Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christmas Now Complete

 I mentioned the other day that we saw four of our five grandkids on Christmas Eve. We felt like something was missing, though, not being able to see our oldest granddaughter. We had her for six years before any of the others came along, even though we rarely got to see her. She was in town, though and, Sunday, my stepson took us out to dinner, along with his lovely and charming wife, our lovely and charming granddaughter and her boyfriend. We thoroughly enjoyed it. (And just for the record, my wife is good-looking, too, especially considering that she's old enough to be married to me.)

 Our granddaughter is studying nursing, while working as a nurse's assistant at a big hospital near the university. She has considered going on to be a doctor, but hasn't decided yet, since it's a lot of money and time. Her boyfriend, whom she knew of here, but really met up there, seems very nice and normal. He even deer hunts and has her eating venison (hey, he's GOT to be okay). He's got his Bachelors in business, and was offered a full scholarship to get his Masters, so is going for it. Both seem like well-balanced kids, neither silly or stuffy. I hope they do well, but I wouldn't care if they both worked in a factory, as long as they treat each other well and are happy.

The little get-together seemed to erase that "something missing" feeling that my wife and I had been having, and we had to agree that our Christmas was, indeeed, a good one. © 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

Benefitting From The Illogical

I mentioned here in the past, the day that I spent duck hunting along the Ohio River many years ago. It was snowing, the wind was blowing and it was well below freezing. We got no ducks for the table, but I got some food for thought.

Several times that day, coal trains rumbled downstream, between us and the hill, taking coal to points south. Often at the same time, towboats churned upstream pushing coal barges, full almost to overflowing, with coal for points north. It seemed so illogical, when there must surely have been some way for the places to the south to have burned southern coal, while the places to the north burned northern coal. Such lack of forethought surely ended up costing the companies in the short run, and the consumers in the long. The only benefit that I could see was that the railroads and their workers, and the towboat companies and their workers were provided work by the seeming foolishness. Thinking a little deeper, I knew that timing, dependable delivery, bid price and good or bad will between the parties involved probably caused the situation, but it still seemed horribly wasteful.

During the last couple weeks, I and a few other drivers have made multiple trips from the Mid-Ohio Valley to southern West Virginia to pick up broken concrete from a demolition job. Then we hauled it to a landfill in eastern Kentucky, turned around and came home to the valley. You’d think that they’d get a company somewhere along the route to do the hauling, as it would surely be cheaper. I guess our bosses just have an exceptionally good relationship with the demolition folks and they use us anytime they have work in the region.

Monday, we’re going from here to central West Virginia to pick up DIRT. Then we’re going to haul it to central Ohio, unload it and come home. Same scenario, it would be cheaper for them to use someone local. But hey; who am I to complain? It might be a week of short hours without this oddball job. I’ll take the bigger paycheck, thank you. © 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My Christmas

I got off work at lunch-time Wednesday, after half of us waited all morning to see if we’d get a delivery. My wife had a few things that she wanted to pick up at the store, so I hauled her there and waited in the truck with my computer. That evening, we had our Christmas visit with “the kids,” my stepson and daughter-in-law. She’d fixed a very nice supper and my stepson and my wife did some baby-sitting for a couple babies, so their mother’s could be freed up to visit more easily. We managed to see four of our five grandkids there. They opened their gifts from us while we were there. None of them are blood relatives to me, so it’s easy to love them all equally.

We had a really good time seeing them all, but left sort of early to get back to the dog and the house. We hate to leave the house for very long at a time, since a young fellow tried to rattle his way in our front door the other day, WHILE my wife was talking to him through that door. The anger in her voice finally registered with him and he left. He couldn’t see how close to death he was, as the solid wood door didn’t let him see the loaded, cocked 12 gauge in my wife’s hands. I got home about three minutes later. I WISH that I’d gotten there before he left, then again, maybe it was best that I didn’t, if you get my drift.

Today, we slept in a little. My wife remarked that our frugality wasn’t much fun and that we should at least get each other something small to open next year. I don’t mind getting no gifts, but I wondered how she’d really react to our mutual idea. I guess I now know. Live and learn. Later, we drove around and found that the Chinese restaurants were open, but only one national chain restaurant serving American food was open. They had only a buffet today, which proved to be VERY limited and of low quality. If we eat out again next year, it’ll be Chinese.

We were hoping to get a call from our stepson, telling us that our other granddaughter was at their house and for us to come over. However, she works at a hospital, plus is in the process of moving, so she apparently didn’t show up. Maybe we’ll see her yet, before the weekend is over.  We don’t see our own families on the holidays anymore. My sister sort of ruined it on my side, and her sister-in-law on my wife’s, so, we’re leaning to entertain ourselves more. I don’t care for it being that way, but it’s gotten simpler than the alternative. It’s a shame that “adults” have to be so jealous that they ruin the dynamics of a family.

I DO miss sitting down, saying grace, and everyone eating at the same time and in the same room, but that doesn’t seem to be the way of it anymore. We had a good enough time at the kids, though, to make up for any shortcomings. Besides, family isn’t about blood, it’s about who loves you, and Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus, so we can deal with the rest.

Overall, I’d say that we had a pleasant Christmas. I hope you did, too. © 2014

A Good Message For Christmas

Crystal Mary sent this in an email:

Today's Bible Scripture: John 17
Text: "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world." John 17:18.
Have you ever wondered, "When a person becomes a Christian, why doesn’t God just take them directly on to heaven?" The answer is that God has an assignment for each of us; you and I were made for a MISSION.

What is that MISSION? Just as Jesus was leaving to go back to heaven, he left clear instructions for each of us. “Jesus said, In the same way that You gave Me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.” And “As the Father sent Me, I am sending you” John 17:18 says "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world."

The Father gave the Son a mission to complete while He was in the world. Now -that He is in heaven, He isn’t doing that mission anymore. He passed it on to us. That mission is to tell all the people -who don’t yet know Him- about the great love of God. You see in Heaven, there won’t be any non-believers, so He has put each of His Children on Active Service duty while here on Earth to win the non-believers into His Heavenly Kingdom. It is up to us, brothers and sisters to keep winning the lost for Christ.

