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May 19, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – Trikes & Bikes!  

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

 

My earliest memory of personal travel wasn’t about automobiles. We didn’t own one so it was a rare thing for us to go anywhere. I remember times of travel on the bus when I usually got sick from the fumes and the curvy roads. We also went on a train, but that was really rare. I mostly just watched them roll by. If I was lucky I’d see the engineer and wave. They always waved back as if I was their friend.

My first personal conveyer was a trusty stroller. I remember dim memories of her wheeling me and pushing back the visor to show off her sweet dumpling. Frankly, those memories are like faded tintypes that today I can barely make out. The family pram had been passed down from my cousin George who was three years my senior, for me and then for my cousin Julia who was junior to me by three years. We all graduated to a stroller once each of us were able to sit up. This contraption was made of both wood and steel and had some faded colored beads around the tray in front. I remember playing with those beads, but never noticing that the paint had nearly worn off on the beads and tray, alike. The wheels were made from a metal disk and wrapped with solid rubber tires. There was a space behind the back of my seat that allowed for mom to stick her purse or packages as she pushed me around.

 A red, metal Tricycle became part of our fleet once I was walking and able to push myself along. It took a week or two for me to learn to pedal. Meanwhile, I would often push and find I had entrapped my foot under the back of the bike. It took careful maneuvering to extract the aching foot, usually bringing its share of wet tears and loud crying. That became my incentive to use the pedals since they were far in front of danger. My cousin George was too big to use the trike, but he loved to stand on the little platform above the rear axle and push me down the sidewalks. Again, if I wasn’t careful I could be caught up under the rear as before. There were times that the big front wheel would turn and cause us both to tumble. After being consoled by mom, and George getting a dressing down for his disregard for safety, I resumed my play with the dangerous little tricycle.

It was mid-summer, likely around Independence Day, when George got his first two-wheel bicycle. This was long before the day of training wheels so we had to suffer the learning curve wreaks commonly known to kids all around. We got help from mom and got some sermons, too, relating to safety. While traffic in our little town wasn’t heavy, we still had automobiles and trucks traversing the streets and avenues. We promised to stay away from those by riding on the sidewalks and lots around our home.

I remember when George added decorations all over his new bike. It was the fanciest bike in the neighborhood. He used crepe paper colored in red, white and blue, between the spokes of the wheels. He mounted small American flags next to the handle-bar grips and put another above his rear reflector. Wow, this bike looked really good! It was later in the day when I learned he would be riding his bike in the big parade that was to be held on a Saturday, or a holiday. My mother had been a member of the LHS band and had marched those streets before. There were all kinds of floats and the old open cab, ‘crank’ fire engine. That was replaced later when the town bought a newer truck that I would later use when I was a volunteer.

 It wasn’t until I was in the first grade when I got my first bike. I remember flashes of my mom pushing me down Clay Street (a new home away from the Louisa Inn) toward Franklin. It was wobbly at first but I began to catch on after a day or two. Even that came with scrapes and bruises, and mom applying tons of Band-Aids and gauze. She used several kinds of antiseptic liquids each with their own disagreeable characteristics. I know that the alcohol burned and that methylate and iodine gave reddish stains or gave minor stings, too. But being all boy I saw the ‘boo-boos’ like merit badges. I was paying my dues, for sure, but the rewards would come in time. Mom had a cure for everything, but if she didn’t there would be a lady friend that would tell her about a home remedy. They were still better medicines than ‘castor oil’ I was force-fed when mom thought it good. I remember liking sassafras but not they say it is bad for you. Oh, well.

It was on ‘Wheeler’s Hill,’ that I had my first serious wreck. That little dip, which I saw on a recent visit seemed steep in those days. I began my descent downhill on Pocahontas leaving from Lady Washington Street toward Clay Street. At the bottom of this grand hill my head somehow went through the front wheel spokes of my bike causing both the bike and my head some serious damage. My forehead still has a lump, though not so pronounced as then. Perhaps this bump defined what the rest of my life would be. Who knows? Well, my cousin George saw the crash and ran home screaming that I had been killed. Here came mom and half the neighborhood running with medical supplies. If we had cell phones in those days no doubt an ambulance would have been called, perhaps from the Curtright or Young’s Funeral Homes. The first miracle of the day from my point of view was that I was still alive. A second miracle was that my head was disengaged from the broken wheel without inflicting additional injury. A third was when we were able to get the bike fixed.

