Monday, April 30, 2012

Talking to a mule

Do you ever need to talk to a mule? Neither do I, but once everyone who plowed or pulled a piece of farm equipment had to be able to speak in terms the animals understood. The universal terms for turning left or right were/are "Gee" and "Haw." In the U.S., Gee means "turn right" and Haw is the opposite. I'm told that in Britain the convention is the reverse of the American one.

For most people living today who are at all familiar with the terms the expressions are largely vestigial, used in a manner that may relate to their original meanings but not obviously so. Someone giving a pep talk to a group may say "we're going to have to Gee and Haw," meaning keep on course or keep on task. A farmer plowing with a team of mules or horses might have been heard to call "Gee" or "Haw" repeatedly as the plow moved down the furrow, making small course corrections along the way to keep the furrows straight. Or someone who is confused might be said to "not know whether to Gee or Haw."

Then there's this painted on a water tower in nearby Allardt, Tennessee.

Would you believe there's a crossroad just ahead?

Friday, April 27, 2012

A regrettable loss

It looked like there was a snake crawling into my car barn.

It turned out to be a young corn snake or red rat snake (Pantherophis guttatus guttatus). (Yes, I learned the genus as Elaphe, also, but apparently it has been changed.) He wasn't moving.

It appears he was crushed by the door. Here's what I think happened: the crack he tried to enter by is very small and the door is very heavy. It was a windy day and I think the door shifted just enough to crush him. Snakes are delicate animals. The ribs are thin and they have only one lung, an adaptation to their geometry. Ribs can easily be broken and penetrate the lung, which results in death. This poor fellow needed a slightly larger opening.

The death is regrettable because these are valuable snakes. They eat mice and living here in the woods we have an abundance. The mice are forever invading our cars. Lift the hood (for our British friends, that's where we keep the motor) and you're likely to find a cache of acorns and the beginnings of a nest. One even made it into the heating/air conditioning ducts on one car and completely clogged it. A few rat snakes in the barn and that problem would be minimized. Besides, I think these corn snakes are attractive.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Celtic Festival - People Watching

One expects to see the clan organizations represented. It turn out this MacGregor was a graduate of the University of Tennessee.

And don't forget my (possibly) distant cousin, Robert Burns. (At least he's buried in the same churchyard as my distant ancestors.)

Even the police on duty were kilted!

Great bellies are made, not born!

Tuatha Dé Danann perhaps?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Celtic Festival - A car show?

Did the old Celts have cars? Never mind, this Celtic festival did have a car show. In fact, it had a large car show with British cars dating from the late 40s to the present.

There were a couple of fine 1949 MG TCs. These cars are pretty rare in the U.S. This is the car that American G.I.s brought home following WWII that introduced the British sports car to the American people. All had right-hand drive, and they were never exported to the U.S.

There were several MG TDs at the show, like this especially fine one sitting next to one of the TCs. The MG TD popularized the British sports car in the U.S. Morris exported left-hand drive cars especially modified for the U.S. market. This car is a 1952 model. There also were a few MG TFs, a lot of MGAs and MGBs, and I even saw one rare MGC, which I believe was produced only for about a year and a half. There were also Triumphs and Jaguars, Midgets and Austin Healeys, and even a few Alpha Romeos and Fiats. Not sure what the latter were doing there; party crashers maybe?

But you can't have a British car show without a Mini or two or three.

 I would have liked to have spent more time with the cars, but we weren't there all that long and there was more to be seen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Celtic Games - The Usual

Although rather small by some standards, these games had all of the usual elements. There were the pipe bands -

There were "Scottish" bands,

and an "Irish" band.

There was a dance competition -

And there were the games -

And always my favorite, the sheep-herding demonstration -
We'll take a look at the less-than-usual tomorrow.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Celtic Festival - The Basics

We went to a Celtic Festival on a recent Saturday. What, I asked myself, do you really need to enjoy a British-themed Saturday afternoon? The answer is simple: beer, darts, some pub music, and dancing girls. OK, there's much more, but let's start with those.
The beer was provided by a refrigerated trailer with taps installed in the side. Why didn't I think of that? It can follow you wherever you decide to go. And I have to say the Guinness was far better than I remembered it.  I may have to look for some next time I'm off the mountain.
Yes, and there were darts.

