A chilly, foggy morning view in my yard.

A winter sunset in the Ballard County river bottoms.

The stories and commentaries on this page are, for the most part, the most recent ones. The categories on the left side of the page serve as archives for older stories I have removed from this page.

Quirks along the way home


November 20, 2018


As my now 11-year-old daughter Bella and I drove home on Sunday after attending my brother Jeff’s memorial service the day before, at least three quirky things caught my attention.

At the Shoney’s restaurant off the Harriman exit on I-40 (the worst breakfast experience I have ever had at a Shoney’s, by the way), the server came to our booth midway through the meal and asked, “Did you find everything ok?” That’s not the first time I’ve been asked that, usually in a department store, but it was the first time that it struck me this way: I wanted to ask her, “Why, have you hidden some of the breakfast items?”

Same restaurant as we were leaving. A diner was standing, getting ready to move toward the breakfast buffet, and the server asked her what she wanted to drink. She said, “I will have water because ….” I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence, but it made me wonder why she thought she had to justify her choice of water. I am pretty sure I have done the same kind of thing.

And somewhere along Tennessee State Route 79 as we neared Adams, Tenn., I saw a small sign just off the road, and it read, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.” I smiled and thought, “Yes, and then you are quite likely to meet him face-to-face.”

(NOTE: Before his abrupt and unexpected departure on Thursday from the job of executive editor of the Paducah Sun newspaper, Steve Wilson had drafted his column for this past Sunday’s paper. He sent a copy of that column to me by email on Sunday. I asked his permission to post the unpublished column on my website because I think it discusses an important, if esoteric, point of criminal justice as practiced in the courts. My request was not at all influenced by his occasional mention of my name. Ahem. Ahem. He graciously gave his permission. I must add this comment: The Paducah newspaper, in my opinion, has achieved a diminished stature with Wilson’s departure. I don’t know him personally, but I read his column each Sunday and I came to believe he represented my ideal of what a newspaper news person should be.)


More than a matter of semantics   


November 19, 2018




I don't get a lot of email from Monkey's Eyebrow, the small, curiously named town on the northwest edge of Ballard County.

But a thoughtful message came last Sunday from Joe Culver of Monkey's Eyebrow in response to my column that day.

 I had written: “The lopsided re-election of Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon, who has been indicted on charges of drug possession and official misconduct, struck many people as hard to figure. ... The sheriff was helped by his positive reputation among Graves County residents. Several took to Facebook to express their support and remind people he is innocent until proven guilty.”

Culver took exception to the word "until." He wrote:

"Innocent until proven guilty. We have seen and heard that standard of U.S. justice over and over recently, particularly in the time leading up to the confirmation of nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. 

"And every time I hear it, I ask myself what it implies. The word 'until,' I believe, implies that the defendant is guilty but will be treated as being innocent until that inevitable time that he or she is found guilty. I think 'unless' is a better conjunction.

“ 'Unless proven guilty' seems less incriminating than 'until proven guilty,' and suggests that the defendant might actually be innocent. I infer from 'until' that the defendant is guilty in fact if not in law.

"And I will continue to believe 'unless' is the correct choice until I am proven to be mistaken."

Culver, a Ballard County native who is now retired, has had an interesting career. He holds a law degree, worked as a reporter and managing editor of the newspaper in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and spent many years as a senior official at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and with the U.S. Department of Energy at its National Energy Technology Laboratory.   

My first reaction to his email, however, was to dismiss it as a small quibble over words written in the U.S. Constitution. But thinking about it further, I decided to check on the origin of the term and found it's not in the Constitution but is derived from court decisions affirming the presumption of innocence. 

I came around to agreeing with Culver. I think there is a difference between the two words and "until" can be taken to carry an implication that the defendant is guilty.

 I then put the question to some legal friends.

McCracken Circuit Judge Tim Kaltenbach said at first he's not sure "until" implies guilt and believes either word is acceptable. 

Then he checked the jury instructions set by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which include these two sentences:

"The law presumes the defendant to be innocent of a crime, and the indictment shall not be considered as evidence or having any weight against him.

"You shall find the defendant not guilty unless you are satisfied from the evidence alone, and beyond a reasonable doubt, that he is guilty."

The choice of "unless" in the instructions, Kaltenbach said, inclines him to think it is a better word than "until."

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham found Culver's email "insightful and thought-provoking."  He added, however, that most juries "would not discern the difference" between the two words.

Paducah attorney Mark Bryant, who has represented many criminal defendants, said similarly he believes most jurors would not reach their decisions any differently if they heard "unless" rather than "until."

But he said he prefers the phrase "unless proven guilty," and he will ask it be used the next time he brings a criminal case to a jury.

So I'm agreeing with Culver that the issue he raised is not simply semantics, and "unless" is the better choice of words.