This was a time when Schwinn was the King for making classic models designed to impress. The so-called English bicycles where not yet part of our lives. When they came in I saw my first ‘gear shift’ on my brand-new ‘three-speed,’ bike. Frankly, I never understood why I needed three speeds and found two of them as making my biking life harder, not better. Other generations would get ten-speeds, or even more gears, I guess. They weren’t wrong, but just came from another time.

I think the most negative things about bicycles is their propensity to eat trouser legs. If the chain guard was in place that was less of an issue, but when the chain had to be put back on the chain guard was in the way. Putting the guard back on was an extra step, so we lazy boys rarely ever bothered. We ended up having to roll up our jeans or risk that pants-leg would be frayed and caught up in the works. Shorts were a help in the summer once they were in style, but for a time it was only jeans or pants for us. I was skinny to start with, rarely buttoned by shirt to cover my bare stomach, so rolled up britches and an askew baseball cap made me look like some circus clown. Such was the cost of having and loving our bikes.   

Over the years I became a better bike rider often taking my heavy Schwinn bike down Town Hill without a mishap. That was a long way from my experience on ‘Wheeler Hill.’ (Named for Charley Wheeler). Johnny Bill and I once rode our bikes all the way to Fallsburg just to ask two girls for a date that night. Johnny Bill thought he might have the family station-wagon that night if they said ‘yes.’  The trip met disaster when we were halfway up a big hill we were spotted by Eddie Boggs, Johnny Bill’s dad. We were instructed to put our bikes in his station wagon and get in. He took us to his home and delivered a sermon I still remember. We got the chewing out of our lives. With heads hanging low we expressed our sorrow for not thinking about the dangers and promised to never, never do that again. True to our word, we didn’t take our bikes out on the highways again, but we took a boat trip down the Big Sandy that may have topped everything in terms of dangerous.

 When growing up, aside from dating a nice young lady that had a car, or going with some friends in borrowed cars, my only choice was to walk or mount my two-wheeler. The relatively small town made this an acceptable choice. After all, parking a bicycle and remembering to retrieve it later, was a bit of trouble. ‘Now, where did I leave that thing?’ Shoe leather became more and more important. If the trip was down to Dee’s to meet up with friends there was always a chance someone with a car would pick me up. The bike would have been a handicap and maybe cost me a fun trip to the drive-in in Ironton. My image was suffering because how cool is it to be nearly ‘grown up’ and still be peddling a bike around town?

If I needed to go to Johnny Bill’s house the bike was a good thing. If we went off doing something I would be able to choose to take the bike or leave it there. Then there were times when my good old steed was in disrepair. Whether it needed a new chain, a tire patched, or spokes replaced it was still out of commission, so walking was my other choice. So I would amble along kicking a can, or a rock, down the street. After joining the Air Force I was home for a visit. The last time I saw my bike was I had joined the Air Force. My cousin Julia used it to ‘toot’ me out of town, just past Hinkle’s Motel and Restaurant, where I thumbed a ride to back to Virginia. Until then my bicycle had been my primary mode of transportation. I guess the old beat-up ride is somewhere in bicycle heaven.  

While walking I sometimes dreamed that someday I might afford a car of my own. I’d have to get a driver’s license and be able to pay for gasoline, insurance and the occasional repair, but it would be worthwhile nonetheless. Oh to have the ability to pick a direction and burn up the local highways. In my thoughts I imagined I might even go as far as Huntington, maybe even further if I had good reason.

Fulfillment of this dream would require my getting a job. Then again, having a job would restrict me from having the time to go anywhere, so maybe the better solution was to relax and just let things happen as they might. Meanwhile, I rode my bike around town to see if anyone was doing anything. Who knows? Maybe they would let me join them.    

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May 18, 2018

In the early sixties when I was growing up, most homes didn't have TVs so people would go and visit each other for entertainment.

We lived in the main back of the hollow.

John Hensley lives in Warfield, Ky. where he runs a discount store. His main interests, besides writing FB articles,  are wood working, planting flowers, raising a garden, cooking, baking and going to lodgeJohn Hensley lives in Warfield, Ky. where he runs a discount store. His main interests, besides writing FB articles, are wood working, planting flowers, raising a garden, cooking, baking and going to lodgeDad owned two thirds of it, the entire left side and over to the right hand side. He let a couple build a house on the left side and said they could stay there, rent free, for as long as they lived. If they moved, the house would go back to him.

They were a nice old couple and we spent a lot of time with them.

Aunt Sarah, was what we called her, would gather us around and tell us ghost stories. She told us about how her cow milk was going sour and she didn't know what was causing it. It was stored down in a well that kept everything cool.

