Several cousins and our uncle Billy Bob Crice got together in July 2013 after a memorial service for one of our aunts, who was the youngest of the 10 Crice children.

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

Reflecting on baby brother’s death


November 9, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the sauce?


September 13, 2018

          A couple of my sisters and I, and a few first cousins and some first cousins once removed, and maybe even some cousins not far enough removed have submitted DNA to

          Every day or two, Ancestry posts eight shared matches I can check to see what genealogy we might share.

          Most of the matches are distant cousins. Most of them are 5th to 8th cousins. I’ve never heard of them. I’ll never meet them.

          Some matches are people I know, like the two sisters, and cousins Jackie Faye and Roger Crice. A few second cousins crop up from time to time.

          Some of the matches lead to significant surprises. But that’s how it goes with DNA. Don’t do it if you’re not man enough – or woman enough – to find out things you never suspected.

          I was scrolling through shared matches earlier today and came across a couple of fascinating names.

          One of the names was Sue Bacon. The other was a made-up name like you see on some other sites. It was Piglegg.

          Piglegg. Sue Bacon.

          Where’s the barbecue when you need it?

A fairly recent photo of Jeanne

You should see the other guy


June 1, 2017


          My sister, Jeanne, had the pleasure recently of having dental surgery, which involved a couple of dental implants and bone grafts. That sounds like something a person would do for entertainment on a Saturday, doesn’t it? If you answered, “Hell no,” then you got it right.

          Jeanne was raised in Ballard County – in Wickliffe and later just outside of Wickliffe – and went to school here, including part of her high school years. She moved to Oak Ridge, Tenn., with the rest of the family when my father got a job there. I had already run away from home by then and may have been working at the Cairo Evening Citizen. Jeanne became a graduate of Oak Ridge High School. She then earned a degree from Tennessee Tech.

Jeanne retired not too long ago after teaching nuclear worker safety at a Department of Energy site in Oak Ridge. Now, like me (oldest of the six siblings by at least a few days), she’s an older person, married, living in Knoxville, the mother of a beautiful daughter and the grandmother of a handsome young boy.

          She sent me an e-mail about the dental experience. I thought it was clever – it made me smile, which is a rare thing – so I asked for permission to use it and she said I could, so here it is:

          While waiting for my turn to see my dental surgeon, I had time to reflect on the young generation that manages and directs us these days. Do you remember when we were young and our elders had to explain to us some of their humor? We have become our elders.

Last week, I had dental surgery to insert two dental implants and two bone grafts. One of the side effects, in addition to the pain, are the bruises on my face and down my chin and neck. Looks like I have grown a beard.

I have been asked more than once, “What does the other guy look like?”

When I reported to the dental office, I announced “I'm here to see the other guy.” All I got were blank stares. I said “never mind” and told them who I was and who I was there to see. I shuffled to my seat and waited for my appointment. (At least the staff was kind and well-mannered – I don't think that they talked about the “batty” old woman until after I left.)

On a better note, my dentist understood when I said “You should see the other guy” and laughed. I added “You are the other guy.”

Kenny Crice (blue shirt), Fay Todd, Donnie Lanier, Leon Todd with dowsing gear.

Grave Witching at Crice Cemetery


August 25, 2010


          “Here’s the head of another grave,” says Leon Todd on this early Wednesday afternoon at the Crice Cemetery in the Oscar/Barlow bottoms. The weather is cooler than it has been, so it’s almost possible to breathe in the humid atmosphere that is common here. If you could wring the air, you’re pretty sure that water would run out.

          “I think that’s where John Crice’s headstone stood,” Kenneth Crice says. “Someone stole it or moved it, but I think it was there.”

          Donnie Lanier, one of Crice’s good friends, has brought a probe: a piece of steel about the diameter of a pencil, three or four feet long, with a steel handle welded at one end to form a letter T. Lanier probes where Todd has indicated would be the head of the grave. The probe hits something that sounds like rock.

          Crice and Lanier do some gentle digging a few inches into the ground and sure enough, they find the base of the monument that once marked John Crice’s grave. He died in 1866 at age 75. He was Kenneth Crice’s great-great grandfather. Kenneth is my first cousin.

          That’s the 22nd grave Todd has located in the cemetery, which lies on two sides of a lane that runs between weeds and trees. Before he leaves on this 25th day of August, he has located around 35 graves. Todd indicates where the head and the foot of the graves are, and Crice drives two stakes to mark each grave.