I once heard this story, many of you have heard it, but it is so appropriate for today.
“A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.”
• A subjective person came along and said, "I feel for you down there."
• An objective person walked by and said, "It’s logical that someone would fall down there."
• A Pharisee said, "Only bad people fall into pits."
• A mathematician calculated how deep the pit was. A news reporter wanted the exclusive story on the pit.
• An IRS agent asked if he was paying taxes on the pit. A self-pitying person said,
• "You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit."
• A judgmental person said, "You deserve your pit."
• A Christian Scientist observed, "The pit is just in your mind."
• A psychologist noted, "Your mother and father are to blame for your being in that pit."
• A self-esteem therapist said, "Believe in yourself and you can get out of that pit."
• An optimist said, "Things could be worse." A pessimist claimed, "Things will get worse."
• "Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit."

Which of these people are you? Honestly? Let me ask you, Christian, are you serving? How many have you told about Jesus in the past week, month or even year? Are you in active service? God has kept you, so you can serve Him and work on leading the lost to His Kingdom. You are in God's army. God bless you. Let us pray..

Heavenly Father, Guide and direct us today. You, God are our commander, we are your soldiers. We long to go forth in battle to win the lost and dying for you. Dear Lord, Give us the courage and the direction to do just that. We are following You, Father, every step of the way. Lord, help us to keep our eyes on the cross, and not to lose sight of your purpose for us. May we do our part to win others to You.
In Jesus name, I pray. Amen

Sunday, December 21, 2014

It’s Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas!

No, this is not a feel-good piece designed to brighten your mood; it’s just another one of my famous grumps. I started commenting on it to my wife well before Thanksgiving, and she to me. More people were on the streets and in the stores. They were acting more harried and hurried and seemed more distracted than normal. It was obvious that the shopping season shad started early this year.

Sometimes, I wish I could just stay home through November and December. Now, though, I have a job where I’m out in the traffic anywhere from eight to 12 hours a day. I thought people were crazy before I started driving truck again; now I KNOW they are. Besides all the changes in attitudes, morals and priorities over the years, the holiday season has compounded the effect the last month or more.

For one thing, you have more drivers out that rarely drive and are out of practice. They are often retired folks who stay home a lot, but venture out more during the Christmas season to shop for the grandkids and such. They aren’t used to the changed traffic patterns and drive carefully, so as to make allowances for it. They drive slow, but still unpredictably (as opposed to kids, who drive FAST and unpredictably). Then you have the folks from the back counties who come here for more selection in places to shop, but aren’t used to the volume of traffic on our city streets. They sometimes have a deer-in-the-headlights look on their face. All tend to hamper traffic flow as they sort things out in their heads as to where they’re going and how to get there.

The “average” driver is more predictable, but develops a decidedly mean edge this time of year. It was just the opposite of when I was a kid. Back then, people seemed a little nicer between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today, with at least two generations trained to think only of themselves, the pressure and desire to get what they want, or to get it for others, seems to turn them into monsters. They’ll risk both your life and their own in traffic to get one car-length ahead in the lanes. They’ll cut you off, drive WAY over the speed limit, give you the horn (and the bird) for daring to turn across their lane to  enter a parking lot, and wander into your lane as they text for the third time in four minutes.

In the stores, they’ll turn directly in front of you and stop, walk side-by-side with their friends and their shopping carts, let their kids run wild, and knock old people over (literally) in their rush to get down the aisles. They’ll also get nearly (and sometimes actually) physical in contesting the right to the last remaining package of something. A couple days ago, a woman old enough to know better literally tried to wrest the last coat of a certain size and style from my wife’s grip. My wife had been holding it under her arm before the woman ever came on the scene! Even the husband gave my wife a dirty look for not surrendering it. My wife hadn’t had a new winter coat for years and her current one was starting to dry-rot, so it’s not like she didn’t need it.

Today, though, something happened that absolutely flabbergasted me. My wife looked stressed as she walked to the truck, after looking in a discount store for a small toy for a little boy we met recently. His mother doesn’t have much to spare for Christmas this year, so we thought we’d get one gift apiece for her baby, her little boy and her.

Unseen by me, my wife had taken a hard fall when she stepped off the curb outside the store. Lying in the traffic lane of the parking lot, she was in shock for a few seconds and then couldn’t seem to move when she tried. Shoppers were rushing by as she lay there and mumbled “Help me!” But not a soul helped her. In her confusion, she never thought of calling me on her cell phone. Finally, she managed to get up and walk to the truck. I couldn’t believe people would be so uncaring in what could be considered small town West Virginia. I’m SO disappointed in my fellow citizens; I thought better of them than that.

For those who will ask (and bless you for that), my wife seems to be fine, though I think she’ll be really sore tomorrow. © 2014

Traveling To Coal Country

The few excursions I’d ever begun into West Virginia’s coal country had been from the eastern end and were many years ago. At that time, the further the rough, crooked roads wound into coal country, the steeper the mountains, the narrower the valleys, the yellower the streams and the more economically depressed the area looked. Every time, I ended up turning around and going back to more pristine landscapes. I was in the mountains seeking peace and beauty, after all.

More recently, as some of you know, I’ve taken a couple jaunts into coal country from a different angle. Our little convoy of dump trucks took four-lane highways all the way from Parkersburg to Logan, then, mostly two-lane to Hanover, in Wyoming County. We loaded there and then took Rt. 52 all the way to Huntington, where we crossed the river to Ashland, Kentucky on four-lane and unloaded. Then we took the four-lane east to Charleston and north to Parkersburg.

I saw no piles of over-burden or red-dog in the areas that I traveled, nor any yellow streams. Whether it was all due to clean-up in the intervening years, or whether things were never allowed to get so far out of hand in that area, I really don’t know. However, I was impressed by the streams I saw; they all made me wish that it was summer and I had a fishing rod in hand. The mountains were all covered with what appeared to be second growth hardwood, yet I also saw some beautiful huge logs making their way to market on passing semi’s. It struck me funny at first, but in twelve hours of driving, much of it in coal country, I only smelled burning coal two times. Everyone down that way seems to heat with wood. I suppose that the coal comes at a cost, but wood can be had for the cutting.

