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.

Playing keep-away with mice


December 27, 2019


I followed a tip on Facebook and put out bars of Irish Spring soap to keep mice out of the house. The mice are nibbling on it.

Someone suggested using clothes dryer sheets to keep the mice away.

I still have mice, but they are the softest, best smelling mice in Monkey's Eyebrow.


Monkey’s Eyebrow, Christmas 2019 and memories


December 25, 2019


          The sun was still below the eastern horizon when I let Herman out at 6:15 this Christmas morning. The colors were eerily beautiful at that early hour and they would get brighter over the next several minutes.

          I stood there and looked around. The fields across the road and behind Jim and Jean Meadors’ house displayed the corn stubble left over from the fall harvest. The combines farmers use to harvest crops leave behind an interesting pattern of stubble, and enough kernels to make it fun in cold weather to watch the murmuration of large flocks of blackbirds indulging in the scraps left behind.

          The field surrounding my six and a half acres were planted in soybeans this year and Max Gordon, who farms the land, disked the soil after the harvest, so that field is more uniform in texture than the corn fields. My cousin Barbara Tilley Moss owns the field and leases it to Gordon. I can look across the field toward the east to the home of Betty Pippin. She and her late husband, Billy, were good friends of Herman and Pod Tilley, who owned this farm from 1946 until their deaths. In the stripping room in the tobacco barn at the north edge of my acres are boards that show the amounts of tobacco stripped in different years by the Tilleys and the Pippins and others who helped in the preparation of tobacco leaves that were hauled to Paducah to be sold.

          North of here, just beyond Barbara Tilley’s field, the Channel 6 TV tower protrudes more than 1600 feet into the morning sky. Back in the old days when the TV station would sign off at night, the signoff includes a reference to the transmitter located at Monkey’s Eyebrow.

          Good memories as I wait for Herman to finish his morning routine.

          Back in the house I get out a cast iron skillet and fry three patties of Kuntry Boy sausage. I hate to waste that good grease but in acknowledgement of diabetes I decide not to make sausage gravy to pour over biscuits. Instead, I shape aluminum foil into a bowl-like container and pour the grease into it. That reminds me, I need to take my morning insulin shot.

          I have some leftover cornbread so I put butter into one of the slices and heat it in the microwave so the butter will melt. Then I realize that if I’m going to eat cornbread, I might as well have made sausage gravy and biscuits, but it’s too late now.

          Herman will nap most of the day, and I will nap a few times, too. I also will read and watch some TV. I may watch old movies on Amazon prime instead of any of the stuff on the cable channels.

          And that’s pretty much my Christmas.

          Christmas was an exciting time when I had youngsters. Now, it’s just another day, following a yesterday and preceding a tomorrow.

          I’m not into the religious aspects of the day. I’m not even into the secular aspects. I don’t put up a Christmas tree or even a Christmas duck, as I have done in the past.

          If I need something and can afford it, I buy it when I need it. I don’t quite understand the notion of waiting for December 25 and spending lots of money on things that may or not be of value to the people who receive those things. It’s a good time of year for retailers, though, and maybe that has become the reason we celebrate Christmas. I’m not sure. I think if we somehow erased the Christian underpinnings of Christmas, people would continue to celebrate by putting up trees and lights and buying gifts. Many people, in my opinion, enjoy the secular trappings more than, if not to the exclusion of, the religious observance.

          I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I do use the occasion to think of family and friends, and to smile at good memories, choke back tears because of not-so-good memories.

          It’s hard to accept today as Christmas. The weather forecast calls for it to be a sunny day with a high near 70. That’s not how it’s supposed to be. I’m pretty sure that our winters were colder when I was a young person. They were colder still when daddy was a child. He told of the Mississippi River being frozen, and people were able to cross it in horse- or mule-drawn wagons. I don’t know if I would get onto the river in a wagon, but I never had the need or the opportunity to try it. I do remember the river being jammed by ice floes when large chunks of ice drifted down from somewhere up north. Is “up north” a place? I know we talk about “up north” as if it is an actual geographical territory.

          I don’t have any visits by ghosts but I do have memories of Christmases past. Mostly, they are good memories. In our family, we celebrated visits by Santa Claus. We had some wrapped presents but the real excitement was getting up on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought during the night. He left things that were fully assembled. What an amazing person who had time not only to break into houses but to hang around long enough to put the bikes and the train tracks and other things together, complete with batteries when they were needed. The loss of Santa marked a sad milestone in the loss of childhood.

          Lest ye think that I am lonely and unhappy on this Christmas day, let me disabuse you of your misperceptions. I am quite content, thank you. In fact, it makes me happy to think of all the children out there who are smiling and laughing at the magic and the love that is Christmas, magic and love that underpin the day whether you live it as a religious or a secular experience. It is a bit of magic, isn’t it.

Thar she blows!


December 9, 2019


I carry a handkerchief in my pocket all the time. Does anyone else still use handkerchiefs?

It used to be that handkerchiefs were a standard Christmas gift. A package of handkerchiefs and some Old Spice for our fathers. That's probably no longer true. I know that no one has given me any handkerchiefs for a long time.

All of mine were getting threadbare. I think they were at least 10 years old, maybe 20. I decided it was time to replace them.

You can’t buy a handkerchief in Monkey’s Eyebrow. As a matter of fact, you can’t buy anything here. In Monkey’s Eyebrow, it’s like the song, “Summertime,” where the singer is happy because “the living is easy.” Living is easy and good here, but shopping isn’t. You can get there from here but you have to go somewhere else to shop.