          Crice met the Todds – Leon and Fay – at meetings of the Ballard-Carlisle Historical and Genealogical Society. Crice was telling about his work in preserving the Crice Cemetery, and Todd told him about using divining rods to locate graves. The proper term, according to Todd, is dowsing, but many people refer to the practice as grave witching. That’s consistent with the term “water witching” which refers to the practice of locating underground water.

          Todd agreed to come to the Crice Cemetery to help determine how many people are buried there. The markers go back into the 1800s. There are not many markers, but Kenneth Crice suspected that many people were buried in graves that weren’t marked or the monuments were stolen or lost over the more than a century that the land has served as a cemetery.

          The Todds live about three and a half miles west of Bardwell on Highway 123.

They’ve been dowsing for graves for about three years. Both of them say they can locate graves, but Leon does most of the dowsing.

“I got interested in it after I’d read about it,” he says. “There’s a lady over at Carbondale, Ill., who’s done it for 30 or 40 or 50 years and I talked to her and I just thought I’d try it.”

He made his first set of divining rods by bending two welding rods, about nine and a half inches long on the long end and four or five inches on the short end. He cut two sections of a broom handle and drilled a hole into each section. He places the short end of the rod into the hole. The rods turn freely in the holes.

His first set of rods actually is the only set he’s ever had.

He says the rods don’t have to be of a particular metal. “You can use aluminum or copper or steel,” he says, and adds that the handles don’t make any difference. “You can use the rods in your hands. You don’t even have to have the broom handles,” Todd says.

He’s never tried to find water, but he says he knows people can dowse for water. “I know my granddad did,” Todd says. His grandfather dowsed for water with a forked willow stick.

Todd says that in addition to water, a dowser can find fences, old houses, graves, or abandoned railroad beds.

At the Crice Cemetery, as he walks along and the rods move until they’re pointing at each other, he says he’s found a fence. He traces the fence to see where it was located on the east side of the road, and then tracks it onto the west side.

He doesn’t know how the dowsing works, why it reacts to an old fence line but not to a root that could be growing along that line.

“I don’t have a clue. I don’t think anybody knows.”

After he made his divining rods, Leon and Fay tested them.

“We’d check cemeteries and make sure it’d work,” he says. “Some of Fay’s people had a stone over at Barlow with five names on it. We went there and found all five graves that were around the stone.”

Can most people be successful using divining rods?

“I don’t think everybody can,” Todd says. “Some don’t have the right mindset or something. I think a lot of people could do it if they got the right mindset, and came out here by themselves to kind of get the feel for it. It’s something that’s unexplained. I don’t think anybody knows how it works.”

Does anyone doubt that it works? “Yeah, ’til they see it, you know. A lot of people don’t think water witching works. I know it’ll work because my granddad did it.”

Todd says he doesn’t locate graves for people very often. He goes out mainly with a cousin who does historical research in Carlisle County. “I’ve gone with him and found a lot of stuff. We knew it was there but not exactly where. We’d confirm where it was.”

According to Todd, he can tell if the person buried in the grave is a man or woman. “The woman over at Carbondale uses a dowsing rod,” he explains. “She holds one out and if it goes around counterclockwise, it’s supposed to be a woman and if it goes clockwise it’s supposed to be a man.”

Todd uses a ring tied on one end of a string, but he says you can use just about any metal, even a metal washer. He holds the string and ring above the grave. When it starts rotating in a circle, a clockwise rotation is a man.

He determines if the grave belongs to a child by the length of it. A child’s grave is shorter.

          Crice knew there were more burials in this cemetery than there were markers, but he is surprised by the number of sites Todd locates.

          This family cemetery could have been lost to family members except for the work Crice put in. His brother, Robert, has helped, and Lanier has also helped, but mostly it’s Crice working alone to keep the weeds down and to maintain the cemetery as well as he can.

          Many people consider cemetery preservation to be very important for family members and genealogical researchers. One person came from Michigan to see the Crice Cemetery because he was a distant relative of the Crices and he had heard that some of them were buried there. Seeing the cemetery and the monuments was a moving experience to him.

George Crice

The day George and I drowned


          George and I were watching TV the day we drowned so we missed out on all the excitement.

          Meanwhile, my parents were having more than enough excitement to go around.