It’s obvious that the area still is, or recently was, economically depressed. You see closed down businesses and empty houses everywhere. Interestingly enough, though, you also see businesses right next door that appear to be thriving and new homes being built adjacent to the empty ones. Something that I noticed, too, was mansions being built right beside shanties and run-down mobile homes. I suspect the available land is so limited in the narrow valleys that there is no opportunity for moving to “better neighborhoods,” so the rich and the poor rub elbows on a daily basis (since shopping and entertainment opportunities are very limited).

I used to hear of the floods in coal country and wonder why people built in such places. I realize now, that there are no benches around the hills (mountains?) down there, as there are here in the Ohio Valley, so you have only the narrow mountain ridges and the narrow mountain valleys. Since the roads parallel the streams in the valleys, it’s natural that the settlements formed there. Besides, most of the mountain tops are owned by coal companies, timber companies or the government.

One thing that confused me at first was the high number of motels in the area—far more than would be required for local use and casual tourists. Then, I realized that the Guyandotte River would make for excellent rafting, kayaking and canoeing, even though I saw no signs for guide services (none would be needed, probably). The state has also made a big deal of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud and has a driving “trail,” with facilities of one sort or another at strategic points along the way. I don’t approve of dwelling on such a negative thing about our state, but anything for a tourist buck, I guess. 

After this hauling job is over with, I may never see coal country again, as my wife says that there’s nothing to “do” down there (in HER book), but I’m glad that I had the chance to see it again; it’s given me a more positive perspective on the part of the state that turned me off so many years ago.

Incidentally, the Hatfield-McCoy Feud wasn’t really about either a woman or a pig, but about political power, and timber and coal rights. Still, if you have an interest in history or rafting, and don’t mind seeing a dilapidated building from your room in a newish motel, you might enjoy a visit to the area. © 2014

May God Bless ‘Em!

Some of my readers will remember that I requested prayer a few times as I looked for work. You may also recall that those prayers were answered in a way so as to make the Lord’s intentions very obvious. I’ve been on my job now for five months and still like both the job and the two brothers who are the owners.

They threw us a Christmas party on the 13th at the local bowling alley. The food was plenteous and good, the oration was of reasonable length and they had Santa Claus for the children and grandchildren in attendance (I’ll bite my tongue a bit there). Afterwards, there was two hours of free bowling for those who wanted it. We did have to walk forward when our name was called and our mileage for the year given, where we got three handshakes and a new cap. Overall, it was a pleasant time. I left when the bowling started, since my bashful wife was home alone.

Friday at work, our paychecks weren’t in the usual place, so we had to go into the office to get them. There we got a couple more handshakes, a “Merry Christmas,” and a second envelope. They also told us to get a fruit basket and ham on our way out. The basket was an old-fashioned half-bushel basket filled with a mix of oranges, apples and grapefruit, with a company calendar stuck in one side and a bag of Hershey’s kisses lying on top. The ham was probably about 10 pounds. When I got to my pickup and looked in the second envelope, there was a green bill which was the equivalent of 20% of my weekly take-home.

I was impressed. It’s nice to know that not every employer is a Scrooge. I’ve worked several places over the years, but none have been as generous, not even the multi-million-dollar factory where I used to work. It helps that both brothers are Christian, but they’ve also learned the lesson that showing your employees some heart-felt appreciation builds loyalty. Still, I think they’d do the same even if it didn’t. Job satisfaction isn’t 100% about the money; I made more money at the factory, but I didn’t like the job. I’ve been there five months now, and between the work itself, and my bosses, I still like my job. I suspect that I always will.

Though his personal flaws are the more obvious of the two brothers, the older brother sings in a gospel group. That was part of the reason that I applied there in the first place. We ALL have feet of clay, but at least he was trying to spread the Word.

When I thank the Lord for my job, I also usually ask him to help me do well at it and to bless my bosses with good health and good business (and not just for my own sake). As long as they strive to do His will, I’m sure that He will. © 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Drove All Day And All I Got Was One Measely Picture! (w/pic)

Click photo to enlarge.

Monday, Some coworkers and I drove from Parkersburg, West Virginia, all the way to Hanover, West Virginia, picked up a load, took it to Ashland, Kentucky and unloaded, then went home. It took all day and put excactly 500 miles on my truck. My only chance to snap a photo was when we were stopped by Asplundh personnel pretending to work.

I thought it was an intersting old building that stood across the hollow from the highway. It was originally a small building of square hewn logs. Sometime later (much later, I suspect) an upstairs was added, using small, round logs (poles). I'm guessing the original building is from the 1800's. while the addition was added between 1920 and 1950. I wonder if they didn't use small poles for three reasons. First, there may not have been any large logs available locally to make squared timbers, so they used second-growth poles. Second, there may not have been anyone available with the skill to hew timbers. Third, the small poles would be much easier to lift to the higher level.

You'll notice that they cantilevered the front gable end, and I believe the back gable, also. Thus, the upstairs is larger than the downstairs. I think the building would be just barely salavageable at this point, but not fot long. More's the pity. © 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Going To Commencement

My wife and I attended my stepson’s college graduation Friday evening. He’s 44, but a long way from being the oldest graduate there, though there were plenty of “kids” there, too. It’s a shame his father died when he was 11 years old and never got to see him grow up. I know he’d be proud of him for the fellow he’s become. I know that it wasn’t easy balancing school, work and family responsibilities, but he did it. I hope it allows him to get the job that he wants now.

I was somewhat amused at the knowledge I gained during the short time that I was within those hallowed halls of learning. Reading the program was a logical way to break the boredom while waiting for the program to start and suffering through the self-congratulatory speech of the “honored guest.” Through name recognition (and later visual observation) I learned the following:

My neighbor’s ex-wife just became a nurse. I regret almost any divorce, but I suspect he was mean even when he was sober.

The grandson of one of our late “great” local crooked liberal politicians graduated.

