but I don’t know if they were distant relatives to those who rose to become stars. I know both of the one’s I knew were characters in their own right, and stars in my mind. It was the same for the Skaggs clan. My grandfather knew Doc Skaggs really well and counted him as a close family friend. I saw him often, but I’m sure he regarded me as some street urchin. No, wait a minute. That isn’t quite true. He knew me as the kid who came in regularly to pick up my grandmother’s medicine. Sometimes he’d see me coming and have it ready. I doubt he knew my name, though. 

I don’t pretend to understand all the family relationships, but I knew those last names when growing up. Now, I live less than a half-mile from a university venue where some of those Kentucky folks have played in concert, but I haven’t turned out for any of the performances yet. I reserve the right to do so if circumstances allow. I live in a house once owned by a Hornsby, an apparent cousin of the talented star, and I’ve heard stories that Bruce himself was there when he was growing up practicing and learning his trade. I arrived too late to meet him. As far as I could tell he grew up and left before I gutted and remodeled the house. Ricky Skaggs has played some concerts with him and I’m sorry I’ve missed those. I enjoy Ricky’s music. He reminds me of Bill Monroe, a star I have heard in person, but still didn’t meet.   

Satual Page Satual Page I’ve seen a number of famous people, but more as a spectator. I’ve seen politicians, actors, writers, and ball players. Once I did toss a ball with some famous baseball players, but I was out of my league and way too young to impress anyone. There was Satchel Page, (a very funny and likable guy), and Al Kaline, (who I thought was too thin to hit the ball so far), Tiger shortstop Harvey Kuhn, and some others, but I’m not sure I really formally met them, or exchanged names. It was more like, “Here kid, catch this.” I knew their names, but there was no reason for them to care to know mine. I was in Detroit at a ‘day-camp’ held by the Tigers for young boys. We were to learn some fundamentals about baseball. I think it was a public relations thing where the team would have a special field day and meet kids, sign autographs, and teach something of the sport. It was a fun. I often saw the Red Sox, the Yankees, Indians, and all their starts. Yogi, my hero, was there, as was Mantel, Marris, Whitey Ford, and others. Watching Ted Williams take one ‘out of the park,’ at Tiger Stadium was a thrill, and a piece of history.  

To be real and getting away from the famous, what I really remember more, and what meant the most to me, were the folks who counted every day in my life. I will always remember those. Eddie Boggs would have to top the list. He wasn’t famous, but he was a good man and my best friend’s father. He was a surrogate father to me in many ways. He was my coach, mentor, and friend. I wrote an article about him a few years ago that you can look up and read the details if you missed it. I’d love to hear from others who shared his attention and support. I know that a lot of people benefited from knowing him. 

I remember many episodes with Bill Cheek, a ‘John Wayne’ kind of a ‘man’s man.’ I rode in that red jeep with him a number of times as I grew older. We’d chat in the bookstore out back of the high school, but he was usually a very serious man. He didn’t swap many stories or jokes, per se, but could recite a poem at a blink. Whichever he chose, you can bet that it had a moral. He knew education was more than the three ‘R’s.’ He purposely focused on providing leadership and the real values of life. Whether it was a ‘grass killing’ demonstration around the flagpole, or a lesson on how to shake hands, he wanted to shape the character of his charges. He taught Sunday school at my church for the adult class, but I also know that every chance he had to bring an evangelist to speak to the student-body, he would do it. In spite of that being asserted later to be unconstitutional, a lot of students benefited from this guidance. He was sometimes gruff and opinionated, (like me today), but always focused on the lives of the young people he cared about. He had a big contagious laugh that would be hard to forget, too. 

There were many people I respected and enjoyed knowing while I was growing up, but there were many more that I walked past every day that I really didn’t really know. I think that a ‘take home’ lesson I got from that was that I needed to care more about others, slow down and listen, and ask questions when appropriate. Teachers, merchants, pastors, railroad workers, barbers, politicians, doctors, theater owners, mechanics, janitors, clerks, salespeople, judges, and even delivery men were much more than merely workers or employees. Pat Brown was a locally famous knuckle-ball pitcher and the father of a friend. I caught a game once with ‘Lighting’ pitching and learned to stay alert. I never knew when he was going to throw the ball. We all remember ‘PeeWee’ and many other characters about town. None ran for president, or governor, nor were they famous actors, writers, or athletes, but they had something to do with my growing up, and I’m grateful. If I had been smarter and learned more about them, maybe I would be able to type out each of their legacies so the world would know that they were here and that they mattered. It’s sad I knew so little and life has gone so fast. 