Though it may make no difference to most jurors, it's a more neutral word that better conveys presumption of innocence -- a fundamental principle of the American criminal justice system.

"Until" can be heard to suggest it's only a matter of time before guilt will be established. "Unless" carries no such intimation.

As Mark Twain famously wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Phonetics and Phlesh


November 11, 2018


A couple of interesting things to report from my visit today with an ophthalmologist.

First of all, he said everything looks good. That’s important information for diabetics.

I asked him the proper pronunciation of his speciality: OPH-THALMOLOGY or OP-THALMOLOGY. He said OP is correct. He said the H is silent. I wonder why that is.

I used his restroom. Old men with enlarged prostates never risk passing a restroom.

The restroom had one of those Xelerator hand dryers. You probably know the kind. They dry hands quickly with a powerful stream of air.

I’ve noticed every time I use one, the powerful air flow sends waves wrinkling through my hands. When I finish drying the hands, I always check to make sure the dryer didn’t blow my skin off, leaving me with flesh and bones.

The image is blurry. It shows Jeff and Smoky near the road.

Reflecting on baby brother’s death


November 9, 2018


          In a perfect cycle of life, children would outlive parents and younger siblings would outlive older ones.

          We don’t live in a perfect world, and our life cycle is far from perfect. Both the cycle and the world are flawed. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

          When my cell phone quacked (I have a mallard duck ringtone) about 15 or 20 minutes before 3 o’clock on the morning of November 7 and I saw my sister Jeanne’s name on the caller ID, I knew either she had butt-dialed me or she was calling with bad news. I wasn’t sufficiently awake to speculate about what the news might be.

          I certainly wasn’t expecting her to say something like, “I hate to call you at this time of day but Jeff died this morning.”

          Daddy, who died at the age of 93, and mother, who lived half a year past her 87th birthday, left behind six siblings. That was part of what would have been a perfect life cycle. Daddy, being older, went first, and then mother followed about three weeks later.

          I should have been next. I’m the oldest. The line of succession should have been me, then Jeanne, Jerry, Jeff, Julie, and Janie. Our births spanned a period of nearly 23 years. Jeff was fourth. I was born in 1943, he came along in 1959.

          I wasn’t around Jeff very much. He was only a couple of years old when I went off to college, and then I went off to marriage, and fatherhood, and work. I saw him mostly on visits.

          He was fun to be with. Smiling, inquisitive, quick to come up with nicknames for people. For some reason, he called daddy Lamp.

          Mother and daddy moved from Wickliffe to Oak Ridge, Tenn., in the 1960s. Jeff went to school there. From very early in his life, he participated in sports at the Boys Club of Oak Ridge, and later, he coached kids in basketball, football and baseball.

          I moved to Oak Ridge in 1976 and saw him more frequently than before, but we had separate lives and I can’t say we were close. I wish we had been closer.

          Jeff had significant health issues in recent years, due in part to his work in nuclear clean-up at the Department of Energy plants in Oak Ridge. He had to wear oxygen all the time. He knew his time was limited because of breathing problems associated with COPD and other issues, but I don’t think he or anyone else expected that his life would be snuffed out by a heart attack. A heart attack. He was more than a month shy of his 59th birthday. People that young should not be stolen from us by heart attacks. In a perfect world, people that young would not be taken by any condition.

          There probably are other, better stories that Jeff’s contemporaries can share. I can think of three.

          The earliest one was from a time I was still living at home, or not long after I left. Jeff was in diapers and playing in the front yard of our home alongside Beech Grove Road outside of Wickliffe. I had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, name of Smoky, that I had bought from Clint Boyd. Daddy advanced me the money, $20 I think, and I was supposed to pay him back at the rate of a dollar a week. I don’t know if I did, or if he and I forgot the payments. If Jeff toddled too close to the road, Smoky would either grab him by the diaper and pull him away, or get between him and the road.

          Another memory was when I was visiting them in Oak Ridge and was playing catch with Jeff in the back yard. I was in my tobacco-chewing phase back then and I had a twist of home-cured tobacco from uncle Herman Tilley. Jeff wanted to try it, probably because many big leaguers in those days chewed tobacco and spat upon the baseball diamond. That was a decision he regretted after he took a couple of chews and turned a different shade. I suspect that was his last attempt to chew.

          There was a greenbelt – a wooded area – behind the Oak Ridge house. Either I had a tent or there was one at the house when I was visiting. We decided to put up the tent in the woods and spend the night there. Jeff was a bit worried about bears. “Joe, are there bears in these woods,” he asked me. I told him I guess a stray bear could be there but it was unlikely. After a while, he asked his second question: “Joe, will bears hurt you?” I said that they might but they probably wouldn’t if left alone, and if they got too close, you could hit them on the nose with something. He ruminated on that for a bit and then, seeking some assurance of his safety and believing I might be able to provide protection, finally asked, “Joe, can you whip a bear?”

