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.

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world…

With thanks to Skeeter Davis for the title


October 10, 2010


I spend way too much time thinking about things that cannot be resolved by thinking about them.

Here’s this morning’s head-acher.

Many evangelical Christians believe Donald Trump was sent by God to be the U.S. president so he could cause the end of the world, which is something they claim they look forward to. That could be, I suppose, because I think the Bible says that Satan will bring about that worldly ending the evangelicals want, and some people compare Trump to Satan.

I don’t know what the Christians think the end of the world is. I believe it has something to do with Jesus reigning over those who have not been condemned to an eternity in Hell. I think some of them see it as a great reunion of family and friends and neighbors who have been dead for years or centuries.

I have trouble reconciling the apparent Christian joy for the end of the world with what I observe in daily life. Here’s what I mean.

Some Christians hope and pray for the end of the world, which, as far as I can determine, means the end of all life as we know it. That would include their own mortal lives.

Many obituaries these days contain statements that so-and-so has gone to Heaven to be with his dearly departed wife and maybe some of their children and other close relatives and friends who pre-deceased him. That implies a belief that death brings an immediate journey to Heaven. I assume everyone goes to Heaven because I have never seen an obituary that claims so-and-so went to Hell to be with his loved ones.

But many people who profess to be devout Christians post requests on Facebook or they ask their preachers to ask in church for prayers because they have some awful disease, or they are having surgery, and they want to be healed or want the surgery to be successful. That implies, I believe, a desire to put off reunions with those loved ones who are already dead. In other words, they are afraid of the death they talk about in glowing terms when it’s an abstract way to talk about walking on streets of gold.

It seems contradictory to me, but that’s probably because I have a finite mind incapable of pondering infinity or infinities. Can there be plural infinity? Damn! That’s something else that’s going to distract me.


Therapy: If I could do that …


Oct. 7, 2019


I am taking physical therapy for my neck.

Last week while I was lying on a mat with hot things around my neck, I wasn't really paying attention to the therapist working with another person. I vaguely heard the therapist say something to the man he was working on.

Later, I realized he was talking to a person who was standing, and he was telling him to push up onto the balls of his feet.

But when I first heard it, I thought I heard the therapist say, "Put your feet on your balls," and I thought, "If I could do that, I wouldn't need physical therapy."

That first version I heard was so much the better of the two.



NOTE: Listening to public radio today as I drove home after being X-rayed at the Marion Veterans Affairs medical clinic, I’m pretty sure that a person (sounded like a woman but I believe we’re not supposed to assume gender in these days of nonbinary pronouns) said, when introduced during the fund drive, “Think you.” At least, that is what I heard.


If you’re not sure what “nonbinary” means, that’s ok because I’m not either, so I searched the term and found this: “If someone tells you they’re nonbinary, it’s always important to ask what being nonbinary means to them. Some people who are nonbinary experience their gender as both male and female, and others experience their gender as neither male nor female.


I mentioned pronouns; you will see in the two sentences I shared above, that “someone” is followed by a singular verb (“tells”) and a plural pronoun/verb contraction, “they’re.”  That makes my teeth and bowels hurt.


That person, who may have been a woman but I can’t assume that because they didn’t tell me, (woman and they; I did that on purpose instead of calling them “she”) “thinked” the person who made the introduction. That reminded me of something I wrote 10 years ago while working and living in Morgantown, WV. It is available somewhere in these stories, but this introduction is as good an excuse as any for me to share it with you again today. Here it is, from July 2009:


Elvis Never Said “Think You Very Much”


Have we changed the way we pronounce some of the letters, has the toning down of regional accents produced new sounds (if y’all know the answer, please tell me), or is it just that dotage is playing evil games with my hearing?

I had to go to the bank the other day because I couldn’t find my bank card. I think I probably left it in an ATM the night before. Is that another sign of slippage?

The very nice lady at the bank was efficient and soon handed me a new card. I thanked her, using an appropriately southern drawn-out long A sound: Thaaank you.

She responded not quite in kind. It sounded like she said, “Think you.”

I realized when she said it that I’ve heard many other people express their appreciation by thinking me or whomever it was who did something to be thinked for. But on those other times I didn’t made a note to remind me to write about it.

Maybe thinking people is a phenomenon of youngspeak, that destruction of language by our youth which started with those attractive-but-inarticulate young people in California who munch on kiwi fruits and mispronounce words. It grew virally into a pandemic fueled by text messages, the rules of which apparently require that no word be spelled completely or accurately.

