Readers keep telling me that they wish I would write about nothing other than old times and the way things used to be and the truth of the matter is that, for the most part, the older I get, the better they were. But there are still a lot of things I would not want to go back to.
Putting out a washing (doing laundry on a wringer washing machine) in sub-freezing weather immediately comes to mind as does packing in a dozen buckets of coal to keep fires going in a drafty old house and still waking up to find out the water bucket had frozen solid during the night.
Dodging mud holes and trying to find a path through deeply-rutted dirt roads on a mile plus walk to school is not something I’d want to do again or wish off on my grandkids. I have, however, on many occasions when my own kids complained about walking across a muddy lawn to get to the school bus, wished they’d had to hoof it all the way, like I had to.
Getting a speck of mud on their Nikes would have been the least of their worries, not that they could have worn such flimsy footwear to Blair Branch Grade School during winter time, had they been there. We either wore knee-high rubber boots over our walking shoes or high-fitting leather boots that were supposed to be water proof but were not.
I can remember parking my boots and socks behind the huge pot-bellied stoves we used to heat the school building so they could dry out before the first 15 minute “recess” or play time. And I was not the only one.
Dad bought beef tallow that we used to rub into the sole seams and eye-lacings of our boots every night to help make them water-tight and supple. I’m reasonably sure that helped a little but my feet were usually wet and cold when I got to school or home from school between the middle of November until the first of April.
Nobody complained about the knee-deep ruts or tracks in the road, made by heavily-loaded coal trucks because most adult men worked in the mines and getting the coal hauled to railroad tipples was essential to keeping jobs.
When the ruts wore down so deeply that even the coal trucks’ rear axle differentials started dragging in the middle, the coal companies or sometimes the county road crew would haul in loads of creek gravel and/or “red dog” to fill them and the road would be reasonably level for a week or two but the road had to get virtually impassable for that to happen.
Red dog was old slate rock cinders from residue that had been piled beside the big company mines when they were in full swing during the early years of the industry. The rock residue contained enough coal and petroleum to spontaneously combust and, for many years thousands of tons, small mountains, many still smoking, of it dotted the eastern Kentucky landscape.
Local politicians decided it was excellent road material, far, far less expensive than limestone gravel and much more easily accessible than creek or river gravel. Unless a member of the county fiscal court lived on your road, you didn’t even think about getting limestone gravel on it. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective, we never had a magistrate living on Blair Branch in those days.
In reality red dog was nothing more than very hard clay, heavily laced with enough iron and other very red minerals that rapidly turned into soft mud after the first rain or snow melt. Regular old mud would, at least wash off, but red dog mud was a permanent dye.
Anyway, there are lots of things about the good old days that I don’t miss one single bit. On the other hand, there are certainly more that we have lost along the way that I sure do wish we hadn’t. I promise that I will try to focus just on those when I wax nostalgic in the future.
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.