The daughter of one of my former coworkers graduated.

A relative of one of my current coworkers graduated.

The rude, slovenly, unshaved guy at Walmart, who never washes his hands after going to the bathroom, got a degree in Criminal Justice. I much as I hate to see him become a cop, it COULD have been worse; he COULD have gone into medicine!

Considering what I learned, I guess a little schooling is good for ALL of us! ;-) © 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

We COULD Have Been Toast!

Smokers tend to aggravate me. Most of them (but not all) just throw their cigarette butts down wherever they find themselves. When smoking was legal in stores and restaurants, you’d see the butts all over the floor, even if ashtrays were provided. I’ve worked places where washtubs with sand in the bottom were used for outside smokers, just so they couldn’t say the containers were too small to use easily. Still, most didn’t even bother to throw them in the general direction of the huge ashtrays, but just tossed them down in whatever direction they were facing. I suppose they had the typical modern American attitude that someone else would clean up after them. Still, I’ve never seen anyone act that way in their own home, so there has to be a deliberately anti-social, belligerent twist to their personalities. Some will say that the habit is so ingrained that they don’t even think. I don’t buy that for most, but with a few, I do.

One case in point is the woman who, with her husband, bought my old homeplace. You may have met people who so severely lacked intelligence that you pitied them. This poor woman is one of those people. I could give you examples of why I say that, but simply telling such true tales would make me sound cruel. Sadly, on top of her severe lack of intelligence (and any common sense what-so-ever), her husband is now bedfast, her grown children take advantage of her generosity, both monetarily and with her time, plus, she has decided that she doesn’t want to spend her old age alone, on a hilltop in the country, taking care of her husband. She wants to move to town (and I can’t blame her), but he doesn’t, so she lives a frustrating life. With all this going on, it’s rare that I get a payment on time anymore, which causes US problems with paying our own bills.

Unfortunately, she also smokes. Besides the negative effects on her health, it obviously stretches her funds even further to pay for her habit. Still, none of that is technically my business. What IS my business, is that the morning after the night that she brought the payment, I found her cigarette butt lying on the leaves that had blown around our front porch since the last raking. (With thousands of acres of forest on the windward side of the house, there’s no way to keep the area leaf free.) Luckily, this was after a few days of rain. The problem is, she would have probably thrown the butt the same place if we’d been in the middle of an autumn drought (and we’ve had them).

Cigarette butts won’t ALWAYS set leaves afire, but they do so often enough to be dangerous, and all it takes is a sunny day or two to dry out the leaves. Considering that she came after dark, if the butt had started a fire later, the porch may well have been engulfed before we ever knew it, and we have no insurance. Had some leaves smoldered until after we went to bed and THEN burst into flames, we might never have seen the morning. The problem is, there’s no need to say anything to her, as I’d be wasting my breath.

So, now I’VE got a new concern, if only once a month. (The evidence is in the lower left of the photo below.) © 2014


Monday, December 1, 2014

Rainy Days And Shanties (w/pic)

They barely had enough work to keep me in the saddle today, but one of my deliveries was to a place near Center Point, West Virginia. There’s a compressor station being built there on McElroy Creek, just off Rt # 23 on Riggins Run Road. Such technology doesn’t impress me, but the drive there did. It was raining all day, sometimes fairly hard, but sometimes barely sprinkling.

All along the rural roads leading to my destination were farms and little country homes, some lived in and some abandoned. What caught my attention the most, though, were all the little sheds and shanties that were part of the “dependencies” of the old homesteads. Most were built of rough lumber from the local sawmill back in the day when mills were more common than now. A few were built of corrugated tin. Some were locked up, some had doors standing open and others were so deteriorated that the roofs were lying nearly on the ground. Through some of the open doors I could see old farm tools, auto parts, rusted machinery and masses of rusted and dusty items that defied identification from a moving truck.

How I wished that I could snoop in all those old buildings! Of course I wouldn’t even know who to ask most places, since the most interesting ones were usually abandoned. I have a fetish for old tools and farm items. Some of the tools that I love most to use around my shop and yard have come from older relatives, antique shops, abandoned sheds and junk piles. Such things have personalities, and stories, that modern tools lack. The quality is often better, too. However, even those things too far gone to be used are interesting to look at and speculate as to their age and use.

In my youth, many rainy days were spent at my grandparents’ places, snooping around the outbuildings, learning about the past and asking questions when I got really stumped. It’s amazing the things I know about today, because of that hobby, which many people my age have no clue about. I’ve never harnessed a horse in my life, for instance, yet I know all the parts of the harness, their purpose and how to get it on the horse—all from studying old junk and asking questions.

One of my favorite spots was the tool shed up the hollow behind the barn of my paternal grandparents. My granddad had put a sawmill up there during the war, and though he never roofed the mill, at least he built a small building, perhaps 12 feet by 20, where he could put stuff out of the weather and even hole-up, himself, if the rain got too heavy. Many of my teenage hikes, hunts and horseback rides mysteriously swung by the old shed. Perhaps I should have closed it in and made it my hermitage; there were four springs and a running stream, all within 150 yards of the place. Closed in properly (or otherwise), it would have heated easily with a woodstove. I found myself thinking of the old loafing spot often today, as the rain hit the windshield. I reckon some days are custom made for memories. © 2014

Very poor photo of the old tool shed up the hollow, taken in 1973.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

In The Mind Of The Beholder

I was sitting in the porch swing earlier today, enjoying the quiet of the woods before me, when the big bird sailed gracefully over the head of the hollow beside the house. I was instantly transported to a distant place and an earlier time. My wife, my mother, a couple of my mother’s friends and I had signed up for a train ride into a gorge of our lovely state during prime leaf-peeping season. It turned out to be a rip-off with the “antique rail cars” looking like converted cattle cars and “supper on board” being a couple of lousy hotdogs which we had to pay extra for. Also, the staff acted like they’d been trained in the gulags, but the scenery saved the day.

We were still on a steam train beside a rushing river with beautiful mountains of autumn color all around us. It was then that some folks noticed the eagles circling high overhead in a thermal. They seemed to be curious about the strange vehicle and its riders, as they began to follow us down the gorge and gradually dropped closer as we traveled.