She was told that a witch was doing it and for her to stop it from happening, she had to get some willow switches to whip the well with. She did, and the next day her milk was good. She said later that day she saw a woman that had been mad at her for years that had stripes from the switches all over her!

Aunt Sarah would tell us about how, late at night, she could hear something coming down the mountain on the other side of the hill. She also told about how she had seen a ghost and told how it just seemed to float instead of walking like a normal person would do.

Even in the middle of the day her stories would raise the hairs on the back of your neck. There was a dirt road that ran up the hollow  shaped like a horseshoe where Aunt Sarah lived you could see the other side of the road from her house. There was a bottom in between the the two sides of the road. In the daylight there was a path that you could follow and make a shortcut. At night without a light it was impossible to do.

When I was six we moved out of the hollow and back into the house that my grandfather had helped to build for Mom and Dad. My oldest sister, Mary, and her husband, Roger, moved into our old house at the head of the hollow and lived there for a little while before lightning struck the house and burned it to the ground. They then bought the house that the old couple had lived in. They had moved out a year or so before.

Modernization began catching up with us and people started putting phones in their homes. They were party lines. You would have to wait until the line was clear before you could use it. You could pick it up and listen in on anyone's conversation. Today we all have private lines, but back then there was no choice in the matter.

Me and my baby sister Sarah had been staying with our sister Mary and playing with the babies, when Mother called and said that she was coming to get us. It was right at the edge of dark, in the twilight.

The moon was full and was out bright.

There was a mist in the air from the moisture of the night.

You could see fog starting raise out of the ground.

Mom was standing straight across from the house. She told us to walk down the road and come to her so we started walking, holding each other's hand and remembering the stories that Aunt Sarah had told us about the hollow. Mom was talking to us all the time and that helped to ease our fears a little bit but not much.

Just when we were getting to the the back of the horseshoe curve in the road, we saw something moving. It was all in white. It was moving towards us swiftly, seemingly to just float above the road. It was in the moon light and from where we were, it didn't appear to move like a human at all.

We started yelling and screaming for help and ran back to our sister, Mary. We were still holding hands, with me pulling my little sister onward. We would look back and see that it was gaining on us, This made us yell and scream even louder.

We had almost made it back to Mary's house, when it caught us!

We thought we were dead!

It turned out to be our middle sister Elizabeth. Mother had forgotten to mention that Liz was going to stay with Mary that night to help with the children. She and Mom had been to church and she was still wearing the white dress that came down to her knees, that she had worn to church. She was about ten and was afraid herself and was running to get there quicker. She didn't mean to scare us at the time, but did rather enjoy it. She was out of breath from running and laughing at us. After what seemed like an eternity for us we calmed down and caught our breath and started back again.

We made to Mother with no further incident.

 

May 11, 2018

Growing up in Louisa – A Tribute to Mom!

Weekly feature ...by Michael Coburn

It was either at the Louisa Department store or maybe next door at Ferguson’s Department store that this eight-year old boy had run in hopes of finding the perfect, but affordable gift. That Saturday morning was the day before everyone would be celebrating Mother’s Day. Upon this discovery, obtained by a chance overhearing of a comment from one of the household’s adults, I had rushed to my bedroom and pulled out ‘the box’ that I kept hidden away for such an occasion. After fumbling through its valuable assets that included baseball cards, rocks, bottle caps, and rubber bands, I finally found the only money I had in this world. A moment later I ran out of the house leaving the screen door to bang as it closed behind me.

I explained to the lady at the store that I didn’t have much money but wanted to buy my mom a Mother’s Day gift. She smiled and led me over to a counter. She slipped around to face me across the glass surface and then, still smiling, she reached behind her to a shelf and pulled out a small, white, flat box that was maybe about a half-inch high and twelve inches square. She sat it on the counter in front of me and carefully lifted its lid. Inside there was some thin tissue-paper hiding the real contents of the box. Folding the paper back she exposed a very fancy white handkerchief with rolled edges and embroidered flower designs. It was beautiful and was better than any I had ever seen before. A small tag attached to one corner showed the price of $1.89.