But the bank lady, who was sufficiently attractive that she may have moved from California – and now that I think about it she almost certainly did move from somewhere else because she had all her own teeth – was not a young person in the age range that we normally associate with young people. She was probably in her 30s or early 40s (still is, as a matter of fact, which makes we wonder why I used “was” in this sentence), but whatever her age and point of origin, I’m pretty sure she thinked me.

I’m thinkful that my hearing is getting worse so that I don’t have to hear all the other pronunciation decline.

I also notice more people talking too fast. In Ballard County when we were growing up, people weren’t so rushed that they couldn’t take their time to say a sentence at a relaxing pace that didn’t set the listener’s nerves ajar.

There was no need to rush. We didn’t have fax machines and cell phones and instant messages where everything has to be said and done right now. We could actually wait for a letter to be written at point A and be delivered to us days later at point B. We could give a few minutes for a peaceful sentence to be said.

Everything happens so immediately today that I guess people don’t have time to talk.

More than once I’ve told someone, “Please slow down. You’re speaking faster than I can hear.”

Speaking of cell phones, I’ve said before and maybe written here before that we don’t have to worry about government or anyone else taking away our right to privacy.

Nope, we’re giving it away. It amazes and disturbs me how many people, and not just young people, will have very personal conversations in public over those cell phones. And everyone can hear those conversations because for some reason we talk louder when we talk on a cell phone, probably not trusting the handheld device to deliver the message without some extra oomph on our parts. Hey people out there, if you’re reading this, be informed: I don’t want to hear your phone calls.

Why is it happening? Why do what should be private and personal discussions become public soliloquies?

When our society crumbles, if there are any sociologists or anthropologists who survive, they will be able to trace the downfall to the advent of cell phones, just as Sonny Robinson of Dayton, Tenn., in a conversation with me some 30 years ago declared that we could trace the beginning of the downfall of our economic system to the day when bankers began wearing polyester suits.


OK, if they are big portions


August 12, 2019


After seeing my recent photo of bacon I burned on the cooking sheet, my baby sister (by about 23 years), Janie Culver Handlin, texted a photo of some perfectly browned, crispy bacon her husband, Chuck, cooked.

She added a note, something like, “Wish you were here so you and Chuck could share the bacon,” the “here” in her note being Vero Beach, Fla., where Bella Culver and I visited for a few days a couple of weeks ago.

I replied that even though Chuck’s bacon looked very good, there wasn’t enough of it even for just me, much less enough to share with anyone.

I doubt if there were more than six strips. Good grief folks, I wouldn’t go to the trouble of turning on the stove if six slices of bacon was all I planned to cook. I don’t consume bacon exactly by the pound, but certainly not by the slice. Two pounds of bacon lasts for about three meals. Of course, I don’t eat all of it; I break off about an inch of each strip and share it with Herman. He likes bacon too.

Janie wrote back that maybe I need to work on portion control.

Portion control! Prithee and pray tell, what in hell is portion control? My problem is high blood sugar. The doctor has never once told me I have high portions.

Anyway, I do control portions. A half a dozen strips of bacon is not a portion. Nine strips starts getting close.

Portion control! Of course I control portions. Just a few minutes ago, for instance, I decided to eat some leftover beef vegetable soup I cooked yesterday. I looked at it and evaluated it by the portion scale – by the way, I am very pro-portion; I deal in large proportions when it comes to eating – and decided that it probably wasn’t enough for three bowls full, maybe two and a half bowls, so I ate all of it so as not to be wasteful. Now that’s what I call portion control.

And maybe sharing an inch off of each strip of bacon with Herman is a whole nother kind of portion control.

By the way, remind me a little later to check my blood sugar.


Here’s another oldie I have copied from the “My Personal Favorites” Tab.


A free lesson in anatomy


          When I began attending law school at the University of Tennessee in 1978, a good friend offered to let me live on his property rent-free.

          He was a surgeon and an avid outdoorsman. He had opened a boarding kennel near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where he also raised, trained and sold Labrador and golden retrievers.

          His offer was to let me live in a trailer on a hill overlooking the kennel.

          I didn’t want to feel like a freeloader, so I volunteered to help out at the kennel on weekends. On Saturdays I helped check in and care for dogs that were brought in for boarding. On Sundays, I cleaned the runs and fed the dogs and cats so no employee would have to come in on Sunday.

          At the time, I had dogs of my own, including Puke and Dammit, my pair of Chesapeake Bay retrievers. I’ll tell more about them in another story. I also had Dracula, a Doberman pinscher. Puke had a litter of six pups while we were living there.