Probably, Adam and Eve were the first of our race to watch such birds in flight and envy their grace and freedom. I suspect no-one ever lived who, at least as a child, didn’t dream of sailing through the sky with only his “wings” to lift and guide him. Even today, I have to admit that the ability would be both frightening and thrilling.

And so, the crowd watched the eagles, and oohed and aahed as they circled and swooped through a clear but slightly breezy sky. As they grew closer, some folks commented on the rarity of seeing a pair of the few eagles living in the canyon and at our good fortune at being this close. I held my peace and waited for the inevitable.

Finally, someone with binoculars realized that we were watching turkey vultures, instead of eagles. The oohes and ahhes turned to ewws and yucks as everyone quickly lost interest in the still graceful fliers. I raised my bottle of soda pop in a silent toast to the two birds that had put on a beautiful performance. I couldn’t help but look with disgust on the fickle crowd that now pretended to never have been so foolish as to admire a pair of vultures.

In my mind, they were no better than pretentious idiots who went from cheering a ballerina for a flawless performance to booing her, when they noticed a wart on her nose. Such is mankind. © 2014

Their Brother’s Keeper

The O’Dares (not their real names) were simple people—salt of the earth farm folks, and honest, hard-working Christians. They lived just a few miles across the county line headed south out of Stone County on the road to Charleville. There in McClellan County, they were well known and liked as just another set of neighbors that could be counted on to help others when the chips were down, whether it was gathering in the crops of a man with a broken leg or cutting firewood for some widow-lady up the holler. They weren’t well off, but they had a good farm with a lot of bottom-land for crops, hillsides for cattle, and hilltops for hay. Hillsides too steep to be mowed as pasture grew trees for lumber and firewood. Their eggs, meat and vegatables all came from the farm. Mr. O’Dare loved his farm and treated it as well as he knew how to do. It repaid his efforts bounteously. Like many of their neighbors, they had a coal stove in their parlor and a wood cookstove in the kitchen. There was no other heat in the house, but sleeping two to a bed atop one feather tick and under another kept them warm on the coldest night. In summer, the extra tick would be put on another bed so they could sleep separately through the sultry months.

As a result of the hard work and frugality of him and his wife, the O’Dares had saved enough to send their oldest son, Sherman, to college. He’d be the first person on either side of the family to take his education beyond high school at a time when many people didn’t even finish high school. There was just one problem; they could afford to send Sherman to college, but not his brother and two sisters. So they got their kids together and laid out a plan. After Sherman graduated, he would pay his parents back by sending the next oldest to college who, in turn, would send the one just below him, to be repeated down to the fourth and last child. The plan would be slightly easier than it would have been by the fact that there were a few years between each child. The children all agreed.

It took a little longer than it might have, since the first two boys went to medical school and became doctors. However, they stuck to the plan and both boys and the girls all ended up with college degrees. By each paying back to their parents some of what they’d spent on the eldest son, the parents had an easier retirement than they would have otherwise, also.

If it were a perfect world, or a made-up story, I could tell you what happened to the two girls, but I honestly don’t know. The boys had their medical practices in my hometown and I met them both as a child (had them both as my doctor then, in fact). Neither forgot their farming roots and ended up with farms that seemed to mean as much or more to them as their practices. The eldest used to go out to my future in-laws and discuss farming with my future father-in-law, so my wife actually knew him better than I did. The plan that the parents had was a good one and it worked. I wonder, though, how many young people today would make such a commitment and stick with it. © 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Good Little Emergency Gun

I bumped into a former coworker the other day. After catching up on jobs, families and so on, the conversation turned to guns, hunting, farming and prepping. He was telling me about a little project that he’d just completed. He’d wanted a hidden gun to put meat on the table with, should the feds get all paranoid and steal all the ones they know about. He bought one of those little Cricket kid’s rifles at a swap meet and made a couple changes in it to suit him better.

The first thing he didn’t like was the safety. It wasn’t designed as a safety you use when the gun was loaded, but you aren’t quite ready to shoot at the critter out in front of you. It was designed to keep the gun from even being loaded, when you’re teaching a kid to shoot at a range. When the safety button is pushed in, a brass rod comes up between the bolt face and the chamber, not allowing the bolt to be closed on a round. It then takes a separate key to make the gun “fireable” again. Not a good thing if you’re trying to hunt with it and accidently bump the easily “all-too-bumpable” safety button. The solution? Take a hacksaw blade and saw the rod off as low as possible when it was in the up position. Problem solved.

Then, he didn’t like the fact that it took a special screwdriver to remove the barrel. So, he replaced the barrel screw with one that took a regular Phillips screwdriver. He said he always carries at least one multi-tool, so if he is ever that unprepared, he doesn’t deserve to get the barrel off.

The next thing he did didn’t involve a problem. He removed the plastic butt-plate from the hollow plastic stock and filled the cavity with .22 shells. He estimated that the hole held 100-150. He then replaced the butt-plate and sighted the gun in for 20 yards, with shells from the same box. He said it shot minute of squirrel for him, though an expert might have done better. At that point, he put it in a container designed to protect it and buried it on a neighbor’s property next to some land he owns out in the country. (He never told the neighbor.)

He said it wouldn’t be his first choice for any purpose, but the price was right and it would sure beat hunting with a stick. Since I never saw the rifle, I couldn’t get a picture of it, but here’s a link to the manufacturer’s site: © 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Guess I’m A “Hill Person” (w/pics)

My wife lived in the Midwest for six years and said it was like living on the moon. She came home to West Virginia at the first opportunity. I know that folks who grew up there feel the same about their flat land as my wife does about her hills; home is always home, after all. I’ll side with my wife on that one, though. I’ve never been in a situation where I felt it was necessary to leave my home state, and can’t really imagine what it would take to make me feel that way. I have no desire to live in a land where no place is safe from flood, where I can’t wander up a holler, or climb a hill and look in awe of the panorama before me.