          My cousin George Crice was a year or so younger, and we were together much of the time, playing, getting into things, fishing, and later hunting.

          His father was Dick Crice, one of mother’s brothers, and his mother was Oma Dell Garrett, one of the four children of Joe and Nola Garrett of Wickliffe. Oma Dell’s brothers were Clifford (better known as Wart) and Howard, and she had a sister, Rosie.

          George and I managed to fish in many of the ponds and creeks in the vicinity of where I grew up at the junction of what is now Highway 121 (I think it was numbered 440 back then) and the Old Blandville Road.

          On this particular day we decided to fish in a little creek a couple of miles down the Old Blandville Road. We were young enough that I’m guessing my mother drove us there.

          To get there, you drove toward Blandville, past Hub Copeland’s and Otto Beardsley’s farms, both on the left side of the road, and Albert Carpenter’s on down the road a way on the right side. Starting at the Carpenter farm, there was a long downhill drive. Hayner Beardsley (at least, that’s how we pronounced it but I think his given name probably was Hannah) and Anna Tufts lived in the house on the left at the bottom of the hill.

          Maybe a quarter of a mile farther on was a bridge over the creek we planned to fish in. The creek formed the property line of Leroy Dennis’ place, just past the bridge.

          It was a little creek, probably not more than a foot wide in some places, but two or three feet wide beneath the bridge where there was a little pool that might have been a foot or two deep.

          It wasn’t an impressive looking fishing hole but we had been there before and we usually managed to catch some creek perch and some small (five or six inches long) catfish.

          We caught some that day, too. It was a hot day, but it was shady under the bridge so we were doing okay.

          Then the rain came. Not just a little rain, but one of those West Kentucky gully washers.

          It rained and rained, but we were under the bridge so we weren’t getting wet.

          But then we noticed that water moccasins were beginning to be washed down the creek as the water began flowing faster, running down from the nearby hills.

          It was probably half an hour later that my mother – a born worrier, one who has the worry gene built in and therefore needs no formal training in worrying – decided she should drive down and pick us up.

          But she could get no farther than Anna Tuft’s house. Water was over the road that far back from the bridge.

          She and Anna waded through the deepening water, through the snakes and the debris and the jetsam and flotsam (I don’t know what jetsam and flotsam are, but I’ve seen the words in books about the ocean and here’s a chance to use them), all the way to the bridge. To hear mother tell the story, the water must have been about thigh-deep by then, but I doubt if it was much more than ankle deep.

          The bridge was under water. The poles we had been fishing with were dangling in the water, hooked onto a nearby fence.

          We were nowhere in sight.

          Anna went to her phone and called daddy, who at that time was working as a TV repairman in Bob Deckard’s shop in Cairo, Ill.

          “Oh J.D., you’ve got to come home! The boys have drowned!” she reported to my father, who surely was stricken to his heart by the tragic news.


          Young we may have been, but we were outdoorsmen or outdoorskids, and not particularly foolish about such things as rising water.

          When we saw the snakes drifting by we found a stick and marked the edge of the water. Within minutes, the water had swelled out well past the stick, so we knew we shouldn’t stay there.

          We discarded the cane poles and walked up the hill to Leroy Dennis’ house, where – even though we were drenched like the proverbial drownded rats (I know drownded isn’t a real word, but that’s how we said it and it sounds better than plain old drowned) – they let us in.

          We were sitting there watching TV while all the excitement was happening out by the bridge.

          I don’t remember how we hooked up with mother, and I don’t remember what happened after we did. Some things are best forgotten.

          But there was an aftermath to the story.

          I couldn’t find the little metal tackle box we always took fishing.

          Weeks later, the Dennis family kept noticing a really bad smell out in the shed. It was coming from my tackle box, which we must have left in the shed. We had caught several small fish that day, and we left them in the tackle box. Confined fish and hot Kentucky days aren’t a good combination.

          George died of cancer a year or two ago. I visited him at his daughter’s house in Michigan before he died and I told this story. George and I and the other folks in the house had a good laugh about it.

          At his funeral, his daughter Shanna asked me to tell the story again. I did. Now that I’ve added it to the “Stories & Memories,” I probably won’t tell it again.

J.D. Culver, left, and Buddy Hughes discuss how to aim the antenna.

Daddy and Buddy Hughes Proved the Experts Wrong


          It was 1949, the war was over, and daddy and his good friend David Budd Hughes – better known as Buddy – decided they wanted to go into the TV business.