           As a result, I was a frequent customer of one of the local veterinarians, Dr. Mickey McArthur, who had a clinic alongside Oak Ridge Turnpike.

          Working at the kennel on weekends gave me the opportunity to get to know quite a few dogs and their owners.

          On this particular day I had taken the puppies to Dr. McArthur’s to have them checked for worms.

          Sitting in the waiting room, I recognized a woman who was a regular customer at the boarding kennel.

          She and her doctor husband owned a basset hound, a purebred male dog of good quality.

          I acknowledged her presence with the dog, whom I’ll call George because I can’t remember his actual name.

          “Well, what are you and George doing here?” I asked. “Is it time for his shots?”

          “Oh no,” she replied. “I’m here to get George ‘fixed’.”

          Just hearing that kind of talk will make any red-blooded man press his legs together in a reflexive protective response, and it had that effect on me.

          “I don’t understand why you would do something like that to such a fine specimen of basset masculinity as George,” I said to her.

          “Well, we keep George in our fenced-in back yard,” she explained to me. “There are other dogs in the neighborhood, including some female dogs, and George keeps digging out. He’ll dig a hole under the fence and take off, and we have to track him down and bring him back.

          “We fill in the hole he dug, but he just digs another one and takes off again. We decided to stop that by having him fixed.”

          “Lady, he’s your dog and I guess you can do whatever you want to him,” I told her, “but I gotta tell you … that ain’t what he’s diggin’ with.”


Things to Avoid When Training an Attack Dog


(I mentioned Tonga the Avenger today in something I wrote on Facebook, and that led me to repost this oldie but goodie.)


Reposted June 26, 2019


I got out of the army in 1967 and returned to work at the Cairo Evening Citizen in Cairo, Ill., as sports editor. I made two major purchases: A brand-spanking new Austin-Healey Sprite and a Doberman pinscher.

For those of you unfamiliar with that particular car, it’s about as long as a kitchen table with a couple of leaves in it, and seats two people or one person and a Doberman. It’s sort of like an MG Midget, if that helps. It’s small enough that I recall one time driving in Thebes, Ill., when a large dog ran beside the car and looked down at me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Doberman pinschers … well, read on.

Being a macho ex-soldier, I wanted a mean dog to help me repel any would-be evil guys. I’d never been attacked by any bad guys, but – hey! – you never know when that first time will come.

The Doberman had a reputation as a bad dog, developed by someone in Germany as a war dog, an attack dog. One look at a Doberman and bad guys stay away.

My particular Doberman turned out to be Tonga the Avenger, and he turned out to be … well, a sissy. I take a good share of the blame for that. I took the pup Tonga to the office with me every morning, and he slept by my desk. People who came to the newsroom frequently would pet him and play with him, and he became quite gregarious and friendly instead of surly and mean.

We went every evening to the local soft freeze ice cream place and had a milk shake each. I held Tonga’s for him. His Doberman nose was perfect for getting down to the bottom of a milk shake cup.

I reasoned, however, that although I knew he was a sissy, the bad guys who might attack me wouldn't know that. I reasoned that if I gave the command "Kill!" and a Doberman raced toward him, even the evilest of the evil would take flight.

I taught Tonga to sit and stay. I rolled up an old sock and stuffed it into the toe of another old sock. I would hold the sock to Tonga and command "Kill!" Tonga would grab the sock, growl, shake his head tugging on the sock.

When he became proficient at grabbing, growling and tugging, I told him to "sit, stay" and I took a couple of steps back. I held out the sock and commanded, "Kill!" Tonga leaped at the sock, grabbed, growled and tugged, and I commended his behavior profusely.

After a few days of that, I moved across the room. I commanded, "Kill!" and Tonga raced across the room, leaped through the air, grabbed the sock, growled, and tugged.

He was ready for his first public viewing.

I took him to work at the newspaper the next day and told my good friend Jimmy Wissinger to come outside and help me in a demonstration of the results of my great training to turn Tonga into a protective force.

"Take this stick, walk down to the end of the lot, hold it like it was a gun or knife," I told Jimmy. "Whatever happens, don't panic. Don't race away. Just stand there and hold the stick. You’ll be amazed." Jimmy pledged to do just that.

When Jimmy was in place, and Tonga was poised in a sit position at my left side, I gave the command, "Kill!"

Up to that point, I had always trained Tonga alone. He never had worked with someone else holding the thing he was supposed to grab, growl and tug. So, as I didn't have anything in my hand, he jumped up and bit my arm. It brought blood.