Our friends, whether celebrated or common, all add richness to our lives, and often their very memories give us so much pleasure. They give us an understanding that a diversity of opinions, or outlooks, sometimes carry the best solutions to our problems. They teach us to behave and not to be too one-dimensional. Life is too short not to be continually learning. We don’t have to agree, but we don’t have to argue, either. If we listen, we might learn something. Maybe that means we may wish to avoid particular issues, but remember that their right to believe differently is important, too. That’s how some of the best ideas in life are generated. The saying “think outside of the box” is a bit limiting, in spite of the intent of the phase. One should think inside and outside of the boxes of the world. There’s room above, under, beside, within, and on the parameters themselves. The one who knows and understands it all is richer than those of us who would shut doors, turn their backs, and close their minds. 

When I was trying to start off my life on the best foot, I came to realize that if I wanted a degree of understanding and knowledge I would have to listen, instead of talk. There are plenty of very successful people in life that would be flattered if you showed interest and sought out their advice. Listen to those who have done whatever it is you want to accomplish. They will know the steps and know the pitfalls. Don’t listen to those who discourage, but to those who inspire you to move forward. I’ve made it a point to ‘hang’ with winners and it has made a difference. I was told by an old coach once that those who are most ‘coachable’ will become the stars of tomorrow. I only wish I had started earlier and listened more. Some direct advice from Fred M. Vinson might have changed my life, but in fairness, I was too young back then to have understood. Nonetheless, the little town had people enough to help me well on my way. I am grateful.  

So, dear readers, giving the celebrities and famous their due, I thank you for being my friends. Please continue to give me your opinions and continue to be stars. You add an important dimension to other people’s lives. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   

Photo taken shortly after the wall was set up

ON THE WALL - IRONTON, OH

CHARLES S. JONES BROTHER OF FRED JONES, WA4SWF

SOME OF HIS METALS


The Moving Wall is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans National Memorial, "The Wall" is located in Washington D.C. and is taken to various cities and towns throughout the country providing Americans with an opportunity to pay homage to the more than 58,000 Vietnam Veterans who gave their lives for their country

A Tribute to Our Fallen Comrades - "Sons and Brothers, Friends and Fathers, Loved in Life, Lost In Strife, Remembered Forever."

"The Moving Wall" is the half-size replica of the Washington, DC Vietnam Veterans Memorial and has been touring the country for almost thirty years. When John Devitt attended the 1982 dedication in Washington, he felt the positive power of "The Wall." He vowed to share that experience with those who did not have the opportunity to go to Washington. John, Norris Shears, Gerry Haver, and other Vietnam veteran volunteers built The Moving Wall. It went on display for the first time in Tyler, Texas in October of 1984. More than one of these structures of The Moving Wall now travel the USA from April through November, spending several days at each site.

As this is being written we only know of one SOARA - ARES member who lost a relative in Vietnam. Fred Jones, WA4SWF lost his brother Charles during the Vietnam War. Hopefully, Fred will be here to see the wall with us.

Below is information from the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC.

Charles Spencer Jones, Warrant Officer,
329TH TRANS CO, 159TH TRANS BN, 4TH TRANS CMD, ARMY SPT CMD SAIGON, 1ST LOG CMD, USARV,
Army of the United States
Louisa, Kentucky
December 11, 1938 to February 14, 1969
CHARLES S JONES is on the Wall at Panel W32, Line 32

ON THE WALL - IRONTON, OH

Growing up in Louisa – Valentine!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

What does a little kid know about love? The lucky ones know they are loved, but it likely is defined as ‘cared about,’ ‘important,’ etc. The romantic concept is picked up from the media and pure observation of the relationship between parents, or perhaps older siblings who act out carelessly in front of their juniors. We also got ‘love’ stories in school during reading times, and just maybe we felt an undefined attractiveness to certain others in our class.