I hate to see the beautiful hills destroyed, unless it’s to save the rich farmland below, but saving farmland for its farming value happens only in a couple foreign countries. Here, the fertile farmland is developed (ruined) first and the hillsides last. But, the hillsides eventually get bulldozed, too. The sad thing is that my job requires that I be a part of that destruction. The local developer that I’ve alluded to before has a hill that he’s currently working on at the south edge of town, and my bosses’ company often goes there to get fill dirt for its customers. This week, I was hauling dirt to a site only about three miles away to fill in behind one of our local gambling dens (video type).

I may have posted a photo of the hill before, but I’ve included another today. I’ve dubbed the place “Mount Shrinkmore,” since every time I see it, it’s a little bit smaller. Eventually, I suspect that it will be a series of about three terraces, to be developed into retail locations like they did lower on the hill. While much larger than it appears in the photo, it’s not particularly large as hills go. Still there’s a nice view from near the hilltop, while it remains. A road goes through the valley below, past Kohls, Lowes, WalMart, Tractor Supply, several other businesses, a couple churches and many houses. When I was a kid, it was part of the road that led to the state capitol from our town. Back then, it was a four hour drive. Now, the interstate on the far side of the hill across the valley can take you there in less than two hours. Back then, the valley was only a lovely and peaceful-looking collection of farms. (Sigh.)

I console myself some about being part of the destruction by reminding myself that I’m getting a look at the hidden history of that patch of earth. I’ve mentioned before that had I gone to college in my youth, it would have been to learn geology. Today, I noticed that the hard dry rock-like red clay where the hoe was digging had grain to it that sat at about 30 degrees off level. I knew it wasn’t hoe marks, as there were no arcs in the lines; all were straight. Strangely enough, the clay was topped by a perfectly level layer of blue shale (with layers of other rocks and soils above). It looked like the clay had been sheared off level and the shale laid down carefully atop it. For the grain of the clay to be on an anticline, it would require upheaval at some point. The only thing that I can think of that would have sheared off the clay, though, would have been a glacier, unless it was eroded and ground level by flooding. I guess I’ll never know. The photos below can be enlarged by clicking them. © 2014

Mount Shrinkmore - The roadway from which this photo was taken actuallyn crosses part of the hill, and the gravel road is far from level. It's probably nearly a half-mile to the very top of the hill that you see.

Part of Pettyville, West Virginia, as seen from Mount Shrinkmore. A series of dairy and beef cattle farms in my youth, only a handful of green fields remain.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Aggravation And Speculation

I was told to report to work 30 minutes later than normal today. That means a little less money in my pay, but it also means that the days of shorter hours are approaching fast. Even then, it was another 30m minutes before they had a load for me. As I was ready to go out the door, they changed my destination to that of another job. I then spent the day traveling between the mine and the job site, which was fine, but I had waits on each end. The mine was working with only one loader-man, rather than two, because one was on vacation deer hunting. I can’t believe they didn’t fill his position. At the job site, our drivers had to wait a few minutes each trip, while they were shuffled between outgoing trucks hauling excavated dirt and a dozer spreading the new limestone. Poor management by their bosses cost my bosses money. That sort of thing always trickles down somehow, eventually, even though we’re paid by the hour.

I can’t wear a watch, since they always quit working within a month, so I use my phone to check the time when I need to know. Unfortunately, my latest phone has a battery that lasts well, but dies quickly, when it goes. So, today, my phone died long before lunch. The truck has a clock, but it doesn’t work. So, I stopped at an auto parts place along the route and got a phone charger that uses the cigarette lighter. Something good happened for a change! Since it’s only using 12 volts, it can be used to make calls and show the time, even when it’s charging. It has a built-in safety feature that won’t allow that when you’re charging with house current.

For convenience, though, I also picked up a stick-up digital clock for the truck. Unfortunately, it was too technical for me to figure out, so I waited until after work and had the dispatcher (a young guy) set it for me. My eight-year-old granddaughter could probably have done it, too, but naturally she wasn’t available.

The wind was strong and gusty today. It tried blowing me around on the four-lane even when my dump truck was loaded. I can only imagine how much fun the semi-drivers were having. I saw one apparently empty box truck nearly get blown off the road by a gust. Sometimes the sun shone today, sometimes it rained, and sometimes it did both at the same time. The temperature was comfortable, though.

Being the first day of gun deer season here, there were a lot of cars parked along the roads and, of course, the law was out in force hoping to write some tickets. Not nearly as large a percentage of folks hunt that did when I was a kid. I think several things have caused that. One, guys have gotten more antler obsessed and less meat obsessed, lowering their success, and turning some people off deer hunting. Two, manufacturers have convinced many hunters that they need all the bells and whistles, raising the cost above what some folks can afford. Three, the DNR has gotten so greedy with their license fees that the poor, who need the meat most, can no longer afford the licenses. Fourth, fewer and fewer people actually live country lifestyles, which always included hunting, though many people still choose to live in the country, Fifth, as much as I hate to admit it, the bunny-huggers have had some success in brain-washing a couple generations of kids into thinking ill of hunting. There may be other influences as well, but these came quickly to mind. And then there are guys like me who just don’t get around like they used to when they were younger! Oh well; such is life! © 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

11-22-14 – Riding Shotgun – Central Station, West Virginia

The earliest record in my postcard collection of Central Station, West Virginia, is the postmark on a card from a teenage girl named “Lulu” to another girl who would later become my grandmother. The card was mailed in 1906, and the recipient married my granddad three years later. I can’t be sure without looking through the collection, but I think he mailed a few cards to her from there, when he was working in nearby oilfields as a rig-building contractor.

Since there basically WERE no roads back then, most folks went as far as possible by rail before renting a horse. Central Station was on the main line between Washington, D.C., and Parkersburg, West Virginia back then, and it seemed that every third hollow had a post office and a whistle stop train station. The government allowed the subsidized railroad to close that line 30 years ago or so, and then let the company, which owned the right-of-way, but not the land, to illegally sell the land to the state to make a bike path for yuppie tourists. Ah, “progress!”