Note the sign at the bottom advertising a "pointless dart league." I thought the point of darts was to give you something to do with your other hand while you held a beer. Why else would one play darts?

These three young people provided the pub songs, and a lively group they were. No slow, sentimental ballads here; this was dance music!

Which brought out the dancing girls. In the spirit of full disclosure, the exceptionally beautiful girl in the red shirt is my granddaughter. Like her father, she was shy and slow to enter the dance. But like her mother, once committed she gave it her all and danced with complete abandon.

After a bit, these fellows from one of the pipe bands joined in. It was a 2 AM moment at 4 in the afternoon. Time to think about going home.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The courthouse

White County
In most small Tennessee county seats, the courthouse is the most imposing structure in town. It is the seat of local government and the focus of local pride. This is where legal matters are settled, and in many cases, where taxes are paid, licenses obtained, deeds registered, and where government and civic bodies meet.

Overton County 
Frequently the courthouse sits in a square at the center of town, with streets on all sides. The plaza around the building is used as a place for gatherings, either formal or informal. Before radio and television, the courthouse squares often were the sites of market gatherings on court days and caught the overflow from courtrooms packed by curious citizens seeking entertainment.

Clay County
And once they could be the place where whiskey was offered in seeking votes, and sites of election day violence. One famous family feud in another state began when a fight broke out on election day between members of the two families, resulting in a fatal stab wound.

Pickett County
Tennessee has 95 counties, with 38 having fewer than 25,000 citizens. Each is proud of its courthouse. Even Tennessee's smallest county (population 4,945; 163 sq. miles) has a magnificent courthouse.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Back to the Future

(My photograph of a portion of a display in the Scopes Trial Museum, Dayton, Tennessee)

Yesterday I wrote about my love for Appalachian Tennessee. Today I'm going to talk about what I don't like about my adopted state. Our state legislature just passed a law allowing discussion of Creationism along side teaching of evolution in public schools. The Governor, a Republican, allowed the bill to become law without his signature, citing the 3-1 margin by which the bill passed as making it veto-proof. To me, that sounded a bit like the Governor (Charles Durning) in the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas singing I Love to Dance a Little Sidestep. Somehow it came off as a bit disingenuous.

This battle has been going on for a century. Periodically southern legislatures from Texas to the Carolinas will come up with new ways to insert biblical teachings into the teaching of science. And periodically, the courts will strike them down. But now a new element has been added. Denial of global warming has joined denial of evolution as causes for the conservative-fundamentalist coalition. One might be somewhat forgiving for an anti-evolution stance, since the faithful see it as in opposition to their literal view of the Bible and its infallibility. But resistance to the inconvenient truth of global warming is purely political, based on adherence to laissez faire economics. Regardless, neither is science and has a place in a science curriculum. Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard paleontologist, characterized science and religion as having "non-overlapping magisteria," that is, they deal with entirely different realms of competencies (Rock of Ages, Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, 1999). Economics is yet another field and should be treated as such.

Tennessee's last big dance in this conflict was played out in the Rhea County courthouse in Dayton in 1925. Which county will draw the short straw next time?
To end on a lighter note, enjoy "Governor" Durning dancing  a little sidestep:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Born Again

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before

 Those words by John Denver (Rocky Mountain High) captured my emotions on my first trip to east Tennessee. Instead of summer, it was early spring, but it was my 27th year. I had left West Lafayette, Indiana, in a near blizzard enroute to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to discuss doing my thesis research there. Snow changed to rain before I got to Louisville, Kentucky, and the rain stayed with me until I broke into sunshine crossing Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau. It was a sign from the heavens.

My family had joined the great Appalachian migration to the industrial midwest just as I was entering high school. The chain of eight generations living in Appalachia was broken with no expectation of it being mended.

Mountains, coal mines, and subsistence farming had been left behind for the promise of a meager, but dependable, paycheck. Living was exchanged for survival. No one was actually pleased with the deal.

Louis Pasteur said "Chance favors the prepared mind." Thanks to education, and a willing wife, east Tennessee became home that day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Then and now

Remember when your grandmother was a gray-haired woman with an apron over her house dress? And how she baked cookies from memory, or used a well-worn cookbook? That was then, this is now.