          I can ponder the unfairness of Jeff’s death without a lot of pain. It’s when I see pictures of him and ponder that unfairness that it hurts the most. He has entered a state of peace that his friends and siblings won’t find right away.

          Friends and family will gather for a memorial service at the Boys Club, which was practically his second home, on November 17. He told Jeanne he wanted to come back to Ballard County to be beside mother and daddy. A graveside service will be held at the Wickliffe cemetery at some later date.

          I don’t like going to cemeteries to say goodbye to family.

Interesting ways to avoid the word “die”


October 10, 2018

In years past I saved what I thought were interesting obituaries I saw in newspapers. They were interesting to me in the ways they described how the departed had departed, in order to avoid saying so-and-so had died.

I haven’t been doing it lately, not for several years in fact, but I saw one today in The Oak Ridger that caused me to add it to the collection. I will post some of the ones I’ve saved, but will omit the names of the people.

The one today read, “(NAME) passed through the veil Sunday evening, Oct. 7, 2018, surrounded by many loved ones.”

On March 4, 2006, in a soaring departure, “(NAME), a resident of Chattanooga, flew away to be with the Lord on Friday, March 03, 2006 in a Chattanooga healthcare facility.”

Two things about that one. One is that in trying to avoid saying he had died, the obit had him flying away. I would like to have seen that. The other one is that the way it’s written, the Lord is in a healthcare facility. I hope He gets better.

I imagine there was no snoring on April 23, 2006: “(NAME) - a compassionate "70-something" woman from Knoxville, Tennessee, fell into peaceful sleep and left her earthly body behind on Friday night, April 21st.”

Farther down in the obituary, we are told she enjoyed nurturing her family and it mentioned her great cooking, including “her own rendition of an exceptional desert called Holy Smoke.” I’ve cooked some odd things in my life, but never a desert.

Probably no jealousy involved in this one on April 23, 2006: “(NAME) - age 89 of Knoxville, went to her Heavenly home on Thursday to be reunited with her only son, (NAME), her parents, and her husbands, (two names).”

I’ve often wondered how they will sort out the relationships with multiple husbands or wives.

A piscatorial death reported on July 8, 2006, was among the strangest ways to avoid dying: “(NAME) - age 47 of Knoxville went fishing in heaven, July 6, 2006.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion that everyone went to Heaven. I’ve never seen an obituary where anyone went anywhere else, Hell or Walmart, which might be the same.

Here’s an example on July 16, 2006: “(NAME) - age 79 of Maynardville, left his ragged body behind for a new one early July 15, 2006 to join his beloved daughter (NAME)-what a reunion!! His parents and 13 brothers and sisters also met him at the gate.”

This woman was more tired than I’ve ever been according to her obituary on Oct. 2, 2006: “(NAME) - age 88, of Knoxville. "I'm tired and I want to go home." God granted her wish September 29, 2006.”

Finally, apparently a real Elvis fan according to her obituary on Aug. 6, 2008: “(NAME) - age 60 of Knoxville passed away suddenly Saturday morning, August 2, 2008. She was Elvis Presley's greatest fan, and will finally get to sing a duet with him.”

(NOTE: An exchange with my friend on Facebook today – August 21, 2018 – reminded me that this story is one of many that I did not transfer from my old website to this newer version. It’s still a good story and I hope you enjoy it.)


A bucket of water and a baloney sandwich


March, 2007


          One of the best meals I ever ate was a soggy baloney sandwich about 30 years ago. (NOTE: Make that 40 years ago in 2018.)

          I was in law school at the University of Tennessee at the time. One of my best friends in law school was Lee White, who grew up in Elizabethton in upper East Tennessee’s mountains. He remains a good friend to this day. He gave up practicing law a few years ago, opting to drive a semi truck across the country, hauling large boats.

Up there in Lee’s mountains, a couple of drops of rain can cause flash floods. That’s not what it’s like in Ballard County where the Ohio runs into the Mississippi. Here, it takes lots of rain to raise the river level.

          Lee and I started law school at the University of Tennessee at the same time. We both were hunters, his experience coming in the pursuit of whatever critters ran around the mountains, while mine was mostly with the game you would find in a river bottoms environment. Duck hunting was my favorite, and at that time I usually went back to Ballard County each winter for at least one duck hunt.

          Lee had never been duck hunting, so I invited him to go.

          We launched our 14-foot johnboat at the landing close to the old pottery in Wickliffe, Ky., just south of the confluence of the two mighty rivers.