Recently, I hauled a load of crushed limestone to a compressor station near the little town. The outlying “suburbs” had been a smattering of dilapidated farms, house and buildings with junk and trash scattered about everywhere. The age and size of the rusting vehicles and machinery indicated that there had been some prosperity there at one time, but that time was well past. Occasionally, a neat, clean, and/or more modern house showed that some folks were still getting by okay. All-in-all, it looked like many other dying West Virginia communities that the railroad and/or the big highways have discarded. I suspect that most residents live on either welfare, due to lack of work, or social security, due to old age. The more industrious young folks leave such a place to chase their dreams, thus putting another nail in the town’s coffin.

I missed the practically hidden sign for the compressor station, and took my 14.5 ton truck, with its 22 ton load, across the 15 ton bridge and into the town proper. The houses there looked much like the ones outside the main town—just closer together. Most looked as if they hadn’t had a coat of paint in over a quarter-century, if then. Still, some of them were obviously lived in, and some LESS obviously lived in. A teenage girl came out of one house as I passed through, walked a few doors down the street, and entered another house without knocking. Typical behavior in a neighborhood where everyone knows one another.

There were various business buildings still standing, but none appeared to be in use as businesses. There was a Pentecostal church and a community building, neither in great shape, but usable. A couple small business buildings appeared to be lived in, while a few houses sat vacant. Some houses were in decent shape, some not, but nearly all the houses that appeared in use had clutter around them. It looked like a little town that, having been abandoned by the world, simply gave up expecting anything from life. I say this not to offend the residents, but to express my sadness at seeing the place, since I could tell from the buildings that it had once been a prosperous enough little town, as full of hopes and dreams as the next place.

I came across Depot Street—all 200 feet or so of it. Streets aren’t long when they cross a town built in a hollow. The train depot was long gone, probably even before that line was closed by the railroad. In my mind’s eye, I could see my granddad standing there at the station a century ago, not in his work clothes, but in his suit and derby hat, his overcoat over his arm, as he waited for the train to carry him home to his family for the weekend. At the moment, I almost envied him, having seen this little town when it was full of life, with working men and businesses, and with multiple trains passing through every day. I had my camera, but I felt it disrespectful to take a picture of the town in its current condition. It would have seemed like kicking a man when he was down.

I turned my truck around, recrossed the suspect bridge, finally found my delivery site back an angled driveway within a stone’s throw of that bridge, and dumped the stone. Going past the suburbs once again, I prayed that the current oil and gas boom in the area might provide work for some of the locals, and that the community might once again where fulfilled dreams and hopes seem like real possibilities. Only time will tell if Central Station will be there in the next century. © 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Highway And Home-Front (w/pics)

It’s been a mixed bag this week, as far as good and bad experiences at work. It was nice to spend Monday afternoon with the dog and my wife, but it really hurts to have that much money missing from my pay, since it cost me overtime. I can only imagine how tight things will get when we go to 40 hours or less this winter.

Despite being a “southern truck” (no block heater), my work truck has been starting even with the 16 degree mornings we’ve been having. When I think of all the diesels that don’t want to start in people’s driveways, I think that quality must be lacking in them. Interestingly enough, some of those vehicles are made by Mercedes, but the engine in my Mack is also made by them.

I saw a new pad (oil/gas well site) this week and enjoyed some of the experience. The view from “Maddie Mae,” (Yup, that’s what the oil company named it!) was as nice as any hilltop vista in the countryside, with farmland in the valley and forestland on the hills. I hadn’t driven across a low-water bridge for a while (a type of manmade ford, actually), but did the first day that I delivered there. It was made of oak timbers submerged in the stream and was none too wide for the size of trucks using it. The second day, though, they had the new concrete bridge completed.

The climb up the switch-backed gravel road was all the truck wanted to do with 21 tons on my little tri-axle, and steep enough that I put both rear axles in gear and in positive traction, though they call it something else these days. Coming down was the “hairy” part, of course, since it allowed you to see the imminent death awaiting you if you lost control. The hardest thing for most folks to learn is to quit braking and even maybe give your vehicle some “gas” if your wheels start skidding downhill. That allows the tires to regain traction; then you can start braking again SLOWLY. I learned that from watching it up-close and personal on the farm, driving farm tractors in slick weather.

Decking sections, waiting to be installed on Maddie Mae.

A closer view of the decking sections. They're probably about six inches thick, and appear to be oak, surrounded by steel. They place them as tight as floor tiles on a bed of crushed limestone.

With all of the oil and gas activity in the region, rent prices are skyrocketing. That’s good for the landlords, but bad for the working poor who aren’t making big bucks in the oilfield. Even the campgrounds, normally only in heavy use from Memorial Day through hunting season, are staying pretty full, with some workers trying to save money by going “rustic.” Unfortunately for them, I’ve heard of some lots with full hook-up going for $800 A MONTH!

My concern for the working poor, which is MOST of us these days, also includes the homeless. It really gets me to see houses and cabins going to pot, while some families live on the street, or in their cars. I realize that some people would tear up a concrete bungalow, but not everyone. Below is a nice little house going to pot not far from Pennsboro, West Virginia. It’s small, but you can tell that it was nice at one time, and could be again, if someone would catch it before things go any further.

The little house isn't easy to see as you approach it, despite being right by Rt. # 74 heading north from town.

View out my window as I pass (literally taken on the move, as I had a car behind me).

At my own home, the weather and my work hours have discouraged me from getting some corn fodder put on my compost pile. My wife had some for making wreaths, which didn’t pan out due to mold, and had put the pieces in a garbage bag on the porch. A couple days ago, she found crows on the porch sorting through the corn looking for any remaining ears. I guess I should give any corn to them; life probably ain’t easy for a crow. I suspect they’d learned elsewhere that garbage bags can contain food (since we never put trash out except in cans), saw the bag and reasoned there might be food there. Ironically, they were right! I hope they don’t start hanging out here TOO much, they can be awfully noisy.