I go to Walmart fairly often because Walmart has just about everything, so the last time I was in Walmart, I asked a clerk where I might find handkerchiefs. She didn't know but said maybe the person staffing the dressing room might know. I found another clerk nearby and asked her. She not only knew, but led me to them. This close to Christmas, there are plenty of clerks in Walmart and plenty of staffed check-out lanes. Some of the clerks know where everything is. Some don’t.

There was only one package of handkerchiefs on the rack where the clerk led me. It contained 13 handkerchiefs. Thirteen. That's enough to last three lifetimes. I didn't need 13 but the price was relatively low -- $6 I believe -- so I bought them.

I wonder why there weren't packages of one, or maybe three, even four. Do people buy them in large quantities -- 13, for instance -- and hand them out individually to friends and relatives? I might gift-wrap some of them individually and hand them out as Christmas presents in an act of nostalgia. Except I don't do Christmas presents since my kids have gotten old enough to know that there's no free supply from a burglar named Santa. If they need something I get it when they need it. If I can afford it. I don't wait until late December and buy things that wouldn't sell at any other time of the year. Things like coffee table books.

And handkerchiefs.


Please don’t insult my lack of intelligence


November 6, 2019


Got two things in the mail this afternoon.

One envelope held a single sheet of paper. At top right in all caps was IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCLOSED. Beneath that impressive headline were these words: For Ballard County, KY Medicare Recipients Only

The top left was "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL” above my name.

Dear Joe, it started, “A review of public information suggests you may be eligible to enroll in a type of Medicare health plan* that could save you money on your out-of-pocket health care costs.”

I wondered about the asterisk. (You always should wonder about asterisks.) I looked down the front of the letter and then looked down the back where I found this near the bottom: “* This letter describes a general Medicare Advantage Plan ….”

A generic plan. Generic. A “Personal & Confidential” generic plan. That’s about as personal and confidential as that white label generic toilet paper you can buy in stores.

The other envelope was even more ominous. The return address was to “DATA OPERATIONS CENTER” in Kansas City. It declared itself to be IMPORTANT BUSINESS TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY.

The address window had my name and address on paper cleverly designed to look like a check. I knew it wasn’t a check because no data center sends me a check. Neither does anyone else, for that matter. I needed a laugh, or maybe a reason to be pissed off, so I opened the envelope.

          It contained a check-sized document FOR KENTUCKY CITIZENS ONLY telling me I “may qualify for a state-regulated life insurance program to pay for your final expenses ….”

Further, I learned, “It is important that you learn how to qualify for this benefit … which is tax-free for Kentucky residents.”

In other words, burial insurance. All insurance is state-regulated. All burial insurance is tax free. I already know how to qualify for the “benefit.” I give them some information about myself and I pay them some money. It is important that I “return the postage paid card within 5 days” to the address in Jackson, Missouri.

These junk mails are designed to trick us old people, perhaps even frighten us to believe that we must respond to this “state-regulated” program.

I’m sure their lawyers have taken care that the wording isn’t criminal, but those deceptive letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service sure should be.


Pull it!


November 1, 2019


I was having blood drawn at the VA clinic in Paducah this morning.

The veteran ahead of me had gone to the restroom to leave a urine sample. He had been in there a while.

The phlebotomist was getting ready to stick me when the man said something.

I didn't hear what he said but the phlebotomist answered, "Pull it hard!"

I started laughing. I thought the vet was having some difficulty trying to pee and she was giving him advice.

But she explained that the little door was stuck, the door you have to open to put your cup of urine inside.

I prefer my original misunderstanding.

Just a slight misunderstanding


October 31, 2019


I was having physical therapy for my neck this past Wednesday at Premier Physical Therapy in Kevil.

Another person who seems to be there for therapy just about every day I am is a retired dietitian. She worked for several years at a school or schools in Florida.

          She and another person were talking. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop (shouldn't that be eardrop?) but I could hear them while I tried not to doze off and snore.

I thought I heard something in their discussion that was about my diet.

"Hey!" I said, interrupting their conversation, "That's the diet I'm on. The glutton diet."

Alas, I misunderstood. They were talking about glutens that some people avoid in their diets. Oh well, I might as well doze off.

How much does a portion weigh?


October 31, 2019


I have type 2 diabetes, along with some other medical conditions that the doctors claim I have so they can enrich the pharmaceutical companies.

My blood sugar runs high. Just about always. I eat too much.

It's not necessarily what I eat, but how much I eat.

The dietitians say I need to practice portion control. It's hard to do that because they talk in ounces while I talk in pounds.

I'm trying. For instance, I decided to cook a hamburger tonight -- or should that be hamberder -- I think hamburger is correct.

A pound of ground chuck was awaiting me in the refrigerator.

Instead of cooking the whole pound I cut it in two and fried a half-pound burger. A half-pound of cast-iron-skillet fried burger, one bun, two slices of a small tomato, a slice of onion and a couple of teaspoons of dill relish.

Is that portion control?


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.


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.

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 Arivett Hook and Leroy Arivett on May 21, 2010, and on some e-mails from Evelyn and her daughter, Wilma Hook Romatz, who lives in Michigan.)


Evelyn Arivett Hook, born 99 years earlier in Monkey's Eyebrow, died on January 3, 2020.


           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