It was in November, maybe around Thanksgiving, and it was one of those days duck hunters like to remember. It was raining fairly hard, the wind was gusting, the temperature was falling, and the boat was overloaded with Lee and me, guns, duck and goose decoys, hip boots, hunting clothes, a tent, and a big cooler full of food and soft drinks.

          We headed downstream to a sandbar island that had some trees and grass growing on it. The outboard probably wasn’t big enough for the load, but I was confident we would be okay.

          By the time we got to the island, we were both wet and chilled, which made it important to get the tent pitched.

          Did you ever try to pitch a tent in the wind, when the pegs have to be buried into the sand well enough that the tent doesn’t blow away? It ain’t easy.

          We fought the weather and the dropping temperatures and the sand and finally got the tent up. We were exhausted, far too tired to try and build a fire in such damp conditions, so we crawled into the tent and opened the cooler.

          We mashed some soggy bread, baloney, sliced cheese and sand together into sandwiches. (With sand, they would be just wiches.)

          We each took a bite and agreed it was the best food we’d ever tasted.

          Meanwhile, as we tried to hunt, the rain continued, the temperature dropped some more, the wind was creating white cap waves in the river, and we weren’t having a lot of luck. Ducks had enough sense not to be out. Apparently, we didn’t.

          We had pulled the boat onto the island when we arrived and tied it to a tree. When we woke up the next morning and the river had risen enough that our boat was floating, though still soundly tied to the tree, Lee began to rant about how I was trying to drown us. I tried to reason with him that it took a lot of water to cause the river to rise enough to cover the island, but he was frightened.

          We agreed to return to land.

          This time, we were going against the current. The waves were higher than our heads as we sat in the boat. The small outboard was struggling against the current. One wave swept over us as we slid into a trough and filled the boat with water.

          Lee gripped the sides of the aluminum boat hard enough to leave finger impressions in the metal. “You’re wanting to die and take me with you,” he accused me.

          I tried to reassure him that we were okay, even as both of us dipped water out of the boat to lighten the load enough that the motor would push us against the current. I wasn’t all that sure either that we wouldn’t sink.

          I told Lee that if the boat did sink, we should each grab a couple of goose decoys for flotation.

To Lee’s surprise, and maybe a little to mine, we did make it back.

As we loaded the boat onto the trailer, I said, “Lee when we get the boat loaded, let’s drive into town to the restaurant. We’ll park the truck and walk in. We’ll be wet and cold, but they’ll let us in because they serve lots of duck hunters. The waitress will seat us. When she comes back with the menu, I’ll say, ‘We don’t need a menu. Just throw a bucket of water in our faces and bring us a baloney sandwich.’”

It wouldn’t have been the same. You never can quite duplicate the conditions that caused that great meal to be as great as it was.

(NOTE: Today, some injuries, and perhaps age, have forced Lee into retirement. I am happy to report that as of today, he is alive and mostly well in his hometown.)

My friend Richard Crouch


August 15, 2018


A series of posts, comments and replies today caused me to spend some time thinking about my friend Richard Crouch.

We met when we were in the army, in the Headquarters Battery of the 4th Missile Battalion, 517th Artillery. We were in the Canal Zone to provide air defense to the Panama Canal and our bases. This would have been in the spring or summer of 1965.

I was the battalion’s public information specialist, working in what was designated as the S-1 part of headquarters. If memory serves, Richard was in S-2, which handled classified information. He could have been in S-3, and maybe any number of other esses. I wish my memory was a little, or a lot, better.

Again, I am depending on memory as I write. I recall that three of us who served in one of the headquarters esses submitted paperwork to be transferred to Vietnam. I think the form we used was the DA-1046 or maybe 1049. I was one of the three and Richard was another. I can’t remember who the third was.

My motive, and I believe Richard’s, was that if we were going to be in the army, we should be where we could provide the greatest service. In our minds, that meant Vietnam. (Today, I probably would not feel the same. I think that war was one of our national mistakes.)

Richard and the other soldier were approved for transfer to Vietnam. I was not. I spent the rest of my army service in the Canal Zone. In retrospect, I am proud that I offered to go into a combat area but thankful that I stayed in a safe place.

When Richard was transferred, he was trained to be a gunner in a helicopter. You’ve seen movies of those guys strapped in, shooting out of open bays. It was very dangerous duty.

Richard survived his service. He returned to the states physically and mentally whole. A lot of his comrades in arms did not.

I can’t remember what I was doing, maybe when I was driving to San Diego in 1974 for orientation to serve in the Navy, but there was a time when I drove to or through Missouri and spent a couple of days with Richard and his wife, Laurel, to whom he remains married. They have been married since May 1969. I think that is a significant achievement, certainly much better than my dismal record. I think Richard earned his living doing dry wall installation, and probably other things. He is retired now. He also was on the pro bass fishing circuit and I believe he still fishes in some of the tournaments.