Well, I think I hear the living room floor calling my name, so I better go. I hope you folks had an good week! © 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

When It Snows, It Pours

I was expecting a larger paycheck last week, since I’d worked the Saturday before. The extra day must have put me into a higher withholding bracket, though, because it wasn’t that much bigger than normal. Since then, a couple of unexpected expenses came up that took the extra and more besides. Before I left work Friday, I called my wife and she told me she’d just learned that her oldest brother had died the day before. Cold winds and snow caused a lot of cancelled hauls today (though there was no accumulation), so the dispatcher sent about half of us home after trying for three-and-a-half hours to drum up some business. Looks like a short pay this week, since we may have more bad weather yet.

We’ll slide by with what funds we get, since we have no reserve and became pretty good at pinching pennies during my long stint of having no work. I used the time off today to go get my winter tires put on the truck. At least they were already paid for and in storage.
My wife isn’t going to her brother’s funeral, since funerals are really for the living and most of the living siblings have decided that they don’t like her Christianity. They’ve been giving her a hard time about it lately—trying to make themselves feel safer in their own beliefs, no doubt. I’m sure that the fact that they were raised by an abusive father, who professed to be a devout Christian, had no small influence in them adopting atheism over the years.

Her deceased brother supposedly accepted Jesus when young, before losing his right mind, the latter due either to having a nervous breakdown from the abuse (my suspicion only) or from lack of blood to the brain during a surgery for a bleeding ulcer. He died twice on that operating table, when a teenager. The bright, pleasant, artistic protector of his little sister became a mix of schizophrenic and autistic. He became ill-tempered and unpredictable, and that’s how he’s remembered by the siblings younger than my wife.

She, on the other hand, recalls the times that the two of them arose before daylight to run barefoot around the farm and through the woods on childhood adventures. She prefers to remember him during those times, and as the brother who once saved her from being gored by a mean dairy cow, though he was little bigger than her, despite being two years older. She very much regrets that he wasn’t able to lead a normal adult life, but she believes that he’s with the Lord and that she’ll see him again, when the time is right. I hope she’s right.

In the meanwhile, we’re enjoying a rare normal-length evening together with the dog and the TV. © 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Peeing In A Cup

!!!! WARNING !!!! – If you are a good, decent, God-fearing person, do NOT read this post under ANY circumstances!

Life ain’t easy for fat folks. First, you have all the snide remarks, disgusted looks, deliberate disrespect, lack of normal compassion from others and general prejudice to deal with. Then, you have to deal with the fact that excess weight causes a lot of inconveniences in your life. Cars, clothes and furniture are uncomfortable. Aisle ways, turnstiles, restrooms and even some tools and appliances just don’t seem “user friendly.” Life can get really aggravating when the inconvenience of being fat is made worse by the stupidity of people who think that EVERYTHING in life falls into the “one size fits all” category. One of those situations occurred recently for me.

I and another “big” guy at work were “randomly” chosen for drug and alcohol testing. Translated, I think that means that they didn’t have a load for us just then. We were given our paperwork and then went down to the testing facility behind the local mall for the “piss test.” Unfortunately, I’d been handed the papers immediately upon exiting the restroom, so I requested a wait for more ammunition. Eventually, I felt that a sufficient volume had accumulated to give it a shot.

 Now, for any of you who’ve never done the dirty deed, you must first empty all your pockets to prove that you haven’t snuck in a vial of urine from someone else, so you could hide your habit. THEN, you have to LEAVE all your stuff, including your wallet, in an unlocked box on the nurse’s counter, where OTHER victims may walk past it. I suppose they think that these inanimate objects can produce urine, but they never did request that I turn my pockets inside-out to PROVE that they were empty. Foolishly, I even took my multi-tool out of its belt pouch and put it with the other stuff as a sort of wasted bit of sarcasm.

Skinny folks have no way of knowing this, but asking a really fat person to pee in a little plastic cup isn’t much different than asking them to lick their elbow. Things can only stretch and strain so far. When you have a normal length arm, a humongous belly, and a short…..well…I won’t go there, you are working blind to say the least. Also, you can’t just hold the cup with your thumb at the top and your longest finger at the bottom, as you would expect. No, you must pinch the rim between your thumb and finger, which is a tenuous hold at best, to get every fraction of an inch of length that you can to get near the “dispenser.”

You would think that you could align the cup by feel, but experience has taught me that’s not the case. You, instead, operate by sound. Straddling the john, so you won’t get anything on the floor, you listen for the sound of liquid hitting the water in the bowl; that means you need to adjust placement of the cup. Even that sounds easy, but trust me, it isn’t. More urine ends up running down the outside of the cup than inside, so a sizeable volume is required to get enough for the sample. Since I’d recently used the john at work, I couldn’t corral enough of the golden, tattle-tale liquid the first time, AND THEY WON”T SAVE IT TO LET YOU ADD TO IT IN A LITTLE WHILE! I guess they think that it will magically change chemical composition in a half-hour’s time.

So, they offered me the option of staying there and trying again within the next three hours, or rescheduling for another day. I chose to stay. They lead me back to the lobby, but left all my personal items in the open box in the back room. They offered me a cup and suggested that I drink some water from their water cooler to build up ammo faster. A few minutes later, a nurse stuck her head out the door and asked in a panicky voice how many cups I’d drunk. When I replied that I was on my fourth, she asked that I not drink any more. Apparently, you can weaken the sample if you drink TOO much. If I’d known that, I’d have drunk TEN cups for sheer spite!

I waited not until I thought that I MIGHT have enough ammo to do the job, but until I grew DESPERATE to drain my tank! I told them then, that if they’d give me a bucket or a bedpan, I’d give them more “sample” than they’d know what to do with, but no, they gave me another little plastic cup. Most of it STILL went outside the cup, but the sheer volume overwhelmed the odds and I got a more than adequate sample. Then the nurse poured some of it into two little vials and threw the rest away! So much effort WASTED! I think they should have had to test anything up to ten gallons after all that effort!

I’ve got it figured out though. Next time, I’m going to hide that multi-tool in my sock. Then, at least I can use the folding pliers for a handle on that @%#$&^*)$# little plastic cup! In the meanwhile, I suppose no-one notices that one of my coworkers often smells as if he drank a really huge supper the night before. © 2014