 This grandmother still bakes the cookies from scratch, sometimes from memory, sometimes from a cookbook, but increasingly from recipes found online. Gotta keep up the grands!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sharyn McCrumb coming to Rugby

Best-selling author Sharyn McCrumb will be coming to Rugby's Rebecca Johnson Theater on Sunday, April 22, at 3:00 p.m. McCrumb's accumulated works include the Elizabeth MacPherson novels, the St. Dale series that have a NASCAR theme, short stories, and my favorites, her ballad series. My wife and I have been big Sharyn McCrumb fans since first reading She Walks These Hills, the novel that remains my favorite. I think I must have read it three or four times now. All of her ballad books have sat on our bookshelves, although we have a hard time keeping copies in stock. Over the years I think I must have bought a half dozen copies of She Walks These Hills and we currently don't have one. We rave, people ask, we loan, and they're gone forever.

McCrumb is a native of Appalachia and in her ballad series writes about the people and places she knows best. Her love for the land, the people, history, and culture not only is felt by the reader, but rings true to those of us who share her love of place. She summed it up well herself: “My books are like Appalachian quilts,” says Sharyn McCrumb. “I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South.”

 Please join us if you can. If you can't, read along with us in one of McCrumb's ballad books. You'll be glad you did!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Uncovering a hidden history

By now regular readers know that Rugby, Tennessee, was founded in 1880 by British author and former member of Parliament Thomas Hughes. It was another 19th century Utopian experiment, this time to create a class-free society where the younger sons of the British landed gentry could escape the constraints imposed by class and primogeniture. And as with most other such experiments, it was short lived. In the more than 130 years since its founding, more than half of the early structures have been lost to fire or decay. Some have been reconstructed, following drawings or photographs of the original structures. Other important structures await the arrival of someone with the interest and money to reconstruct them. Now, thanks to a grant, we can see a few of the more important buildings while they await revival.

Historic Rugby, Inc., has placed display signs at the former sites of several buildings. Probably the most important of these buildings was the Tabard Inn. Named for an inn in the Canterbury Tales, there were two Tabard Inns in Rugby, both of which burned. When the second burned in 1899, the Rugby community was already in decline and the owner/operator, Abner Ross, left Rugby to start a new community he named Deer Lodge. Reconstruction of the Tabard Inn was once a goal of the National Park Service, in conjunction with the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Unfortunately, the necessary funding was never found.

Roadside Cottage or Grey Gables sat on the corner opposite Thomas Hughes's Kingstone Lisle. The property is currently owned by Linda Brooks Jones who operates the Grey Gables B&B at the other end of the village.

The former site of the Perrigo/Alexander Boarding House has been bought by the operators of Rugby's Spirit of Red Hill Art and Odiments Shop, who plan to start reconstruction later this year. When complete, it will house their business plus lodging for overnight guests. The Spirit of Red Hill currently occupies the first floor of the Board of Aid to Land Ownership building, which means there will be room for one additional business in the village when they move out.

The Thomas Fardon Drug Supply and home was located at the northwestern end of the village business district, next to what is now Martin's Roost, a vacation home in what was once a blacksmith shop. I think Fardon's was one of the most interesting examples of mixed use architecture I've seen. His house and shop were under the same roof, both with entrances on the main street. I'd love to see someone rebuild it.

We look forward to when these, and other historic buildings, will be reconstructed, adding to the visitor experience and recreating the Rugby of the 1880s.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rugby's Applachian Writers Series

Nancy Jensen will kick off the Rugby Appalachian Writers series this coming Saturday, April 14, at 4:00 p.m. in the Rebecca Johnson Theater at the Visitor Centre. Nancy's first novel, The Sisters, deals with "the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart…" 

Nancy has been a frequent visitor to Rugby, along with her dog Gordy, and has many friends here.
She currently teaches in the Bluegrass Writers Studio MFA in Writing program at Eastern Kentucky University. For more about Nancy, and about Gordy, visit Nancy's web pageCome join us on Saturday, if you can. If not, pick up a copy of The Sisters.