Anyway, I am thinking of him today. We use the term “hero” much too loosely, I believe, but I look up to Richard as an American hero. He put his life on the line, literally, to serve his country. We are on different sides of the political/philosophical spectrum, with me on the liberal side and him on the conservative side. But we remain entrenched on the friendship side. I have great respect for him.

But … But … Monkey’s Eyebrow?


June 26, 2018


You have to read all the way through so you can get the rest of the story.

My friend Mary Helen Hicks sent me the editorial page from the Paducah Sun-Democrat of Friday, Feb. 20, 1959. The mail was delivered today.

It included a column by the late Hal Boyle – remember him? – and the syndicated “Test Your Horse Sense,” which I remember by grandmother Edna Culver and her brother Russell Jones looking for every time it appeared in the Sun-Democrat (no longer a Democrat, now just the Sun).

But the reason she sent it is the “From Hall Allen’s Notebook” column, which told about the time football coach Dr. Jock Sutherland was found on April 6, 1948, walking along a Ballard County road near Monkey’s Eyebrow. Apparently he could remember nothing but his name. He said over and over, “I am Jock Sutherland.”

My grandfather Robert Crice was the jailer at the time and his son Billy Bob Crice helped out around the jail and the courthouse. Billy Bob, 20 years old at the time, heard the sheriff interviewing the man, who kept saying his name.

Billy Bob, who was the paper’s basketball correspondent at Wickliffe, phoned Allen and asked if Sutherland wasn’t a “big football coach.”

He was, in fact, a “big football coach.” He had been head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh and was head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in Cairo.

The Associated Press refused to accept the story because the identification wasn’t positive enough.

When a positive identification was made, teletype messages back and forth between Louisville’s AP bureau and Pittsburgh caused newspaper men in Pittsburgh and New York to begin phoning the Sun-Democrat for the story.

I am going to quote the exchange between Allen and the big city reporters, as Allen wrote it in his column. I love this part because it would probably be the same today.

Here’s how Allen wrote it. I hope I have managed to use single and double quote marks correctly.:

“I explained that Dr. Sutherland had been found wandering along a road in Ballard County, Ky.”

“ ‘Near what town?’ I was asked.”

“Monkey’s Eyebrow.”

“ ‘What?’ ”

“Monkey’s Eyebrow.”

“ ‘ What do you mean by Monkey’s Eyebrow?’ ”

“That’s the name of the town which is located in Ballard County near where Dr. Sutherland was found.”

“ ‘ But it sounds like you said Monkey’s Eyebrow.’ ”

“I did say Monkey’s Eyebrow sir.”

“ ‘Look, couldn’t I just say in Ballard County, Ky.’ ”

“As you wish,” I told him. “Only you asked for the name of the town.”

“ ‘Couldn’t you give me the name of another town?’ ”

“Certainly,” I said, “but you wanted the name of the town where Dr. Jock Sutherland was found and I merely told you. The town is –”

“ ‘Never mind.’ ”

Isn’t that a wonderful exchange?

A plane was sent to Paducah and Sutherland was flown to Pittsburgh. He was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. He died on the operating table the next night.

And now the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say on the radio.

Mary Helen sent the page to me by way of the post office. It seems that it was just about as difficult now as it was back in 1948.

The manila envelope was initially addressed to me, as far as I can tell, at 2306 Monkey’s Eyebrow Road, Bandana, Ky. Someone with a black marker or black crayon marked through the road address and wrote “PO BOX” in large letters. That, in turn, was marked through and someone re-wrote the road address and added Kevil 42053 beneath it. The Kevil name and zip code were later marked through and La Center, Ky., 42056 was added. Monkey’s Eyebrow is on the La Center mail route so that final change worked.

This entire article I’ve written makes me think of the “Who’s on first?” routine.

That sort of thing is one reason it’s so much fun to live at Monkey’s Eyebrow.

The young man in my mirror.

Mirror mirror on the wall


September 17, 2016


          I look in the mirror in my Monkey’s Eyebrow house to make sure my fedora hat is placed just right before I leave the house.

The young face. The fedora sitting perfectly just above it.

I smile. The young man in the mirror smiles back at me. Good mirror.

It’s okay to leave now and go to Tractor Supply where that expensive dog food that Herman eats is on sale. Herman isn’t much account so I probably should stop buying Blue Wilderness for him and start getting some cheaper dog food, maybe some made from floor sweepings.

I stop in the dog food aisle and see that the kind I get, the variety in a copper-colored bag, is still too expensive but some $8 less expensive than normal.

I get two bags.

Time to check out. The young woman at checkout asks, "Do you need help with that?" Checkout people ask me that often these days. I don’t know why. They must not be seeing the man in my mirror.