I felt a wave of embarrassment that I was so short of money. I swallowed and told the lady that this was fancier than mom could really use. I asked her if she had others, not wanting to tell her outright that I simply couldn’t afford the price. I only had the one dollar I had hidden away in ‘the box’ ‘for a rainy day.’ The lady, politely put the tissue paper back in place, replaced the cover and returned it to the shelf. She took down another box and placed that in front of me. Again, she opened the box with care and I spotted a plain handkerchief that had nice hand-rolled edges. This one was slightly off-white in color and altogether suitable for the occasion, but it, too, had a price that was just out of reach. The tag said $1.12.

handkerchiefshandkerchiefs I again suggested something a little less fancy. I told the lady that my mom wasn’t known for putting on airs, wearing long white gloves, hats with veils, or flaunting expensive handkerchiefs. I had no idea where that came from, but I was urgently trying to reach an affordable goal. The sales lady finally picked up what I hadn’t said and turned to pick up yet another box. The handkerchief within this box had edges that were turned under and machine sewn. The fabric was a bit rougher than the earlier ones, but was still nice looking. The price was $.49. The pressure subsided because I knew I could get this one and still have change to buy her a Hallmark card over at Ed Land’s Sundry, next door. The lady surprised me when she placed the gift in some nice wrapping and attached a blank card. Later, once home in my room I would write the phrase, “Happy Mother’s Day” and would sign it. I put it away in ‘the box’ so I could retrieve it and present it to her the next morning.

All night I tossed and turned in my bed, anxious for that time the next morning when I could surprise mom with her gift. Sometime during that long night, despite my excitement, I finally fell to sleep. When mom woke me in the morning, she went downstairs to fix breakfast. I was left to I dress for church. Before descending the stairs, I found ‘the box’ and removed the gift that I had purchased the day before. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table when I laid the gift next to her. She was busy talking to granny, so she didn’t even notice the package. I anxiously pushed it toward her, but it was still to no avail. Finally, I shoved it toward her until it touched her hand. She turned and saw the gift. Still without picking it up, she looked directly at me. Her eyes sent an unspoken question that seemed to say, ‘What’s this?’ I was so proud when I said, “I got you a Mother’s Day gift.” Better than the hug was the look of pleasure that mom reflected as she tore open the package. She was my first and special love that I could never forget.

Throughout the years as I grew up in Louisa, my mom was very important in my life. Though small in stature, I thought her the prettiest mom around. I didn’t notice a slight birth defect until one of my classmates asked if my mom was the little lady that walked to Fort Gay every day. She had gone on to describe her has handicapped. As it happened, her left hand was withered because during her development in the womb, the umbilical cord was wrapped too tightly around that hand preventing its full development. She used her right hand for everything, except the left added support much as a fork does when cutting meat. She may have been little, but she was a giant in my eyes.

Mom and I spent untold hours in the kitchen frying chicken, making various dishes and desserts, and treats. While doing that she introduced me to classical music, to poetry, to fairy tales, to the Gospels, and finally even to sports on the radio. I learned to be careful and recognize safety as paramount. She told me to listen instead of talking, and expanded on the feelings of others. She spoke of gallantry, and being brave, always protecting the weaker. She explained to never be a racist, and to look for ways to make others feel accepted.

Criticism from mom was remembered and hurt us deeply, but she was careful to temper words with care that the lesson was learned but the spirit intact. When I needed correction, she didn’t hesitate, but even with that I knew I was loved. Many of us ‘walked the line’ because we feared the idea of disappointing mom. Instead of becoming a ‘momma’s boy,’ they taught us to become men and women, and to take our place in making the world a better place.    

 When considering of the complexities of life there is nothing more constant and predictable than the love between a mother and child. Innate motherly instincts show up in many, if not most of God’s creatures, but none is so strong as that of our own species. In fact, society is repulsed whenever a mother turns her back upon her children. More than a shirking of a set of perceived duties it seems a crime against nature. We believe that there’s nothing greater than a mother’s love for her young. Even as children we naturally believe and put our trust in that. Motherly love is the very basis of our security that gives us the ability to grow, mature, and become mentally balanced and then to become good parents ourselves.

There are many things that can disrupt this natural relationship, including drugs, alcohol, and abuse, but we are glad when there is no interference with that ‘natural’ relationship built on motherly love. Even as we matured and started our own families we remembered our ‘momma.’ The nurturing and care was more than a mere duty for her. Mom would kiss the hurt, hold us closely and reassure us that ‘mom was here.’ All would be okay.

At the risk of being accused of stereotyping the role of mother, let me make a comment that mother’s come in their own respective styles, each with an approach to motherhood as different as her differing DNA and upbringing provides. Some surely had, or have strengths in some areas, while others balance the role of motherhood in entirely different ways. It is not my intent to put value judgments on any, but rather to heap well-earned praises where due, and for understanding individual differences. There’s no doubt that some had strong characters and stood out, while others were more reserved. Regardless, I believe their respective goals were to do whatever they thought best for us. Typically, our moms were a ‘safe-harbor’ to which we ran frequently during our early years. Later, they were a bulwark of strength and encouragement allowing us to venture out of the nest and into the troublesome world.