Jimmy told me, "That was pretty impressive all right, but I'm not sure why you would train your dog to attack yourself."

Jimmy died a few years ago. I miss him.


Suzzanne Kozma and Joe Culver at Lester headstone in Roselawn Cemetery, Bardwell, Ky.

Are you sure you’re who you think you are?


June 11, 2019


          It’s surprising to learn that you are not exactly who you thought you were. Not necessarily a bad surprise or a good surprise, but definitely a surprise.

I lived for almost 75 years proud of the fact that my several times paternal great grandfather came to this continent by boat from England in 1635.

          Because of Ancestry.com, I learned that wasn’t true. If the family tree information shown on Ancestry is correct, my several times paternal great grandmother had been here for 23 years before Edward Culver or Cullver or Collver or Colver the Puritan arrived to be one of the founders of Dedham, Mass.

          I am suspicious of the information about place of birth, but if it is correct my great grandmother times 12 was Anne Lewes, reportedly born in 1613 in James City, Va.

          Submitting DNA to a service such as Ancestry.com can help you learn much about your genetic history. In some cases, what you learn may be shocking. In my case, I learned that my biological father wasn’t who had always been my daddy. I was almost 75 when I learned that. Now, I feel as if the Culver side of me is only a third instead of a half. I have discovered a biological third that I never expected. That third belongs to the Lester family.

          I learned that my maternal biological line is indeed the Crice family through my mother, Jessie Lee Crice Culver. I learned that J.D. Culver was and remains my father in every possible way … except biologically. I learned that the biological father was a man named Douthitt Lester, a resident of Bardwell at the time.

          Here’s the story of how I learned about a new side of me.

          My sister Jeanne Culver Thorpe is very much into genealogical research. In fact, she has a couple of books about the Culver family available through Amazon.com.

          She sent her DNA sample to Ancestry, and eventually I did too. It became very interesting to see the eight relatives’ matches that were changed every couple of days.

          I started noticing a match to someone shown by the name of suzzannek1. This match stood out because it was at the same relationship level as Jeanne. Jeanne and I talked about it and exchanged e-mails, trying to guess how I could have such a close match who didn’t show up among her matches. We guessed every way except the right one.

          Jeanne eventually made contact with suzzannek1, whose name is Suzzanne Kozma. She is the daughter of the late Douthitt Lester. The only way we could have been related so closely is that we had the same father. And that’s what it was. Douthitt (Les) Lester is my father and hers.

          I have looked at Lester history and I’ve decided that I’m happy to have a third family tree. There have been some impressive Lesters, and, yes, some maybe who could be overlooked, especially the two who murdered two men.

          I encourage you to use one of the DNA services. I know of two, Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. You may find information you should pass along to your children. I did.

          J.D Culver lived to be 93 and Jessie Lee Culver lived to 87. I thought that provided good odds for my descendants. But then I learned about the Lester side.

          The best I can figure, I have already lived longer than any of my direct male ancestors among the Lesters. This gave me a good basis to tell my children, especially my sons, to mind their health.

          Here’s why. My father, Douthitt Lester, died at age 49. My half-brother Bill Lester was dead at 43. My grandfather Clyde Lester, who was principal and superintendent of Bardwell schools and served as a state representative, fell dead at the dining table at age 50. (His wife was Ethel Douthitt Lester, who taught school in this area.) His father, Dr. William Henry Lester, lived to age 70, but his father, Dr. Sterling Henry Lester, lived only 25 years. Sterling’s wife, Anne Cole Davis, married him when she was 14 years old, gave birth at 15, and died when she was 16.

          Sterling’s father was Fountain Claiborne Lester, who died at 40. According to a newspaper story, he sliced a man’s throat during an argument. That didn’t prove fatal so he stabbed the man in the throat, and it worked that time.

His father was Fountain Lester, who lived to be either 74 or 75. I haven’t found the date of his birth so I don’t know which is correct. Fountain’s father was Henry Lester, who made it to age 74. Bryan William Lester was his father, and he lived to be 65.

They were preceded by a series of Richard Lesters. Richard IV died at 54, Richard III died at 67, Richard II lived only to age 35, and his father, Richard Andrew Lester (being the first, he didn’t need a number), lived only to age 23.

Thomas Lester, who would have been my 12th grandfather, or great-grandfather, lived to be 64. The ancestry tree says that he married Anne Lewes, who was born in James City, Va., in 1613. She lived until 1635.

There were a lot of early deaths. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t know about the Lester family until I was nearly 75 or I might not have lived this long.