They need to come to Monkey’s Eyebrow and look at the man in my mirror. Their eyes aren’t all that good, I think, but there’s something about my mirror that improves vision.

Separated from me by a counter, they aren’t seeing the young man in the perfectly arranged fedora. Instead, they must be seeing some feeble old man with two bags of dog food. A feeble old man who needs help getting back to his car with those two bags.

If I accept help, will the helper come home with me? If I can’t manage to push a cart to my car and then unload two bags, how do they expect me to get the bags from my car and carry them into my house? I guess they probably will ride to Monkey’s Eyebrow with me and help me unload the dog food. I hope they don’t expect me to drive them back to Tractor Supply, just this side of Paducah.

After he helps me unload the bags, he can come in and look at my reflection in the mirror. Then he will understand why I thought it was foolish to ask if I need help.

I wonder if I should make it a practice to take that vision-enhancing mirror with me when I go shopping.

Friends and neighbors gather at Arivett’s Store at Monkey’s Eyebrow in 1952. People in the photo are Johnny Minter, Woodrow and Morris Minter, Ples Arivett, William Gross Hayden and Claude Holt.

Why the name? What’s the name?


September 14, 2016


          Several people claim they know the real story about why Monkey’s Eyebrow has its name. I mention a few of those “real stories” on the home page of this website. Undoubtedly there are some other “real stories” I haven’t heard.

          But there’s a perhaps bigger question than why is the name.

          What is the name?

          I write it as Monkey’s Eyebrow. That makes grammatical sense to me. And I think that’s how I saw it back in the late ’40s or early ’50s when I would visit Pod and Herman for a week or two in the summers.

But others write it as Monkeys Eyebrow, which sounds like more than one monkey. I don’t think monkeys share eyebrows so I don’t believe that could be correct.

And quite a few folks write it, and probably say it, Monkey Eyebrow. That one doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I suppose it could be right but it lacks the rhythm of having an “s” at the end. If I saw a community named Monkey Tail I wouldn’t even blink. There’s no reason I can think of to change it to Monkey’s Tail. Certainly I wouldn’t agree to Monkeys Tail. There is one big difference. A monkey has only one tail. If a monkey has eyebrows, I feel confident they would come in pairs. That may sound like a trivial difference but it shouts out to me that it is a major difference. That leaves out the plural form, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s fascinating that a community could have such an odd name and so many stories about where that name came from. It’s a name that has persisted for more than a hundred years. Well, maybe it’s not a name, but one or more of the three names have persisted for more than a hundred years.

Another interesting aspect to the community is that even though it has no city limits, its boundaries expand regularly as more and more folks from the vicinity say they are from Monkey’s or Monkey or Monkeys Eyebrow. Some of those residents live quite a distance from where the highway marker used to be placed to mark the edge of Monkey’s Eyebrow. We no longer have a highway marker. One reason is that it was something people liked to steal. The other reason is that the business and residential community is no more.

Now, houses are scattered between corn and wheat and soybean fields. We no longer have any dairy farms.

My house wasn’t actually in the town of Monkey’s Eyebrow. The town, anchored by Arivett’s store and gas station, was a few hundred yards away.

Everyone needs to be from somewhere so we and neighbors have always said we live in Monkey’s Eyebrow. To be honest, I’m proud there are getting to be so many of us. I think you live in Monkey’s Eyebrow if you say you do. As if by default, most of the folks in this area have said for years that they live in Monkey’s Eyebrow.

One who has gotten lots of attention most recently is up-and-coming country singer Kelsey Waldon. As her father told me today, she spent her first 13 years here, and is proud to let folks know that Monkey’s Eyebrow is her homeplace. I don’t know her but I’m sure that other Eyebrowers or Eyebrowians or Eyebrowites who know her and knew her back in those formative years are very proud of her. I hope she becomes one of the major country stars. Ballard County needs the recognition that would follow her stardom.

I plan to go to the county court clerk’s office one of these first days and dig through old deeds to try to pin down just how the community’s name was written in the earliest years. It should be an interesting bit of research.

Meanwhile, if you are anywhere in the vicinity – Paducah or St. Louis or Nashville or any other our other suburbs – drive by and maybe even stop and say hello. And be sure to check out the Ballard Wildlife Management Area, and the Barlow House in Barlow, and the Cross at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in Wickliffe, and the Wickliffe Mounds, also in Wickliffe.

All of us would love to see you.

Monkey's Eyebrow in 1954 when there were a store and residences

The Arivett Family of Monkey’s Eyebrow

And Other Settlers of the Area


June 2010


(Note: This is based on conversations with Evelyn Hook Arivett and Leroy Arivett on May 21, 2010, and on some e-mails from Evelyn and her daughter, Wilma Hook Romatz, who lives in Michigan.)