          Only problem was, the TV folks didn’t want to sell them any TVs.

          That was because the TV experts said the TV signal traveled only a certain distance. I think the distance was 100 miles, or it could have been 150. It probably had something to do with the curvature of the Earth and the notion that TV signals go in a straight line and don’t conform to curves. Or maybe it was something else.

          The closest stations were farther than that from Wickliffe.

          St. Louis and Memphis were about 180 miles away and both cities had TV stations, but they were too far away the experts said.

          But daddy and Buddy thought the experts were wrong and they set out to prove that they could receive TV signals in Wickliffe.

          That’s why they began building a TV tower in 1950.

          They decided to build it from wood using 8-foot sections of 2x2 lumber because that’s how they came from the lumber yard.

The tower was located in the back of the little house my parents rented from Frances Hughes, behind the house she lived in. Fran was Buddy’s aunt.

          They nailed strategic cross-strips – Xs – inside the tower sections for strength.

They would put a single section into place, climb up it and hoist the next section into place.

They placed temporary steel guy wires as the tower became taller and then permanent ones as it was finished. When it was finished it was 80 feet tall, not much compared to the WPSD TV tower in a field behind my house at Monkey’s Eyebrow (it’s more than 1,600 feet tall) but extremely impressive when you consider that there was no such thing as a TV tower in Ballard County before Daddy and Buddy built theirs.

They had already ordered their antenna from New York and it came in a kit. It was what daddy describes as a "VDX" long distance video antenna. That original aluminum antenna could receive channels 2 through 6. Later, they bought an antenna called a rhombic which was better.

Their first objective was to get TV from St. Louis on Channel 5. They could get other channels later with the same antenna after some adjustments.

The rhombic antenna was pointed toward St. Louis. Buddy used a transit from Japan to point it correctly.

A rhombic antenna consists of some poles placed in a diamond pattern, with wire running from pole to pole. I remember the antenna as taking up much of the field behind the house and the tower. I think it was the key to getting signal from St. Louis.

Mounting the regular antenna onto the tower was no easy – or safe – job. They climbed the tower, daddy on one side and Buddy on the other, and they pulled it up as they climbed. (They didn't use any of the equipment that OSHA requires today for being up so high. Of course, there wasn’t an OSHA back then or – who knows – Wickliffe might never have had a TV set.)

Mother says that she doesn't know how she could have handled watching them so she took the easy way out and didn’t watch.

Buddy studied the weather maps and checked longitude and latitude so he could figure the best direction to point the antenna.

The tower was finally complete, with antenna on top, so they were ready for TV.

          Their first TV was a Motorola seven-inch, black and white of course. Color TV didn’t exist back then. I remember that Frances Hughes had something to simulate color. It was a glass panel set in front of her TV screen and it had three colors, one atop the other. When you looked at the TV through that panel it gave a weak impression of color.

They invited folks to come watch TV for the first time. They set up the seven-incher on Fran’s porch, put some chairs in place, and had an ice cream/TV party. This might have been the first tailgate party. The yard was jammed with people who had never seen TV. There were some snowy images of the St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball game.

          They bought a TV with a 10-inch screen later.

The tower lasted until the big ice storm of 1953.

After that, they were offering aluminum towers which Daddy installed himself. When I was old enough, I climbed just about every roof in Wickliffe to help him put up antennas.

The first TV station anywhere near us was WSIL in Harrisburg, Ill., but it was a UHF station on channel 22, and the antenna didn’t work well – if at all – on UHF signal. WSIL changed to channel 3 in 1961.

The first regular station was being built at Cape Girardeau, Mo. We made Sunday drives there to check its progress. That station – KFVS – signed on the air on October 3, 1954. The Paducah station – WPSD – began broadcasting in 1957.

          The tower and the TV and the proof that the experts were wrong were probably pretty insignificant things in the broad scheme of the world, but they were big in our small town and in our lives.

          Buddy went on to work as an engineer with the E. I. DuPont Company and later operated his own consulting firm for a number of years. He died in 2004 at age 84.

          Daddy marked his 93rd birthday on November 1 this year. (Update: Daddy died on Sept. 23, 2011, two months shy of his 94 birthday. Mother died about three weeks later on Oct. 13, 2011. She was 87 years old.)

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© Joe W. Culver