Regardless, at our teacher’s instruction that seemed always to occur at this time of year, we little bunnies were set busy at coloring and cutting hearts out of colored paper. Sometimes we’d glue several pieces together to make a red heart on a colored background. Some lucky ones had lace they could work into their masterpiece. These were the homemade variety meant to resemble the store-bought ones that were handled by the corner store, or the ten cent store. I suspect kids these days either buy packets of cards, or download them from the web.

Back then, once we made them, signed them, and wrote the recipient’s name on them, they would be ready to mail. Of course we didn’t have the three-cent postage (don’t you wish?) or a home address, but that didn’t matter. We’d simply mail them in our classroom depository that was fashioned out of a cardboard box and decorated. We’d make one for mom to take home, but otherwise teachers watched to insure that we each had made a card for everyone in the class. This was to avoid hurt feelings should someone be left out, or not receive as many as others. I have to confess that in those early days I was fairly sensitive and might have broken out with ‘out of control’ crying at the first sign of an injustice. There were likely others that were just as sensitive.

I remember that the classroom ‘mailbox’ was decorated and placed on a table in our classroom. It was still just a decorated box, but the teacher had added a mail slot on top. This was enough to set our imaginations to work with the idea we were ‘mailing’ the cards, just like grown folks. Each of us would take our stack of proudly finished cards, show them to the teacher, and put them through the slot. On Valentine’s Day the box was opened and the cards were passed out to each of the named students. We could be fairly sure we’d get the same number of cards as the classmate next to us, so no one would either get too many, or too few. That was okay with me because it also gave me a level of security that I wouldn’t be left out. I could also give cards to those really special classmates without fear they’d think I was making a move on them. I’m guessing they were still too young to question motives, which was good.

The hard part about this card business was that there might have been one or two kids that I didn’t like, but by rule they would still get a card from me. I decided to fix that by still sending them a card, but not signing it. As it happens the teacher noticed the ‘oversight,’ so I had to find a new solution. Hmmm. So the idea occurred to me that I could simply make duplicates for the one’s I really liked, but to insure that I had the right total number, I could skip the ones I didn’t. After thinking of this as a devious trick, I decided that it wasn’t the ‘high road,’ that mom was always trying to drum into my head. My Sunday school was the same way. Because of this guidance, I was able to figure out some of these difficult ethical issues. This one was setting off all the alarms. You see, deep in my heart, I knew someone would end up with hurt feelings when they discovered they had been shorted. Being absolutely brilliant, I also figured out that if they checked the roster, they’d soon know who didn’t send them one. So I took that high (and healthy) road, and made a nice card for everyone. It was the Christian thing to do.

Looking back, I wondered to myself, if there was someone that was really special. Nope, I was too young for that, not that there weren’t several really cute, little girls that I felt worthy of my watching and admiring. The problem was that I doubted they thought that highly of me. You see, I had no personal illusions that I was handsome, socially polished, or that I might be confused by someone as a ‘knight in shining armor.’ I figured that when concerning sending Valentines, a socialistic, all-encompassing approach would work just fine. Maybe the teachers knew something about this ‘love/like’ thing, after all. I agreed with myself to fool them by treating ‘em all equal! They were all valentines!

As I continued to grow, I really wasn’t shy or withdrawn, but I wasn’t particularly wary about playing or joking with those darling powder puffs. kids valentine copykids valentine copyThey could be fun, but not a love interest. That was way too risky. The problem was that I felt I was a rung or two lower on life’s ladder as relates to good looks or cleverness. Therefore, the chance of being rejected was pretty likely. Because of that fear, I wasn’t the kind of guy that would draw a heart on my notebook and add a set of initials. Neither did I expect to see my initials on a girl’s notebook either. I didn’t want the stress and let down that surely would follow. I figured it was dangerous to my self-esteem if I ‘liked’ someone and it was not returned. Why even take the chance? Also, I do remember some doing that, but then all the other kids would tease and point.