          Ples and Irene Wildharber Arivett and Ples’ brother Brad weren’t the first people to own a business at Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, but their businesses and their presence in the area are inextricably linked to the history of this small community that sports one of the most unusual names in the United States.

The name is frequently featured in atlas listings of unusual names; it has been the subject of at least two features on National Public Radio, and is featured in two books by author Mark Usler, who came to Monkey’s Eyebrow on May 21 to launch his new book, Hometown Celebrations.

The Arivett name itself is also a bit unusual in that it is consistently spelled Arivett, but is pronounced three different ways within the same family. Most of the members of the family and the people who live in the area pronounce the name as Everett, but Evelyn Arivett Hook, daughter of Ples and Irene, pronounces it as it’s spelled, Ar-i-vett. Evelyn’s younger brother, Leroy, who lives near Chicago, pronounces it Ar-vett, without the “i” sound.

          Evelyn Arivett was born at Monkey’s Eyebrow in 1920, the first of four children born to Ples and Irene. Horace, who ran a store at Bandana and who died in Bandana a few years ago, was next. Then came Leroy, and finally Harold, who lives near Atlanta.

The family’s roots in Monkey’s Eyebrow stretch back into the 1800s.  

          The Wildharbers and Goodleys, Irene Arivett’s family, came to Ballard County in 1903 from Henderson, Kentucky. Ples Arivett’s sister, Maude, told Evelyn that when their great grandfather, Jesse Beeler, came to Ballard County from Tennessee in the early 1840s it was nothing but wilderness. For many years, he and his children all lived in houses along what is now called Monkey’s Eyebrow Road, or state route 473.

          “Maudie was quite a colorful character too,” Wilma Hook Romatz, Evelyn’s daughter, remembers, “chewing snuff and spitting into a Calumet baking powder can. She had coal black dyed hair, and a huge diamond ring and red-painted nails.  Her language was equally colorful.”

          According to Evelyn, “Aunt Maudie said she heard that her grandpa had a whole trunk full of confederate money and her grandma kept trying to get him to change it. He refused, and lost everything after the Civil War was over.”

         John William Arivett, Ples Arivett’s grandfather, was born in Virginia but moved to Ballard County in the 1860s. He lived to be 98 and was married three times. He lived in Wickliffe when he died in 1940.

The business history of Monkey’s Eyebrow goes back to before the Arivetts opened their first business, which was a gristmill. A man whose last name was Ray had Ray’s Store at the bottom of the hill, down in an area which some folks call Old Monkey. Later, Guy Borden ran the store. Ples and Irene Arivett lived in a house near that store, on the south side of the road. There are no buildings there today. The area is covered with trees.

Several families lived in the area. Before the road was paved, the old road made a 90-degree turn to the north, opposite what is now Palmore Road, then it curved back toward the west, behind where Jim and Jean Meadors live now. The Arivett Store and most of the residences were northwest of the Meadors’ house. The buildings are no longer there.

Charley Waldon lived across the field (no paved road then) south of the store in the white house where Imogene Alexander lives now.

A family of Beelers lived down the road. Evelyn’s grandfather, John Wildharber, at one time owned the farm due east of the old road, a farm later owned by a Graves family and then by Herman and Pod Tilley, a part of which is now owned by Joe Culver.

According to Evelyn Hook, Wildharber came here from California, lived here two or three years, and then went back. He played in a band, When he came here he built a box that his bass fiddle would fit into. He put the box on the back of the car and brought it here with him.

The house where Charley Waldon’s family lived – where twin brothers Dot and Tot were born – was previously occupied by a family named Moss. Evelyn remembers playing with their daughter, who was about her age.

Some other families who lived in the area were Redferns, Crabtrees and Yanceys. “And there were Turners who lived down there. They used to sell watermelons. Sand Ridge grew the best watermelons,” Evelyn Hook recalls.

“There used to be some Laniers who lived down there. Judy Magee was a Hayden, and when you go by the game reserve entry there and you go on down to that curve, the Haydens lived in the house just on that curve. That’s where Judy and her sister grew up,” Evelyn said.

There was a small school “right over there in front of where that antenna is,” Evelyn said, pointing to the WPSD TV tower. “There used to be a building that was still there. I don’t know if it still is, I haven’t been down that road for a while. The building was still there even after they built that antenna out there.

“It was called Graves School. I would say 25 or 30 children went there. It had been built for a two-room school but we used only one of the rooms. If it was good weather we’d play outside, but if it was bad we could go in there, in the other room, and play games or whatever.

“The teacher that we had was real good to read to us. We used to have box suppers and she would use the money that we made from the suppers and other activities to buy books and things to entertain the kids. I love books still, and I’m sure I got it from her. Her name was Laura Lee Holt.”