 For most of us, it was our moms that changed our diapers, heated our bottles, helped us dress, trained us to use the bathroom, wiped our rears and noses, and provided all-important discipline when it was needed. Our mothers cleaned up our messes, washed our clothes, and taught us our lessons. They read us books, talked about character, the morals of stories, and showed us the things to avoid. They taught us to share and respect others, and taught us good manners. They were everything to us.

I have heard story after story where a dying son or daughter called out with their last words with a plea for ‘mom.’ Whether a car accident, an act of war, an illness, or some lifestyle gone terribly wrong, the comforting hope was that mom’s love was unconditional and that she would understand. We never wanted to disappoint. In these things she reflected a characteristic of God. She was full of grace and patience as she dreamed of a better life for her children.     

There are also those who were adopted. Sometimes, a relative or another would take on the ‘mother’s role when the natural parents died, or when they could no longer support their children. These surrogates often fulfilled, or exceeded the need. They gave guidance and love the natural mother could not provide. Even so, later, there was sometimes an urge for the adopted child to seek out their ‘real’ mother. Success in finding them had mixed results, some good, some reopening old wounds and stirring memories of bad times.

In the healthiest of families, the matriarch is held in the highest esteem. Celebrations, remembrances, Mother’s Day cards, and flowers, dinner out, or candy, marks an annual celebration giving thanks to God for the gift of mothers. Whatever would we have done without them? At church the preachers turn to Proverbs 31, to hold up the biblical example of a hard-working and faithful mother. This helps us see some of the work and sacrifice that is made daily by these wonderful women.

Of course, we cannot know the measure of the worry that mom has when she sees her child out in a world filled with risk. We do not know how many times she pricked her finger while sewing another patch on some well-worn jeans. We miss the burns from grease splatter or a hot oven door she brushes when preparing yet another meal. How can we know the prayers of our mothers when she tucks us in, or knows we are making poor decisions? What did she give up that we may have a new pair of shoes?

Mom saw that we had a good Christmas even if her stocking was nearly empty. She thrilled when we took our first step, said our first words, finally learned to ride a bike, went off to first grade, to church camp, or on our first date. It was mom that encouraged us by hanging our ‘artwork’ for display, and who kept our ‘Mother’s Day Cards’ in an album. It was she that was proud when we sang in church or at school, or learned to read, or tie our shoes. How many times have we seen a camera pan past a bench-full of professional football players to see one or more look at the camera and mouth, “Hi, mom?” She was the one in our lives that really, really mattered.     

The common expression we hear when we are talking about our nation, is we are as American as ‘mom and apple pie.’ Whether our mom was a pioneering mother traveling in a covered wagon, where she had to fight off wild animals, or treat the family and others for relentless water-born illnesses, or face an Indian attack, she was the real American hero. She fought off the depression, the dustbowl, and had to walk behind the plow herself to feed her family. During the last century she sent her husband or sons to war, sometimes hanging a star in her window signifying a death. She marched for women’s right to vote and learned to work in a man’s world. She took jobs in industry at low pay. She worked in the sweatshops of the big cities, and taught in the school-houses on the plains. She stood at the mouth of the collapsed mine praying that her man, or boys, would make it out.

 It's not just these things we remember, but rather her smile that radiated love as she looked at us. We saw tears in her eyes, but those were tears of joy given us to always remember. We remember the embrace, the pat on the rear or when she brushed our hair out of our faces. We remember her at our bedside kneeling and praying for us. We know there were ‘bad times,’ but we remember the good. For in our hearts she will always…always be good.

Every day, whether she is still with us or not, is a day that mom made possible. We will continue to remember her loving arms and words of comfort. I remember that she loved her new handkerchief and the card I had written. It wasn’t the value of the handkerchief, because I think she would have loved a bandanna if that was what I had given. It was enough that I had remembered and expressed my love for her. She understood and she made sure I understood her love would always be there for me.

Mom gave of herself freely, not from duty, but out of love. She gave advice even that I didn’t always want to hear, and she forgave me when I rejected her advice and went my own way. I’m sure I disappointed her sometimes, and may have brought her pain. Prodigals do that, and we all are prodigals in one way or another. For that, I’m sorry. Thank you, mom, for your love. You are still in my heart. Happy Mother’s Day.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.    

 

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