From left, Herman Tilley, Pod Tilley, Jessie Lee Culver, J.D. Culver

“Back home” will never be the same again


June 6, 2019


A few days ago I posted a nostalgic column from 1985, when I was managing editor of The Oak Ridger newspaper in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

I never kept clippings of stories or columns from my newspaper days, but my sister Jeanne found it in a box in daddy’s shop where he worked on radio and TV sets. Jeanne said he would sometimes sit in the shop and re-read articles he had clipped from the newspaper. Jeanne said it looked like he kept everything I wrote.

She posted two of the columns into my family tree on Ancestry.com.

This is the second of the two. It is from October 1992. At the time, I was no longer working at the newspaper but I continued to write a weekly column. I was the manager of the public affairs (outreach) program for the Martin Marietta Energy Systems Office of Technology Transfer in Oak Ridge. That was before Martin Marietta merged with Lockheed to become Lockheed Martin.

It tells about a trip back to Ballard County for Aunt Pod’s funeral. Pod and Herman Tilley lived in the house that I own now.

Here’s the column:


          I’ve lived in Tennessee, mostly in and around Oak Ridge, for almost exactly 16 years but I still think of myself as a Kentuckian.

          When I have a chance to go to Ballard County, I say I’m going “back home.”

          Today, I wonder if there is a “back home” any longer.

          I grew up in Ballard County, went to school there, lived there as a married man, as a father. What really made it home, though, was the strong feeling of family associated with the process of growing up. Parents, uncles and aunts, cousins. Family. People with the same bloodlines. People I enjoyed being around, playing with, laughing with.

          One reality of growing up in the country or in a small town in a rural county is that the rural environment, despite all the intrinsic rewards it offers, tends to evict its young adults.

          Small towns are small because few people live in them. Few people live in them because there are few jobs. If there were lots of jobs, there would be lots of people.

          Some of the young people are able to remain in their small towns because of the ongoing human rotation – people grow old and rotate out of jobs, young people rotate into them – but young people always outnumber available jobs. Always.

          Some young men and women want to leave, of course. Others, and I suspect this group includes most of us who grew up in rural settings, would stay there if we could.

          But we can’t. We want to earn money, more money than we can earn by staying at home. Society does this on purpose, I believe, to guarantee that the factories of the world will have an ample supply of reliable small-town labor. We do make good workers.

          So we are thrown out of our small-town refuges and we go into the larger towns and into the cities and we look forward to those few times a year when we can go “back home” to where we really belong, to our family, and tell trumped-up accounts of how well-off we are in our brick houses on our surveyed city lots with our fine neighbors on both sides.

          But year piles atop year, and one day we look around and we realize – brutally and sadly realize – that there isn’t much family waiting to greet us. The new generation has grown up without us; we are strangers to each other, and even the blood-bond we share can’t change that fact. We have become different families within the larger family.

          My latest trip back home was also my saddest. Judy and I and our children drove home last Friday. My sister Jeanne and her daughter rode with us. Mother and daddy had gone a day earlier. The family gathered Friday afternoon at the Jones Funeral Home in La Center.

          Pod had died Tuesday evening. Pod Tilley, one of mother’s sisters, and her husband, Herman, had returned to their home in Monkey’s Eyebrow from Gary’s house. They chatted in the car like high school kids, Herman said.

          While Herman was opening the house door, he heard Pod fall. Herman kneeled to help her, but she made one sound and she was dead.

          Pod was the force that kept the family coming back home to Ballard County. When you went back home, where you really were going was to Pod and Herman’s.

          The family gathered at the funeral home on Friday and again at the cemetery with Pod for the last time. We visited and talked, laughed at times, but we also cried. We cried deeply. We hurt. We hurt for ourselves as individuals and for ourselves as family.

          The preacher, who grew up just down the road from Pod and Herman, hurt too and had trouble finishing the service. He described perfectly what Pod meant to us.

          Six of us nephews were the pall bearers. Our generation has served our grandmother and our uncles and aunts in that capacity. The casket is a heavy burden, particularly when it carries the extra weight of family, of love.

          After the funeral, we went to Pod and Herman’s house. The table was loaded with food prepared by women from Pod and Herman’s church. It was almost like to used to be, but probably will never be again. We ate, visited, changed clothes and drove back to Oak Ridge.

          I keep asking myself is there still a “back home” to go to without Pod, and I don’t know the answer. I do know it will never be the same.

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.”

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.

(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.)

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.

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.”

Print Print | Sitemap
© Joe W. Culver