The Monkey’s Eyebrow children went to high school at Bandana. There were no school buses then, but Howard Owsley, Joe Owsley’s dad, took a two-ton flatbed truck and converted it into a bus. It was closed in, with benches around the walls and a bench down the middle. It also had windows.

“He charged us 10 cents a day,” Evelyn recalls. “He would take us to Bandana and then pick us up at the end of the day. There were 15 or 20 people who rode it. He started at Needmore and drove all around the area picking up children.”

Before he built the gristmill which he and his brother Brad ran, Ples Arivett worked in California twice. He also worked on Dam 53 when it was being built, when Evelyn was about four or five years old. The Arivett family lived at the bottom of the hill then, in a house just past Ray’s Store.

Leroy Arivett recalls that his father would get up very early in the morning and walk the five miles to where they were building the dam. Because he left before daylight, Ples would carry a lantern. Evelyn said he would walk down to where the wildlife refuge is now, cross a lake and go over to where the dam was. Evelyn says she was born in 1920 and that would have been around 1925.

“And then we went to California in 1926,” Evelyn remembers. “My dad and my uncle were working out in the oilfields. I guess the oil company owned houses and rented them to the people who worked for them. We lived out there in a mountainous area and my dad wouldn’t let me go to school because he said you’ll have to ride the bus and there’s all those winding roads. He was afraid for me to ride the bus. So I didn’t go to school until I was seven years old after we moved back.”

They lived in Paducah for about a year or so and Evelyn’s first year of school was in Paducah. After that, she finished grade school at the Graves School at Monkey’s Eyebrow. That school remained active until it was consolidated with Bandana.

She went away to college at Murray State in the fall of 1938 and I didn’t move back.

The Arivetts did some farming in addition to running their businesses. Wilma taped a conversation with her uncle Horace a few years ago when he talked about the time they raised acres of sweet potatoes during the depression, thinking that they could sell them and make a little bit of money.  They found it was going to cost more to ship them than they would get, so they brought them back home and ate them all winter. Horace said he still couldn't look at a sweet potato years later.

The Arivetts’ first business enterprise at Monkey’s Eyebrow was a gristmill operated by brothers Ples and Brad. Evelyn says she was always fascinated with the machinery at the mill. They had a tractor chassis in the back part of the mill. It had a big drive shaft that went all the way across and the motor would run an assortment of pulleys and belts. It had a crusher that crushed the corn and there was another grinder that made meal.

“The mill made a lot of meal,” Evelyn says. “My dad usually did that. The Yopp Seed Company in Paducah would buy bags and let my dad fill them up with meal and they would take them back and sell them with Yopp’s name on the bags.”

About a year after they built the grist mill they started putting groceries in the front part. When Evelyn was about 12, in the early 1930s, the Arivetts built a frame building to house the store, separate from the mill.

There was a set of scales between the store and the mill.

Farmers would weigh their loaded trucks before the corn was ground. They would weigh them again when the trucks were empty. The difference was the weight of the corn.

Evelyn remembers that the store had about anything that you would want to buy, except meat because there was no electricity to run a cooler to keep meat.

Later, after the Arivett brothers dissolved their partnership, Ples tore down the frame building and built a new store of blocks in the same location as the first store. Those stores were on top of the hill, a location some people call “New Monkey” to distinguish it from the Ray’s Store that stood at the bottom of the hill. With the advent of electricity, that store was able to sell meat.

The Arivetts ran that store until around 1955 when they retired and moved to Bandana, where Horace already had a store.

By the time the uranium enrichment plant was being built near Kevil in the 1950s, there were 14 people living beside or around the Arivetts’ house and store in Monkey’s Eyebrow.

When the state of Kentucky acquired several of the lakes in the area, Ples fixed up rooms to rent to hunters. “He was always looking for ways to make more business,” Evelyn says.

Evelyn moved away in 1938 to go to college at Murray State. She married Harold Hook in 1942, and they lived in McCracken County, but came back to Monkey’s Eyebrow often to visit her family.

She and Harold had a store for about three years in Camelia, where the road from the Paducah Airport intersections with Highway 62.

Ples Arivett died in 1975, and Irene lived until 1999. She was 96 years old.


Comments from readers

          Here are some comments from people who have read this article:

          Billy Lanier: “The Laniers mentioned in your article were my grandparents, Wallace and Alice Lanier. New Hope Baptist Church sits on land given by my granddaddy.”

          Mary Helen Hicks: “The Barnhill family are the ones who lived closer to Monkey’s Eyebrow and raised watermelon, right in front of Mrs. Redfern. Their son is my brother-in-law, married to my youngest sister.”

          Ava Magee Siener: “How nice. I go to read about the Arivett family and come across a mention of my mother, Judy Magee.”

          Jeanne Culver Thorpe: “This is a great article. I love the genealogy.”

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© Joe W. Culver