To protect my own heart from suffering, I was determined never to ‘cross that line’ and expose my feelings. It would only expose me to scorn and outright rejection. Even up into my early teen years I preferred to avoid the risks of asking a girl out, (she’d say ‘no’) or walking one home. Other fellows in my class had long formed relationships, however innocent, with girls. They had ‘held hands,’ or maybe even stolen a smooch! Inside I wanted that, too, but I dismissed the idea as unsafe folly. I found that if I focused on reading books, practicing music, playing sports, going to movies, or roller skating, that I might stay out of trouble. I’d just stay distracted, happy, and busy. That was a hedge of protection for my sensitive heart. I wasn’t the only one like that, you know. I occasionally met others that were kindred spirits, having the same internal struggles. My heart really went out to them, but I didn’t have a clue as to how I could help either them or me.

So what did Valentine’s Day really mean to me? It was a time where I would just cut up hearts and glue them as directed. I counted them, double-checked the names, and put them in the big box. I couldn’t afford to see the cards as any more than a class assignment, or an expression of art. They were just paper.

It was late in high school when I finally began to break out of that self-imposed protective shell. With a few minor successes, I quickly lost sight of my past fears. Along the way, I’m afraid, I also forgot the lessons I had learned about other people’s feelings that I should have known all too well. I’m afraid I may have made life less than perfect for some of those I dated. Sadly, I was sometimes manipulative and rude. I hadn’t ridden in on the white charger of fairy tales, but I rather, figuratively speaking, I had backed in on one ugly, smelly mule. I behaved as I wished I wouldn’t. It was as if some unfair game was afoot leaving sadness in its wake. I wasn’t anyone’s valentine. I didn’t even like me.

As I matured, I finally came to a place where I truly fell in love. It would be some years later when I met a certain young lady and married her. It was a couple of years later when I looked up and saw her holding and nursing my new infant son. That picture of her burned in my mind and really changed my outlook. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a ‘kind of love’ for her before, but now the totality of my love for her was beginning to materialize. A brand-new feeling washed over me and like the Grinch of Christmas, my heart grew several times that day. I saw more than a baby and his mother. I saw my very best friend, my partner, my lover, and my true valentine. Over time my love for her has grown even more. Now, we finish each other’s sentences and anticipate what the other wants or needs. Often I turn to ask for a drink or something, only to look up and see she had anticipated my wish and had the item in hand. Over the years, that love has grown to include more children, and a grand gaggle of grandchildren, and even a great grandchild. Each represents a love so fulfilling and dear that the thought sometimes brings me to shedding tears of joy.
I am blessed, too, to have seen my children grow up and marry wonderful loves of their own. I see them doing the right things to keep love alive in their home and in their hearts. As a result, the grandchildren are also blessed by seeing a model of how to live. They are growing up in homes where love reigns. They are so much richer for it! These, too, are my valentines and they know it.

Suzie and I usually sit alone most nights after supper and watch some favorite Hallmark movies. These tearjerkers keep me in touch with the courtships and struggles of youth of today, but remind me, too, of how very blessed I am. My darling wife sees to it that a box of tissues is always at hand since I am sure to react to the happy endings. Even if those shows are somewhat predictable, I still tear up as if it is part of the script for me to reach for a tissue. When Suzie and I take a ‘date night’ out, the meal is secondary, for it is the companionship that truly enriches our lives. This, and memories of the past continue to help us grow together. I no longer guard my feelings or build hedges around my emotions. We are richer because we acknowledge each other and we allow ourselves to be ourselves; yet, still we are one. Valentines are no longer just paper objects. They are real expressions of love, honor, and respect. Suzie deserves nothing less.

Like all other families, we have our struggles with life’s problems. There are fears, disappointments, accidents, failures, and health troubles. Some days I might be a grouch, and some days she’s tired or overwhelmed. These things aren’t brought on by love, but the ability to withstand them and deal with them in proper ways has everything to do with the very foundation of our relationship. Love and caring gives us a platform of trust and an assurance that we are not alone. Lest I mislead you, let me say that our faith in the Almighty makes our love possible. He is the real model of how to love. Every day we live is another Valentine from Him. Valentines are to be shared and given out freely. They should be more than a bit of paper, and yes, they should go to everyone.

Therefore, I would not dare write all of these rambling thoughts and leave you readers out of the mix. You are important to me, too, especially when you give me feedback. Therefore, please accept this article as my Valentine to you, sent from my heart. Thank you for the loyalty you give when you read this column. Oh! Yes, before I totally sign off, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” Now it’s your turn to remember somebody with something from your heart.

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